11th Circuit lifts a receivership and asset freeze of $85 million
On November 4, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part a district court’s order, finding that portions of the district court’s decision could not stand under the U.S. Supreme Court’s April ruling in AMG Capital Management v. FTC. The Court held in that case that Section 13(b) of the FTC Act “does not authorize the Commission to seek, or a court to award, equitable monetary relief such as restitution or disgorgement.” (Covered by InfoBytes here). According to the 11th Circuit’s opinion, in 2019, the FTC alleged that individuals associated with multiple limited liability companies engaged in unfair or deceptive business practices in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 45(a). The FTC also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order the same day against the corporate defendants, seeking to freeze their assets, place the entities into a receivership, and enjoin all the parties from materially misrepresenting their services or from releasing consumer information obtained through the limited liability company. The district court granted the motion for a temporary restraining order in full in December 2019, and in January 2020, the district court granted a preliminary injunction against the limited liability company, extending the asset freeze, receivership, and injunction for the duration of the lawsuit.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit affirmed those parts of the preliminary injunction enjoining the appellants from misrepresenting their services and releasing consumer information. The panel upheld the portion of the order that enjoined one of the investor entities and its principal, who was the former chairman of the corporate defendant’s board, from misrepresenting services on allegedly deceptive websites or releasing any customer information allegedly gathered through the websites. While the appeal was pending, however, the Court held in AMG Capital Management that 15 U.S.C. § 53(b) does not allow an award of “equitable monetary relief such as restitution or disgorgement,” leading the 11th Circuit to reverse the asset freeze and receivership aspects of the preliminary injunction. Additionally, the 11th Circuit noted that the principal from one of the entities “was individually responsible for the actions of [the corporate defendants],” and “likely knew that [the corporate defendants] made over eighty million dollars in two years selling 'guides' on government services, and it almost beggars belief that he would be completely unaware of how [the corporate defendants’] websites were raising that quantity of money.”