4th Circuit says AMG Capital does not alter FTC’s $120.2 million judgment
On November 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit predominantly upheld a district court’s final judgment in an FTC action involving a Belizean real estate scheme. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FTC initiated the action in 2018 against several individuals and corporate entities, along with a Belizean bank, asserting that the defendants violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) by advertising and selling parcels of land that were part of a luxury development in Belize through the use of deceptive tactics and claims. In 2019, a settlement was reached with the Belizean bank requiring payment of $23 million in equitable relief, and in 2020, the district court ordered the defaulted defendants to pay over $120.2 million in redress and granted the FTC’s request for permanent injunctions (covered by InfoBytes here and here). Later, in 2021, the district court denied a request to set aside the $120.2 million default judgment, disagreeing with the defendants’ argument that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in AMG Capital Management, LLC v. FTC (which unanimously held 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) nullified the judgment. The district court stated that the AMG Capital decision does not render judgments in the case void, and that “[i]n its Opinion rendered before the Supreme Court reached its decision, the Court considered the effect that a decision in AMG Capital adverse to the FTC might have, reasoning that: ‘this Court’s findings of fact and determinations as to liability—including contempt of court and violations of the Telemarketing Services Rule —would not be affected by a decision in AMG.’” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
On appeal, the 4th Circuit determined that the defendants advanced “a mixed bag of factual and legal challenges” to various contempt orders, equitable monetary judgments, permanent injunctions, and default judgments, finding that there was no abuse of discretion by the district court. While the appellate court reversed the $120.2 million judgment after finding it to be invalid under the Supreme Court’s decision in AMG Capital, it noted that because the defendants violated the FTC Act and the TSR they cannot escape the judgment. “The findings made by the district court show that [the defendant’s] Belizean business venture was dishonest to the core,” the 4th Circuit wrote. “The district court correctly surmised that this sort of deception lies at the heart of what the FTC is empowered to seek out and stop.” According to the appellate court, while “the FTC may seek injunctive relief under Section 13, the Supreme Court held in AMG Capital that it does not authorize the FTC to seek, or a court to award, ‘equitable monetary relief such as restitution or disgorgement.’” However, the defendant “latches onto this last point, claiming that the judgment in the  case must be thrown out under AMG Capital. ... Vacating that judgment does not help [him], however, because he already has a $120.2 million judgment against him for contempt of the telemarketing injunction, and the FTC has conceded that it is not seeking $240.4 million against [him].” Essentially, AMG Capital “does not undercut the injunctive relief entered under Section 13(b), and the $120.2 million order can be upheld under the contempt judgment, so AMG does not in fact change the bottom line,” the 4th Circuit concluded.