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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

11th Circuit advances TILA suit weighing agency theory of liability

Courts Appellate Eleventh Circuit TILA Disclosures Consumer Finance


On February 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed a district court’s finding of summary judgment in favor of a financing company concerning alleged violations of TILA. The plaintiff agreed to purchase air conditioning repairs by taking out a loan with a company that finances home-improvement loans for heating and air conditioning products. According to the plaintiff, the repair company lied about the price of the loan and prevented him from viewing the loan paperwork. The plaintiff sued the defendants for violations of TILA and various state consumer protection laws, claiming he was not provided certain required disclosures and maintaining that had he received the disclosures he would not have accepted the loan. The plaintiff eventually decided to cancel the order before the work was commenced and was told he would have to contact the financing company to cancel the loan. The plaintiff was not released from the unpaid loan for work that never happened, and the negative payment history was reported to the credit bureaus.

The financing company argued that the plaintiff’s injuries are not traceable to the disclosure paperwork because the repair company never showed him the paperwork. The plaintiff countered that the repair company was not independent of the financing company because it was acting as the financing company’s agency. Under the “agency theory of liability,” the plaintiff argued that the financing company is liable under TILA for the repair company’s failure to provide the required disclosures. The district court ruled, however that the plaintiff lacked standing based on the finding that his injuries were not traceable to the financing company’s TILA violation, and that the plaintiff had not alleged that the repair company was acting as the financing company’s agent to provide the required disclosures.

On appeal, the 11th Circuit concluded that the plaintiff had standing to raise his agency-based TILA claim against the financing company. As a threshold matter, the appellate court first recognized that the plaintiff suffered a concrete injury (e.g., time spent disputing his debt; the impact on his credit; money spent sending documents to his attorney; and feelings of anxiousness), noting that injury and traceability were separate analyses. With respect to traceability, the appellate court next reviewed whether there was “a causal connection” between the plaintiff’s injuries and the challenged action of the financing company. The 11th Circuit accepted one theory of traceability—a theory of agency. “TILA liability attaches not only to the provision of incorrect disclosures, but also to the failure to provide any disclosures at all,” the appellate court explained, stating that in this case, the plaintiff argued that the repair company was acting as an agent of the financing company for the purpose of providing the disclosures. While expressing no opinion on the merits of the claim, the 11th Circuit concluded that the plaintiff had adequately pled that the financing company contracted with the repair company “who at all times acted as its agent” and that the financing company “is vicariously liable for the harms and losses” caused by the repair company’s misconduct by virtue of this agency relationship.