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11th Circuit: ECOA anti-discrimination provision against requiring spousal signature does not apply to defaulted mortgage during loan modification offer
On April 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a lower court’s decision to enter judgment in favor of a defendant national bank following a bench trial related to claims arising from foreclosure proceedings on the plaintiff’s home. The plaintiff executed a promissory note secured by a mortgage signed by both the plaintiff and her husband. After the borrowers defaulted on the mortgage, the defendant filed a foreclosure action and approved the plaintiff for a streamlined loan modification while the foreclosure action was pending. One of the conditions of the streamlined loan modification was that the plaintiff had to make required trial period plan payments and submit signed copies of the loan modification agreement within 14 days. Both individuals were expressly required to sign the modification agreement as borrowers on the mortgage. However, should one of the borrowers not sign, the bank required documentation as to why the signature is not required, as well as a recorded quit claim deed and a divorce decree. The plaintiff acknowledged that she refused to return a fully signed loan modification agreement or provide alternative supporting documentation, and during trial, both individuals admitted that the husband refused to sign. The borrowers eventually consented to final judgment in the foreclosure action and the property was sold.
The plaintiff then brought claims under ECOA and RESPA. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendant on the ECOA discrimination claim and the RESPA claim. After a bench trial on the ECOA notice claim, the district court determined that because the defendant gave proper notice to the plaintiff as required by ECOA (i.e., she was provided required written notices within 30 days after being verbally informed that her modification agreement was not properly completed), plaintiff’s claim failed on the merits.
On appeal, plaintiff argued, among other things, that the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant on her ECOA discrimination claim. The 11th Circuit explained that under ECOA it is unlawful for a creditor to discriminate against an applicant on the basis of marital status. However, ECOA and Regulation B also establish “exceptions for actions that are not considered discrimination, including when a creditor may require a spouse’s signature,” and include additional exceptions to creditor conduct constituting “adverse action” (i.e. “any action or forbearance taken with respect to an account that is delinquent or in default is not adverse action”). The appellate court held that because the plaintiff had defaulted on the mortgage at the time the loan modification was offered, ECOA and Regulation B’s anti-discrimination provision against requiring spousal signatures did not apply to her. Moreover, even if the provision was applicable in this instance, the appellate court held that “the district court correctly concluded that it was reasonable for [defendant] to require either [plaintiff’s] signature or a divorce decree in light of Florida’s homestead laws,” and that such a requirement does not constitute discrimination under ECOA.
As to the notice claim, the appellate court found no error in the district court’s conclusion that the defendant had satisfied applicable notice requirements by timely sending a letter to the plaintiff that (i) specified the information needed from the plaintiff; (ii) designated a reasonable amount of time within which to provide the information; and (iii) informed the plaintiff that failure to do so would result in cancellation of the modification. This letter satisfied the “notice of incompleteness” requirements of 12 C.F.R. § 202.9(c)(2).
CFPB says furnishers’ investigative duties include legal disputes
On April 20, the CFPB filed an amicus brief in a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit arguing that the duty to investigate a consumer’s credit dispute applies not only to factual disputes but also to disputes that can be labeled as legal in nature. The plaintiffs entered into a timeshare agreement with the defendant hotel chain and made monthly payments for nearly two years but then stopped. The plaintiffs disputed the validity of, and attempted to rescind, the agreement. The defendant did not agree to the rescission and continued to record the deed under the plaintiffs’ names. The plaintiffs later obtained copies of their credit reports, which showed past-due balances with the defendant, and subsequently submitted letters to a credit reporting agency (CRA) disputing the credit reporting. After the defendant certified the information was accurate, the plaintiffs sued the defendant and the CRA alleging that the defendant violated the FCRA by failing to conduct a proper investigation. The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that the issue of whether the debt is owed—the basis of the plaintiffs’ FCRA claim—constitutes a legal dispute and is not a factual inaccuracy. The defendant further maintained that there was no legal error because the plaintiffs owed the money as a matter of law. Last December, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida granted partial summary judgment in favor the defendant after concluding, among other things, that because the plaintiffs’ dispute centered on the legal validity of their debt, rather than a factual inaccuracy, the investigation requirement was not triggered and the claim was “not actionable under the FCRA.”
The Bureau argued in favor of the plaintiffs-appellants. According to the Bureau, the district court “unduly narrow[ed] the scope of a furnisher’s obligations by holding that furnishers categorically need not investigate indirect disputes involving ‘legal’ inaccuracies.” This position, the Bureau maintained, contradicts the purpose of the FCRA’s requirement to conduct a reasonable investigation of consumer disputes and “could reduce the incentive of furnishers to resolve ‘legal’ disputes, and, in turn, could increase the volume of consumer complaints about credit reporting issues that the Bureau receives and devotes resources to address.”
Explaining that the FCRA does not distinguish between legal and factual disputes, the Bureau stated that the district court’s conclusion “is not supported by the statute, risks exposing consumers to more inaccurate credit reporting, conflicts with the decision of another circuit, and undercuts the remedial purpose of the FCRA.” The Bureau presented several arguments to support its position, including that a reasonable investigation is required under the FCRA, and that while the reasonableness of an investigation is case specific, it “can be evaluated by how thoroughly the furnisher investigated the dispute (e.g., how well its conclusion is supported by the information it considered or reasonably could have considered).”
The Bureau also claimed that the Congress did not intend to exclude disputes that involve legal questions. “[M]any inaccurate representations pertaining to an individual’s debt obligations arguably could be characterized as legal inaccuracies, given that determining the truth or falsity of the representation could require the reading of a contract,” the Bureau wrote. Moreover, an “atextual exception for legal inaccuracies will create a loophole that could swallow the reasonable investigation rule,” the Bureau stressed. The agency urged the court to “reject a formal distinction between factual and legal investigations because it will likely prove unworkable in practice” and said that allowing such a distinction would “curtail the reach of the FCRA’s investigation requirement in a way that runs counter to the purpose of the provision to require meaningful investigation to ensure accuracy on credit reports.”
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the CFPB and the FTC filed an amicus brief presenting the same arguments last December in a different FCRA case on appeal to the 11th Circuit involving the same defendant.
11th Circuit advances TILA suit weighing agency theory of liability
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.
CFPB, FTC say furnishers’ investigative duties extend to legal disputes
On December 16, the CFPB and FTC filed an amicus brief in a case on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit concerning two related FCRA cases in support of plaintiffs-appellants and reversal of their suits involving a defendant hotel chain’s summary judgments. Both cases involve the same defendant company. In one case, the plaintiff entered into a timeshare agreement with the defendant for a property and made monthly payments for approximately three years. When the plaintiff stopped making payments, the plaintiff mailed the defendant letters that disputed the validity of, and purported to rescind, the agreement, while permitting the defendant to retain all prior payments as liquidated damages. The plaintiff obtained a copy of his credit report from a credit reporting agency (CRA), which stated that he had an open account with the defendant with a past-due balance. In three letters to the CRA, the plaintiff disputed the credit reporting. The letters stated that the plaintiff had terminated his agreement with the defendant and that he did not owe a balance. After the CRA communicated each dispute to the defendant, the defendant certified that the information for the defendant’s account was accurate. The plaintiff sued alleging the defendant violated the FCRA when it verified the accuracy of his credit report without conducting reasonable investigations following receipt of his indirect disputes. The defendant moved for summary judgment, alleging, among other things, that the plaintiff’s claim that he was not contractually obligated to make the payments to the defendant that are reported on his credit report as being due “is inherently a legal dispute and is not actionable under the FCRA.” The district court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, which the plaintiff appealed.
In the other case, the plaintiff entered into a timeshare agreement with the defendant. She made a down payment and the first three installment payments, but did not make any additional payments. The plaintiff sent letters to the defendant disputing the validity of, and attempted to cancel, the agreement. The defendant reported the plaintiff’s delinquency to the CRA. In three letters to the CRA, the plaintiff disputed the credit reporting. After the CRA communicated the disputes to the defendant, the defendant determined there was no inaccuracy in the reporting. The plaintiff sued alleging the defendant violated the FCRA when it verified the accuracy of her credit report without conducting reasonable investigations following receipt of her indirect disputes about credit reporting inaccuracies. The district court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, which the plaintiff appealed.
The CFPB and FTC argued in favor of the plaintiffs-appellants. According to the agencies, furnishers’ duty under the FCRA to reasonably investigate applies not only to factual disputes, but also to disputes that can be labeled as legal in nature. The agencies made three arguments to support their contention. First, a reasonable investigation is required under the FCRA to comport with its goal to “protect consumers from the transmission of inaccurate information about them.” The agencies argued that reasonableness is case specific, but it can “be evaluated by how thoroughly the furnisher investigated the dispute (e.g., how well its conclusion is supported by the information it considered or reasonably could have considered).”
Second, the agencies argued that Congress did not intend to exclude disputes that involve legal questions. The FCRA describes the types of indirect disputes that furnishers need to investigate, which are “those that dispute ‘the completeness or accuracy of any item of information contained in a consumer’s file.’” The agencies said nothing suggests that Congress intended to exclude information that is inaccurate on account of legal issues. Furthermore, the agencies noted that a lot of “inaccuracies in consumer reports could be characterized as legal, which would create an exception that would swallow the rule.” Consumer reports generally include information regarding an individual’s debt obligations, which are generally creatures of contract. Therefore, “many inaccurate representations pertaining to an individual’s debt obligations arguably could be characterized as legal inaccuracies, given that determining the truth or falsity of the representation could require the reading of a contract.”
Lastly, the agencies argued that an “atextual exception for legal inaccuracies would create a loophole that could swallow the reasonable investigation rule.” The agencies urged that “[g]iven the difficulty in distinguishing ‘legal’ from ‘factual’ disputes,” the court “should hold that there is no exemption in the FCRA’s reasonable investigation requirement for legal questions” because it would “curtail the reach of the FCRA’s investigation requirement in a way that runs counter to the purpose of the provision to require meaningful investigation to ensure accuracy on credit reports.”
FTC, CFPB weigh in on servicemembers’ right to sue under the MLA
On November 22, the FTC and CFPB (agencies) announced the filing of a joint amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit seeking the reversal of a district court’s decision that denied servicemembers the right to sue to invalidate a contract that allegedly violated the Military Lending Act (MLA). (See corresponding CFPB blog post here.) The agencies countered that the plain text of the MLA allows servicemembers to enforce their rights in court. Specifically, the agencies argued that Congress made it clear that when a lender extends a loan to a servicemember that fails to comply with the MLA, the loan is rendered void in its entirety. Moreover, Congress amended the MLA to unambiguously provide servicemembers certain legal rights, including an express private right of action and “the right to rescind and seek restitution on a contract void under the criteria of the statute.”
The case involves an active-duty servicemember and his spouse who financed the purchase of a timeshare from the defendants. Plaintiffs entered into an agreement with the defendants, made a down payment, and agreed to pay the remaining balance in monthly installments carrying an interest rate of 16.99 percent, in addition to annual assessments and club dues. None of the loan documents provided to the plaintiffs discussed the military annual percentage rate, nor did the defendants make any supplemental oral disclosures. Additionally, the agreement contained a mandatory arbitration clause (the MLA prohibits creditors from requiring servicemembers to submit to arbitration) and purportedly waived plaintiffs’ right to pursue a class action and their right to a jury trial. Plaintiffs filed a putative class action lawsuit alleging the agreement violated the MLA on several grounds, and sought an order declaring the agreement void. Plaintiffs also sought recission of the agreement, restitution, statutory, actual, and punitive damages, and an injunction requiring defendants to comply with the MLA going forward.
Defendants moved to dismiss, countering “that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they had not suffered any concrete injury and, even if they had, whatever injury they suffered was not traceable to the alleged MLA violations.” Defendants also argued that the loan was exempt under the MLA’s exemption for residential mortgages, and claimed that the MLA does not authorize statutory damages, nor did the plaintiffs state a claim for declaratory or injunctive relief. Further, defendants stated the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. The district court dismissed the lawsuit for lack of standing, agreeing with the magistrate judge that, among other things, plaintiffs “failed to allege ‘that the inclusion of the arbitration provision impacted [their] decision to accept the contract,’ and that they could not ‘seek relief based on a mere technicality that has not impacted them in any way.’”
Disagreeing with the district court’s ruling, the agencies argued that plaintiffs have a legal right to challenge the contract in court because (i) they made a down payment on an illegal and void loan; (ii) the injuries are traceable to the challenged conduct since “their monetary losses are the product of the illegal and void loan"; and (iii) their injuries “are redressable by an order of the court awarding restitution for the amounts that plaintiffs have already paid on the loan, and by a declaration confirming that the loan is void and that the plaintiffs have no obligation to make additional payments going forward.” The agencies asserted that courts have recognized that economic injury is exactly the sort of injury that courts have the power to redress.
Moreover, the agencies pointed out that the district court’s ruling “risks substantially curtailing private enforcement of the MLA and limiting servicemembers’ ability to vindicate their rights under the statute. It does so by reading the MLA’s voiding provision out of the statute and reading into the statute an atextual materiality requirement. But it may be very difficult, if not impossible, for servicemembers to demonstrate that certain MLA violations had a direct effect on their decision to procure a financial product or caused them to pay money they would not otherwise have paid.”
11th Circuit says wasted time, distress can confer FDCPA standing
On September 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated the dismissal of an FDCPA action after determining that wasted time and emotional distress can be sufficiently concrete as to confer Article III standing. After the plaintiff fell behind on his monthly condo association payments, the association referred the matter to a law firm (collectively, “defendants”). The defendant law firm eventually filed a claim of lien against the plaintiff’s condo and threatened foreclosure if the plaintiff did not pay more than $10,000 in past-due fees, interest, late fees, attorney’s fees, and costs. The plaintiff sued for violations of the FDCPA and state law, claiming, among other things, that the debt collection letters and claim of lien overstated the amount due by including interest, late fees, and other charges not permitted under Florida law. He also alleged that the law firm violated the FDCPA by filing the claim of lien in the public record, thereby communicating with a third party about his debt without permission. These actions, the plaintiff contended, caused him emotional distress and cost him time, money, and effort when “trying to ‘determine, verify, and dispute the amounts being sought against him.’” The plaintiff eventually voluntarily dismissed the claims against the association, and the law firm moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The district court determined that the plaintiff lacked standing because the law firm’s actions did not cause him any concrete injury and dismissed the suit.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit disagreed after finding that the time the plaintiff spent trying to determine the correct amount of debt and the emotion distress he suffered during the process were adequate to satisfy constitutional standing requirements. “[Plaintiff] presented evidence that he suffered injuries—including an inaccurate claim of lien against his property; time spent trying to determine the correct amount of his debt, resolve the lien, and avoid the threatened foreclosure; and emotional distress manifesting in a loss of sleep—which are sufficiently tangible to confer Article III standing,” the appellate court wrote. The 11th Circuit explained that while the time and money spent on the FDCPA lawsuit itself could not give rise to a concrete injury for standing purposes, the time and money spent by the plaintiff defending against a legal action taken by a debt collector was “separable” from the costs of bringing the FDCPA suit. Moreover, the appellate court determined that the defendants refusing to release the lien against the plaintiff’s home unless he paid more than what was actually owed “was a tangible harm sufficient to give [plaintiff] standing for his claims that the defendants’ conduct in filing the lien and threatening to foreclose on it violated the FDCPA.”
11th Circuit says plaintiff lacks standing in collection letter case
On September 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued an en banc decision in Hunstein v. Preferred Collection & Management Services, dismissing the case after determining the plaintiff lacked standing to sue. The majority determined that “[b]ecause Hunstein has alleged only a legal infraction—a ‘bare procedural violation’—and not a concrete harm, we lack jurisdiction to consider his claim.” In April 2021, the 11th Circuit held that transmitting a consumer’s private data to a commercial mail vendor to generate debt collection letters violates Section 1692c(b) of the FDCPA because it is considered transmitting a consumer’s private data “in connection with the collection of any debt.” The decision revived claims that the debt collector’s use of a third-party mail vendor to write, print, and send requests for medical debt repayment violated privacy rights established in the FDCPA. The 11th Circuit last November, however, voted sua sponte to rehear the case en banc and vacated its earlier opinion. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
The en banc decision relied heavily on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in TransUnion v. Ramirez (covered by InfoBytes here), which clarified the type of concrete injury necessary to establish Article III standing and directed courts “to consider common-law torts as sources of information on whether a statutory violation had caused a concrete harm.” The majority pointed out that when making a common-law tort comparison, courts “do not look at tort elements in a vacuum” but rather “make the comparison between statutory causes of action and those arising under the common law with an eye toward evaluating commonalities between the harms.”
“What harm did this alleged violation cause?” the majority questioned in its opinion, finding that no tangible injury or loss was identified in the complaint. Rather, the plaintiff analogized to the tort of public disclosure. The majority found that this comparison was inapposite, because “the disclosure alleged here lacks the fundamental element of publicity.” Because there was no public disclosure, there was no invasion of privacy and therefore no cognizable harm.
Four judges dissented, arguing that the plaintiff had standing to sue. They opined that the court’s job is not to determine whether the plaintiff stated a viable common-law tort claim, but rather to “compare the ‘harm’ that Congress targeted in the FDCPA and ‘harm’ that the common law sought to address” and to determine whether those harms bear a sufficiently “close relationship.” The dissenting judges found that the plaintiff’s allegations that the delivery of “intensely private information” to the vendor is the “same sort of harm that common-law invasion-of-privacy torts—and in particular, public disclosure of private facts—aim to remedy.” The dissent also stressed that even if the disclosure alleged by the plaintiff is less extensive than the type of disclosure of private information typically at issue in a common law invasion of privacy claim, that is a question of the degree of harm and not a question of the kind of harm, and therefore should not be the basis for dismissal.
11th Circuit affirms denial of title company’s cyber fraud claim
On September 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld a district court’s decision to deny insurance coverage to a Florida title company under its Cyber Protection Insurance Policy after it was allegedly “fraudulently induced—by an unknown actor impersonating a mortgage lender—to wire funds to an incorrect account.” The insurance company denied coverage on the basis that the title company did not meet the policy’s requirements. The title company submitted a claim under the cybercrime endorsement of its insurance policy, which includes a deceptive transfer fraud insurance clause that grants coverage provided certain criteria are met, including that the loss resulted from intentionally misleading actions, was done by a person purporting to be an employee, customer, client or vendor, and the authenticity of the wire transfer instructions was verified according to the title company’s internal procedures. The insurance company denied coverage, claiming that: (i) the mortgage lender to whom the funds were intended was not an employee, customer, client or vendor of the title company; and (ii) that the title company failed to verify the transfer request according to its procedures. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurance company, agreeing that coverage did not exist under the plain language of the policy.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit determined that the mortgage lender was not listed as an entity under the plain language of the policy. It further disagreed with the title company’s position that under Florida law, insurance coverage clauses must “be construed as broadly as possible to provide the greatest amount of coverage,” and that the deceptive transfer fraud clause should also include “persons and entities involved in the real estate transaction.” The appellate court noted that “[a]s attractive as that proposition may be, it is simply not what the clause provides,” adding that because the clause “limits coverage to misleading communications ‘sent by a person purporting to be an employee, customer, client or vendor’” it must interpret these terms according to their plain meaning and may not “alter the terms bargained to by parties to a contract.”
11th Circuit says one-year statutory notice period cannot be varied
On August 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated and remanded a district court’s summary judgment in favor of a bank after determining that the plaintiff-appellants’ claim for statutory repayment is not time-barred. Plaintiffs (Venezuelan citizens residing in Venezuela) maintained personal and commercial bank accounts at a Florida branch of the bank. According to the plaintiffs, a bank employee changed the email account associated with the bank accounts to a new fraudulent email. Identity thieves were later able to bypass security measures on the account, gave correct answers to security questions, and sent documents with signatures that matched ones the bank had on file, resulting in roughly $850,000 being transferred out of one of the accounts. Plaintiffs contended they were locked out of their accounts and struggled to contact the bank for months without success. After eventually regaining access to their accounts, plaintiffs discovered the stolen money and sued for a variety of claims, including fraud, negligence, and breach of contract. They also claimed that the bank was required to refund them for the fraudulent wire transfers under Florida Statutes § 670.202. The bank argued, among other things, that the plaintiffs’ claims were time-barred because they failed to notify the bank about the alleged fraud within 30 days of receiving a bank statement. Plaintiffs responded that the Florida Statutes provide a one-year time period to notify a bank of an unauthorized wire transfer and stated that the time-period could not be modified by agreement. The district court entered summary judgment for the bank, concluding “that the one-year period was modifiable and that the parties had modified it.” The district court also determined that because the bank’s procedures were “commercially reasonable” and followed “in good faith” it was not liable to the plaintiffs to repay the wire transfers.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit held that the plaintiffs were still within their statutory one-year notification period when they notified the bank of the fraudulent wire transfers, and rejected the bank’s argument that it could shorten the notification period to 30 days. The 11th Circuit, in rejecting the bank’s argument determined that it cannot “shift the loss of an unauthorized order to the customer during the statutorily determined period,” adding that “if the one-year statutory notice period could be varied, then banks could insist that customers sign contracts that make the time to demand a refund of a fraudulent payment a day (or even less). That would impair the account holder’s right to a refund and defeat Florida’s intent that banks—not account holders— bear the risk of a fraudulent transfer for the first year following the transfer. And there’s no limiting principle in the text for how short banks could make the statutory refund period.” Pointing out that the bank was unable to identify a limiting principal at oral argument, the appellate court concluded that “if banks could modify the one-year period, there’s no principled way to draw the line as to how short of a refund period is too short.” On remand, the 11th Circuit also instructed the district court to review whether the bank’s security procedures are “commercially reasonable.”
11th Circuit reverses class action settlement in TCPA case
On July 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated and remanded a district court’s approval of a class action certification and settlement agreement in an TCPA action after determining that the plaintiff lacked Article III standing in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez (covered by InfoBytes here). According to the opinion, the plaintiff sued the defendant, alleging it violated the TCPA by calling and texting her “solely to market its services and products through a prohibited automatic telephone dialing system.” After the case was consolidated, and after negotiating with the defendant, the plaintiffs submitted a proposed class settlement agreement that established a settlement fund of $35 million to the 1.26 million settlement class members, who would receive either a $35 cash payment or a $150 voucher for the defendant’s services. The district court had noted Salcedo v. Hanna, in which the 11th Circuit held “that receipt of a single unwanted text message was not a sufficiently concrete injury to give rise to Article III standing,” and that “the proposed class definition included individuals who received only one text message from [the defendant].” The district court determined that “even though some of the included class members would not have a viable claim in the Eleventh Circuit, they do have a viable claim in their respective Circuit [because of a circuit split]. Thus, [the defendant] is entitled to settle those claims in this class action although this Court would find them meritless had they been brought individually in the Eleventh Circuit”
On appeal, the 11th Circuit noted that TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez held that “every class member must have Article III standing in order to recover individual damages.” The appellate court further noted that “TransUnion says that we can’t award damages to plaintiffs who do not have Article III standing. And Article III standing goes to the heart of our jurisdiction to hear cases in the first place. It further stated that the court “cannot … check [its] Article III requirements at the door of the class action. Any class definition that includes members who would never have standing under our precedent is a class definition that cannot stand.”