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On April 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh 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.” According to the opinion, the plaintiff’s medical debt was assigned to the defendant debt collector, who, in turn, hired a mail vendor to produce a dunning letter in the course of collecting the outstanding debt. In order to produce the letter, information about the plaintiff was allegedly electronically transmitted from the defendant to the mail vendor, including his status as a debtor, the exact balance of the debt, its origin, and other personal information. The plaintiff filed suit, claiming the disclosure of the information to the mail vendor violated the FDCPA’s third-party disclosure provisions, which the district court dismissed for failure to state a claim.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit reviewed whether a violation of § 1692c(b) gives rise to a concrete injury under Article III, and whether the defendant’s communication with the mail vendor was “in connection with the collection of any debt.” In reversing the district court’s ruling, the appellate court determined that communicating debt-related personal information with the third-party mail vendor is a concrete injury under Article III. Even though the plaintiff did not allege a tangible injury, the appellate court held, in a matter of first impression, that under the circumstances, the plaintiff alleged a communication “in connection with the collection of any debt” within the meaning of § 1692c(b). In choosing this interpretation over the defendant’s “‘industry practice argument,’” in which the defendant referred to the widespread use of mail vendors and the relative lack of FDCPA suits brought against debt collectors who use these vendors, the 11th Circuit recognized that its interpretation of the statute may require debt collectors to in-source many of the services previously outsourced to third-parties at a potentially great cost. “We recognize, as well, that those costs may not purchase much in the way of ‘real’ consumer privacy, as we doubt that the [mail vendors] of the world routinely read, care about, or abuse the information that debt collectors transmit to them,” the appellate court wrote, adding, “Even so, our obligation is to interpret the law as written, whether or not we think the resulting consequences are particularly sensible or desirable.”
On April 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld a district court’s ruling compelling individual arbitration in five separate putative class action suits concerning allegations that a national bank’s overdraft practices violated the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The opinion does not address plaintiffs’ claims concerning the bank’s alleged overdraft practices, but rather reviews the enforceability of arbitration clauses contained in account agreements between plaintiffs and the bank (or its predecessor), which require individual, non-class arbitration of consumer account-related disputes. The plaintiffs appealed a ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida that the account agreements “delegate to the arbitrator all questions of arbitrability, including Plaintiffs’ challenge to the enforceability of the arbitration clause,” and that it is up to the arbitrator, and not the court, to determine whether the parties are required to arbitrate. According to the plaintiffs, the arbitration clause is illusory and/or unconscionable and therefore unenforceable. They challenged, among other things, that “the incorporation of the [American Arbitration Association] (AAA) rules cannot overcome the plain language of the delegation clause,” which the plaintiffs argued limited delegation of gateway issues to those related to a disagreement about the meaning of the arbitration agreement or whether a disagreement is a “dispute” subject to binding arbitration.”
The appellate court disagreed, concluding that nothing in the account agreement with the bank “explicitly excludes or contradicts” anything included in the AAA rules, and that it has repeatedly held that an agreement that incorporates “AAA rules with language providing that ‘the arbitrator shall have the power to rule on his or her own jurisdiction,’” shows “a clear and unmistakable intent that the arbitrator should decide all questions of arbitrability.” Moreover, the 11th Circuit found no inconsistency in the account agreement’s language, holding that when “[r]ead together, we view the incorporation and delegation clause as ‘mutually reinforcing methods of delegation.’” With respect to the predecessor bank’s agreement, which does not contain a delegation provision, the appellate court ultimately determined that the arbitration clause was neither illusory and/or unconscionable.
On April 7, a split U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit concluded that a website is not a “public accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The plaintiff sued a supermarket chain under Title III of the ADA, alleging its website was incompatible with screen reader software and caused him injury by denying him the “full and equal enjoyment” provided to sighted customers. The district court issued a judgment ordering the supermarket chain to bring its website into compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 standard after concluding that the plaintiff sufficiently demonstrated a sufficient “nexus” between the website and the supermarket chain’s physical premises. On appeal, the appellate court reviewed, among other things, the question of whether websites are public accommodations under the ADA. The majority vacated the district court’s ruling that the website was an intangible barrier to the supermarket chain’s physical stores and in violation of the ADA. Specifically, the majority reviewed the 12 types of locations listed as public accommodations under Title III, and found that none of them were “intangible places or spaces, such as websites.”
The majority further distinguished its conclusion from its holding in Rendon. v. Valleycrest Products, Ltd., in which it determined that the ADA covers both tangible, physical barriers as well as “intangible barriers, such as eligibility requirements and screening rules or discriminatory policies and procedures that restrict a disabled person’s ability to enjoy the defendant entity’s goods, services and privileges,” noting that the “limited use website, although inaccessible by individuals who are visually disabled, does not function as an intangible barrier to an individual with a visual disability accessing the goods, services, privileges or advantages of [the supermarket chain’s] physical stores.” Moreover, the majority rejected the plaintiff’s argument that Rendon established that a plaintiff only has to demonstrate a “nexus” between the service and the physical public accommodation, declining to adopt such a standard after finding no basis for it in the ADA or in previous precedent. This decision further divides the circuits over the scope of a “public accommodation.”
On April 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that an arbitration provision survived the termination of a subscriber agreement between a defendant cable company and a customer. According to the opinion, the plaintiff obtained services from the defendant in December 2016, and signed a subscriber agreement containing an arbitration provision covering claims that arose before the agreement was entered into and after it expired or was terminated. The plaintiff terminated the defendant’s services in August 2017, but later called the defendant in 2019 to inquire about pricing and services. The plaintiff filed a putative class action, alleging the defendant violated the FCRA when it accessed his credit report during the call without his permission, thus lowering his credit score. The defendant moved to compel arbitration, which the district court denied, ruling that while the parties may have intended for the arbitration provision to survive termination of the subscriber agreement, the plaintiff’s claim fell outside the scope of the subscriber agreement because “no reasonable person would believe that the Arbitration Provision was so all-encompassing as to apply to all claims regardless of when they occurred or whether they related to the agreement.” Moreover, the district court ruled that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) “could only compel [the plaintiff] to arbitrate his FCRA claim if it ‘arose out of’ or ‘relate[d] to’ the 2016 subscriber agreement, which the district court held it did not.
On appeal, the appellate court disagreed, concluding that the plaintiff’s FCRA claim relates to the 2016 subscriber agreement since the defendant was only able to conduct the credit check during the phone call because of its previous relationship with the plaintiff. The plaintiff argued that he was calling to obtain new services and not to reconnect services, but the appellate court countered that the “reconnection provision” contained within the subscriber agreement provides broad language that defines terminate, suspend, and disconnect as not necessarily being mutually exclusive. However, the 11th Circuit clarified that its holding is narrow, and that because it concluded that the plaintiff’s claim did arise out of the subscriber agreement the court did not need to and was not making a determination about whether the “broad scope” of the arbitration provision in the subscriber agreement is enforceable under the FAA.
On March 31, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of an action for failure to state a claim against a mortgage servicer, agreeing with the district court that the consumer failed to plausibly allege a “causal link” between the alleged RESPA violation and actual damages. According to the opinion, the plaintiff alleged he never received notice of a foreclosure sale on his deceased mother’s property, although he was the administrator of her estate. He filed suit, claiming the servicer failed to respond to his qualified written requests within 30 days as required under RESPA, and that as a result of the foreclosure, he allegedly “suffered actual damages from the loss of his mother’s home, loss of her belongings, and his mental anguish.” The servicer countered that the alleged “actual damages” did not result from the servicer’s failure to respond properly to the plaintiff’s letters, but rather were a result of the estate’s failure to pay the mortgage and the resulting foreclosure. In affirming the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims, the 11th Circuit agreed with the district court that the plaintiff never asked the servicer to rescind the foreclosure sale (noting that under RESPA, a borrower is not authorized to request rescission of a foreclosure sale), and that, moreover, the servicer’s failure to do what the plaintiff actually asked it to do—provide information about the mortgage—did not cause his damages.
On February 12, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia granted summary judgment in favor of a satellite TV company as to a class action’s TCPA claims, concluding that the company was not liable for its telemarketing service provider’s cold calls. As previously covered by InfoBytes, a consumer filed a class action against the company alleging that the company failed to maintain an “internal do-not-call list,” which allowed the company and its telemarketing service provider to contact him eighteen times after he repeatedly asked to not be contacted. The consumer sought certification “of all persons who received more than one telemarketing call from [the telemarketing service provider] on behalf of [the company] while it failed to maintain an internal do-not-call list.” The district court certified two representative classes: the Internal Do Not Call (IDNC) class and the National Do Not Call (NDNC) class. The company appealed the IDNC class and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court’s certification of the IDNC class. The company then moved for summary judgment on the certified NDNC class claims and plaintiff’s individual IDNC claim.
Upon review, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the company concluding that there was no evidence that (i) the cold calls were made by the telemarketing provider within its actual authority from the company; (ii) the company made representations sufficient to give the telemarketing provider the apparent authority to make the cold calls; or (iii) the company ever ratified the cold calls. Specifically, the court noted that not only did the company “categorically ban all residential and cellular cold calls,” it also “regularly issued reminders that [the telemarketing provider] was required to continue implementation of national-do-not-call procedures in compliance with the TCPA.”
On February 4, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of a class action complaint, which raised several claims against a restaurant following a data breach that exposed customers’ financial information, for the named plaintiff’s lack of standing. According to the opinion, a restaurant chain suffered a data breach when hackers gained access to customers’ credit and debit card information through an outside vendor’s remote connection tool. The restaurant chain provided notice to customers that their information “‘may’ have been accessed.” A consumer, who made two purchases during the data breach period, cancelled the credit cards he used and filed a class action two weeks after the announcement of the breach, alleging the company was negligent in failing to safeguard the credit card data, and violated the Florida Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act (FUDTPA), among others. The district court dismissed the action for lack of standing, concluding that the consumer failed to identify a “single specific, concrete injury in fact that he or anyone else  suffered as a result of any misuse of customer credit card information.”
On appeal, the 11th Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding. The appellate court rejected the consumer’s theories of standing, which were predicated on (i) a threatened “future injury” of identity theft, and (ii) the consumer’s alleged suffering of “mitigation injuries” (i.e., lost time, lost rewards points, and loss of access to accounts). The appellate court explained that in data breach cases like this, to have Article III standing the consumer must show a “substantial risk” of harm or that harm (e.g., identity theft) is “certainly impending.” The appellate court noted that despite the consumer still carrying “some risk of future harm involving identify theft,” that risk “is not substantial and is, at best, speculative” because the consumer “immediately cancelled his credit cards following disclosure [of the breach], effectively eliminating the risk of credit card fraud in the future.” Moreover, according to the appellate court, the consumer did not sufficiently allege an actual, present injury, through “inflicting injuries on himself to avoid an insubstantial, non-imminent risk of identity theft.” The appellate court reasoned that “[t]o hold otherwise would allow an enterprising plaintiff to secure a lower standard for Article III standing simply by making an expenditure based on a nonparanoid fear.”
On January 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that a debt owner (defendant) cannot be held liable under the FDCPA or Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (FCCPA) for the allegedly false representations made by another entity acting on its behalf. According to the opinion, after a consumer defaulted on three credit cards, the debts were sold to the defendant, and its affiliate began collection efforts in Florida state court against the consumer. The lawsuits were filed under the defendant’s name, “but [the affiliate] was ‘responsible for reviewing, processing, and entering all hearing results.’” The parties agreed to a settlement agreement and the consumer made his first payment. However, on each subsequent occasion the consumer visited the affiliates’ website, the website displayed a balance over three times as high as the settlement amount. The consumer filed suit against the defendant, alleging multiple violations of the FDCPA and FCCPA. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, concluding that the defendant could not be liable under the FDCPA or the FCCPA, notwithstanding the fact that it qualifies as a debt collector.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit agreed with the district court, affirming summary judgment in favor of the defendant. Specifically, the appellate court rejected the consumer’s arguments that the defendant should be held indirectly liable for the affiliate’s representations made on their website. The appellate court noted that if the defendant qualified as a debt collector under the “principle purposes” clause of the FDCPA, “it cannot be held liable based on the use of ‘indirectly’ in the separate and inapplicable ‘regularly collects’ definition.” Moreover, the appellate court rejected the consumer’s argument that the definition of “communication” under the FDCPA supports indirect liability, concluding it is similarly “irrelevant to [the consumer]’s false representation claims under Section 1692e.” Lastly, because the district court properly granted summary judgment on the consumer’s FDCPA claim, “it correctly granted summary judgment on his FCCPA claim as well.”
On December 4, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in a TCPA action in favor of a student loan servicer and an affiliate responsible for performing default aversion services (collectively, “defendants”), concluding that the plaintiff re-consented to being contacted on his cell phone after filling out a form on the servicer’s website. According to the opinion, following a class action settlement in 2010—in which members of the class (including the plaintiff) who did not “submit revocation request forms were ‘deemed to have provided prior express consent’” to be contacted by the defendants—the plaintiff later claimed to have revoked consent to being contacted through the use of an automated telephone dialing system (autodialer) during a call with the servicer. While on the call, the plaintiff filled out an online automatic debit agreement to make payments on his delinquent loan. The agreement included a demographic form with an option for the plaintiff to update his contact information, which included an optional cell phone number field and a disclosure that granted consent to being contacted on his cell phone using an autodialer. The defendants began contacting the plaintiff on his cell phone after he fell behind on his loan payments, and the plaintiff sued, alleging the defendants violated the TCPA by placing calls using an autodialer without obtaining his prior express consent. The district court granted the servicer’s motion for summary judgment, ruling that the plaintiff “expressly consented” to receiving the calls and could not “unilaterally revoke” consent “given as consideration in a valid bargained-for-contract,” and that the plaintiff nonetheless “reconsented when he submitted the demographic form.” The plaintiff appealed, arguing, among other things, that he did not re-consent to being contacted because the form was submitted directly after his oral revocation to the servicer.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit agreed with the district court, holding that while it was true that the plaintiff “filled out the demographic form just moments after he orally revoked his prior consent, [the plaintiff] cites no authority that this temporal proximity should require this Court to consider the separate interactions (of revoking consent and later reconsenting) as one lumped-together interaction.” As such, the appellate court disagreed with the plaintiff’s argument “that the revocation of consent standard should stretch to apply to [his] later reconsent to [the servicer].”
On October 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, in a 7-3 en banc decision, vacated a $6.3 million Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) class action settlement, concluding the plaintiffs lacked standing because they did not allege any concrete harm. According to the opinion, the named plaintiff filed a FACTA class action against a chocolate retailer, alleging that the retailer printed too many credit card digits on receipts over several years. The complaint only pursued statutory damages and explicitly stated it did “not intend to request any recovery for personal injury.” The parties agreed to settle the litigation for $6.3 million prior to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins (holding that a plaintiff must allege a concrete injury, not just a statutory violation, to establish standing). After Spokeo, the district court approved the class action, and class objectors appealed, with one objector arguing that the district court lacked jurisdiction to approve the settlement because the named plaintiff did not allege an injury in fact. On appeal, the 11th Circuit issued multiple opinions, with the first two affirming the settlement approval. The full panel ordered a rehearing en banc, vacating the last opinion.
The en banc panel vacated the district court order approving the settlement, concluding that the named plaintiff lacked standing under Spokeo. Specifically, the panel rejected the named plaintiff’s argument that “receipt of a noncompliant receipt itself is a concrete injury,” noting that “nothing in FACTA suggests some kind of intrinsic worth in a compliant receipt.” Moreover, the panel disagreed with the named plaintiff’s distinction that his claim was a “substantive” violation and not just a “procedural” one, reasoning that “no matter what label you hang on a statutory violation, it must be accompanied by a concrete injury.” Because the complaint did not allege a concrete injury, the panel vacated the order.
In dissent, one judge argued that the named plaintiff plausibly alleged concrete harm by establishing that the retailer’s FACTA violation elevated his risk of identity theft. In the second dissent, another judge asserted that both common law and congressional intent support the conclusion that the plaintiff’s complaint constitutes a concrete injury in fact. And lastly, the third dissent argued that the order should not be dismissed outright because the majority made “assumptions about the risks of identity theft without the benefit of a factual record, expert reports, or adversarial testing of the issue in the district court.”