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  • Healthcare providers reach $3.5 million settlement in FDCPA suit after eight years of litigation

    Courts

    On November 2, two healthcare providers settled with plaintiffs after eight years of litigation between the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, stemming from alleged violations of the FDCPA, breach of contract, and violations of the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act, among other things. According to the order, the defendants allegedly contacted plaintiffs and their legal counsel, requesting that their legal counsel sign a letter to forego any legal settlement or judgment against the defendants to prevent plaintiffs’ accounts from being sent to collections, despite having plaintiffs’ health insurance information. While the defendants deny any fault, wrongdoing, or liability in connection with the claims, the parties agreed to a settlement amount of $3.5 million, with each claimant receiving a cash payment of $25. The class is comprised of 12,000 individuals with health insurance plans accepted by the healthcare provider who were patients at an Ohio facility from 2009 to 2023, and subsequently made payments or were asked to make payments for their treatment, excluding co-pays or deductibles. Additionally, certain class members will also receive a cash payment equal to fifty percent of the amount paid to the healthcare provider.

    Courts Class Action Debt Collection FDCPA Settlement Sixth Circuit

  • 6th Circuit: Single RVM confers standing

    Courts

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently held that receiving one ringless voicemail (RVM) was enough to confer standing upon a plaintiff under the TCPA. In that case, plaintiff asserted he received several RVMs to his cell phone but never consented to receiving the messages. He filed a putative class action suit for violations of the TCPA, alleging the defendant used an automated telephone dialing system (autodialer) to deliver multiple RVMs to his cell phone advertising its services. According to the plaintiff, the RVMs tied up his phone line, cost him money, and invaded his privacy. During discovery, an expert concluded that only one of the 11 voicemails plaintiff claimed to have received was from the defendant. The defendant moved to dismiss, arguing the plaintiff lacked standing because he did not suffer a concrete injury. The district court granted defendant’s motion, ruling that receiving a single RVM did not constitute a concrete harm sufficient for Article III standing, because, among other things, plaintiff could not recall what he was doing when the RVMs were sent, he was not charged for the RVM, the RVM did not tie up his phone line, and he spent a very small amount of time reviewing the message.

    On appeal, the 6th Circuit noted that it had not previously considered whether receiving a single RVM for commercial purposes is sufficient to confer standing under the TCPA. To determine whether an intangible harm—such as receiving an unsolicited RVM—rises to the level of concrete injury, the appellate court reviewed U.S. Supreme Court rulings on standing. “[Plaintiff’s] receipt of an unsolicited RVM bears a close relationship to the kind of injury protected by the common law tort of intrusion upon seclusion; and his claimed harm directly correlates with the protections enshrined by Congress in the TCPA,” the 6th Circuit wrote, reversing and remanding the district court’s judgment and stating that “[plaintiff] suffered a concrete injury in fact sufficient for Article III standing purposes.”

    Courts Appellate Sixth Circuit TCPA Consumer Protection Autodialer Class Action

  • 6th Circuit: Tennessee judicial foreclosure time-barred

    Courts

    On May 4, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed a lower court’s decision in a judicial foreclosure action, holding that a bank’s lawsuit was barred by Tennessee’s 10-year statute of limitations for actions to enforce liens on real property. The appellate court also refused to establish an equitable lien on the property in favor of the bank. According to the opinion, the home equity line of credit at issue in the case matured in 2007, requiring a final balloon payment, but the bank did not demand this payment, refinance the loan, or foreclose on the property. Instead, the bank continued to accept monthly interest payments totaling around $100,000 until 2017. The opinion reflected that the bank did not contend there to be a written instrument showing an extension of the loan or that such an extension was recorded. Rather, the bank raised several arguments, including that there was an oral modification to the loan and that it had the unilateral right to extend the loan based on “a future advances provision that could extend the maturity date for up to twenty years.” The bank further argued that the defendants’ monthly interest payments excused any writing requirement and evidenced an agreement to extend the loan’s maturity date. The appellate court disagreed, concluding that because the bank could not show, as a matter of law, that the loan’s maturity date was extended, its suit is untimely. The appellate court stated  that the bank was aware that the loan “was in default as early as 2011 (well within the statute of limitations period) but took no action to foreclose or refinance.” The 6th Circuit further noted that if the bank had “simply memorialized an extension to the [l]oan’s maturity date in writing as required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-2-111(c), it would not be in this situation.”

    Courts Appellate Sixth Circuit Foreclosure Mortgages Consumer Finance

  • 6th Circuit: Each alleged FDCPA violation carries its own statute of limitations

    Courts

    On March 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of a debt collection action, holding that every alleged violation of the FDCPA has its own statute of limitations. According to the opinion, the plaintiff financed a furniture purchase through a retail installment contract. While making payments on the contract, the company purportedly sold the debt to a third party. After the plaintiff defaulted on the debt, the third party—through the defendant attorney—sued the plaintiff in state court to recover the unpaid debt and attorney’s fees. After the third party eventually voluntarily dismissed the suit due to questions of whether the debt transfer was valid, the plaintiff sued the attorney for violating the FDCPA, alleging the defendant doctored the retail installment contract (RIC) to make it appear as if the debt assignment was legal. The defendant moved to dismiss the complaint as time-barred by the FDCPA’s one-year statute of limitations. The district court dismissed the case citing the complaint was filed more than a year after the third party filed the state court complaint and later denied both the plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration and the defendant’s motion for attorney’s fees. Both parties appealed.

    On appeal, the 6th Circuit agreed that the plaintiff made a timely claim. Plaintiff argued that at least one of her claims fell within the one-year statute of limitations—the attorney’s filing of the updated RIC that allegedly showed the “contrived transfer” of debt—and maintained that she filed within one year of that alleged violation. The defendant countered, among other things, that the plaintiff’s claim was time-barred because it was a continuing effect of the third party’s initial filing of the state court complaint. The 6th Circuit reviewed caselaw on the “continuing-violation doctrine” and determined that the doctrine was not relevant to the case, stating that the plaintiff never invoked it because she was not “trying to sweep in acts that would otherwise be outside of the filing period,” but rather sought “redress for a single claim that is not time-barred.” The 6th Circuit emphasized that the plaintiff’s “single claim is independent of [the third party’s] initial filing of the lawsuit—not a continuing effect of it—because it is a standalone FDCPA violation.” The opinion further stated that the only date considered for the statute of limitations is the date a lawsuit is filed when subsequent FDCPA violations within that lawsuit occurred, and wrote that “[i]f we were to only consider the date [the third party] filed suit . . . we would create a rule that disregards the fact that §1629k(d) creates an independent statute of limitations for each violation of the FDCPA . . . . And if we adopted [the defendant’s] approach, we’d be saying that ‘so long as a debtor does not initiate suit within one year of the first violation, a debt collector [is] permitted to violate the FDCPA with regard to that debt indefinitely and with impunity.’”

    Courts Appellate Sixth Circuit FDCPA Debt Collection State Issues Consumer Finance

  • 6th Circuit affirms FCRA summary judgment

    Courts

    On November 4, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed a district court’s summary judgment ruling in favor of a credit reporting agency (defendant) accused of violating the FCRA. According to the opinion, a father and son (plaintiff) filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions just over a year apart with the same attorney. Both petitions had their similar names, identical address, and, mistakenly, the plaintiff’s social security number. Although the attorney corrected the social security number on the father’s bankruptcy petition the day after it was filed, the defendant allegedly failed to catch the amendment and erroneously reported the father’s bankruptcy on the plaintiff’s credit report for nine years. When the plaintiff noticed the error, he sent the defendant a letter and demanded a sum in settlement. The defendant removed the father’s bankruptcy filing from the plaintiff’s credit report. The plaintiff sued two credit reporting agencies, alleging they violated the FCRA by failing to “follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy” of his reported information. One of the agencies settled with the plaintiff. A district court granted the other defendant’s motion for summary judgment, which the plaintiff appealed.

    On the appeal, the 6th Circuit noted that the plaintiff “has standing to bring this action, but also agree that he cannot establish that [defendant’s] procedures were unreasonable as a matter of law.” The appellate court found that, because the defendant gathered information from reliable sources and because someone “with at least some legal training” would have had to manually review the bankruptcy docket to notice that the Social Security number had been updated, the defendant did not violate the FCRA. The appellate court wrote that the defendant’s “processes strike the right balance between ensuring accuracy and avoiding ‘an enormous burden’ on consumer credit reporting agencies.” Furthermore, the 6th Circuit stated that, “[g]iven the sheer amount of data maintained by these companies, we know that consumers are ‘in a better position . . . to detect errors’ in their credit reports and inquire about a fix.”

    Courts Credit Reporting Agency Appellate Sixth Circuit FCRA Bankruptcy Consumer Finance

  • 6th Circuit reverses and remands judgment in debt collection suit

    Courts

    On June 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded a district court’s summary judgment ruling in favor of a defendant-appellee law firm, holding that it did not first exhaust all of its efforts to collect from the actual debtor. According to the opinion, the plaintiff’s husband was convicted of embezzlement and willful failure to pay taxes and was sent invoices for his legal fees by another law firm, which he did not pay. The law firm hired the defendant to collect on the debt. The defendant filed a lawsuit against the plaintiff and her husband, arguing under the Ohio Necessaries Statute that the husband was liable to third parties for necessaries, such as food, shelter, and clothing that were provided to his wife. An Ohio state court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and an interlocutory appeal by the defendant was denied. The plaintiff then filed suit against the defendant, alleging that defendant’s underlying suit violated the FDCPA by attempting to collect under the claim that she was liable for her spouse’s debt. The district court granted the defendant’s summary judgment motion, which the plaintiff appealed.

    On the appeal, the 6th Circuit found that the defendant did not follow the express commands of the Ohio Supreme Court's 2018 decision in Embassy Healthcare v. Bell, which held that spouses who are not debtors are liable only if the debtor does not have the assets to pay the debt themselves. The 6th Circuit found that the defendant did not satisfy those prerequisites to collect from the plaintiff when it filed a joint-liability suit against her and her husband. Thus, the collection efforts against the spouse who incurred the debt must be exhausted “before attempting to collect from a spouse.” The 6th Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded for further proceedings with instructions to enter judgment in favor of the plaintiff.

    Courts State Issues Appellate Sixth Circuit Ohio FDCPA Debt Collection Consumer Finance

  • Supreme Court blocks OSHA mandate

    Courts

    On January 13, a divided U.S. Supreme Court issued an order blocking a Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule mandating that employers with 100 or more employees require employees to be fully vaccinated or be subject to a weekly Covid-19 test at their own expense. However, in a separate order the Court allowed a separate rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services requiring Covid-19 vaccinations for health care workers (unless exempt for medical or religious reasons) at Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers and suppliers to take effect.

    In November, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a nationwide stay on the emergency temporary standard (ETS) that included the mandate to employers, describing enforcement of the ETS illegitimate and calling the OSHA rule “unlawful” and “likely unconstitutional.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) However, last month, the 6th Circuit lifted the stay in a 2-1 ruling, stating that “[b]ased on [OSHA’s] language, structure and Congressional approval, OSHA has long asserted its authority to protect workers against infectious diseases.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The applicants, seeking emergency relief from the Court to reinstate the stay, argued that the rule exceeded OSHA’s statutory authority and is otherwise unlawful.

    In agreeing that the applicants are likely to prevail, the Court majority granted the application for relief and stayed the OSHA rule pending disposition of the applicants’ petitions for review in the 6th Circuit, as well as disposition of any timely petitions for writs of certiorari. “Although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly,” the majority wrote. Adding that the ETS is a “blunt instrument” that “draws no distinctions based on industry or risk of exposure to COVID-19,” the majority stated that the Occupational Safety and Health Act does not plainly authorize the rule.

    The dissenting judges argued that the majority’s decision “stymies the Federal Government’s ability to counter the unparalleled threat that COVID–19 poses to our Nation’s workers. Acting outside of its competence and without legal basis, the Court displaces the judgments of the Government officials given the responsibility to respond to workplace health emergencies.”

    With respect to the Department of Health and Human Services rule, the Government applied to stay injunctions issued by two district courts preventing the rule from taking effect. In granting the application and staying the injunctions, the majority of the Court found that one of the Department’s basic functions authorized by Congress “is to ensure that the healthcare providers who care for Medicare and Medicaid patients protect their patients’ health and safety,” concluding that “[h]ealthcare workers around the country are ordinarily required to be vaccinated for diseases” and that “addressing infection problems in Medicare and Medicaid facilities is what [the Secretary] does.” 

    In dissent, four justices argued that the efficacy or importance of Covid-19 vaccines was not at issue in assessing the injunctions, stating that the district court cases were about “whether [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] has the statutory authority to force healthcare workers, by coercing their employers, to undergo a medical procedure they do not want and cannot undo,” and arguing that “the Government has not made a strong showing that Congress gave CMS that broad authority.”

    Courts U.S. Supreme Court Appellate Sixth Circuit OSHA Covid-19 Department of Labor Department of Health and Human Services Fifth Circuit

  • 6th Circuit: OSHA required testing is allowed

    Courts

    On December 17, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit lifted the stay on the federal government’s rule requiring employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their employees are vaccinated against Covid-19 or be subjected to weekly Covid-19 testing. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a rule in the Federal Register requiring employers to develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory Covid-19 vaccination policy, unless they adopt a policy requiring employees to choose between vaccination or regular testing for Covid-19 and wearing a face covering at work. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a nationwide stay on the emergency temporary standard (ETS), which mandates that all employers with 100 or more employees require employees to be fully vaccinated or be subject to a weekly Covid-19 test (covered by InfoBytes here). The 5th Circuit stay, which was in response to a legal challenge filed by several states along with private entities and individuals, affirmed the court’s initial stay. The 5th Circuit said OSHA’s enforcement of the ETS is illegitimate and called it “unlawful” and “likely unconstitutional.” Furthermore, the 5th Circuit ordered OSHA to “take no steps to implement or enforce the Mandate until further court order.”

    On the appeal, the 6th Circuit lifted the stay in a 2-1 ruling, stating that “[b]ased on [OSHA’s] language, structure and Congressional approval, OSHA has long asserted its authority to protect workers against infectious diseases." The appellate court also noted that “OSHA relied on public health data to support its observations that workplaces have a heightened risk of exposure to the dangers of COVID-19 transmission.” However, one judge dissented, writing that “[v]accines are freely available, and unvaccinated people may choose to protect themselves at anytime. And because the [Secretary of Labor] likely lacks congressional authority to force them to protect themselves, the remaining stay factors cannot tip the balance.”

    Courts Appellate Sixth Circuit OSHA Covid-19

  • 6th Circuit affirms decision compelling arbitration in data breach case

    Courts

    On December 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed a district court’s decision dismissing a nationwide putative class action against an e-commerce provider, holding that challenges raised to the validity of an agreement to arbitrate were for the arbitrator to decide, not the court. According to the opinion, the plaintiff class, including four minor individuals, filed suit after the defendant allegedly failed to protect millions of customers’ personal account information that was then obtained in a 2019 data breach. The opinion noted that the defendant’s Terms of Service contained an arbitration agreement, a delegation provision, a class action waiver, and instructions regarding how to opt-out of the arbitration agreement. The district court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss and compel arbitration after rejecting the plaintiffs’ arguments that the arbitration clause is “invalid” and “unenforceable” as to the minor plaintiffs under the infancy doctrine.

    On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that there was an issue of fact regarding whether four of the plaintiffs had agreed to the Terms of Service, and that the defenses of infancy and unconscionability rendered the Terms of Service invalid. According to the appellate court, though “a contract exists and . . . the delegation provision itself is valid, the arbitrator must decide in the first instance whether the defenses of infancy and unconscionability allow plaintiffs to avoid arbitrating the merits of their claims.” The appellate court further agreed with the district court that “[i]t’s not about the merits of the case. It’s not even about whether the parties have to arbitrate the merits. Instead, it’s about who should decide whether the parties have to arbitrate the merits.”

    Courts Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Class Action Arbitration Data Breach Appellate Sixth Circuit

  • 6th Circuit: TCPA robocall claims not invalidated by severance of 2015 amendment in AAPC

    Courts

    On September 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit determined that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants Inc. (AAPC) (covered by InfoBytes here, which held that the government-debt exception in Section 227(b)(1)(A)(iii) of the TCPA is an unconstitutional content-based speech restriction and severed the provision from the statute) does not invalidate a plaintiff’s TCPA claims concerning robocalls he received prior to the Court issuing its decision. In the current matter, the plaintiff filed a proposed class action alleging violations of the TCPA’s robocall restriction after he received two robocalls from the defendant in late 2019 and early 2020 advertising its electricity services. Following the Court’s decision in AAPC, the district court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss, ruling that because severance of the exception in AAPC only operates prospectively, “the robocall restriction was unconstitutional and therefore ‘void’ for the period the exception was on the books.” As such, the district court concluded that because the robocall restriction was void, it could not provide a basis for federal-question jurisdiction for alleged TCPA robocall violations arising before the Court severed the exception.

    On appeal, the 6th Circuit conducted a severability analysis, holding that the district court erred in concluding that the court, in AAPC, offered “‘a remedy in the form of eliminating the content-based restriction' from the TCPA.” Rather, the appellate court pointed out that “the Court recognized only that the Constitution had ‘automatically displace[d]’ the government-debt-collector exception from the start, then interpreted what the statute has always meant in its absence,” adding that the legal determination in AAPC applied retroactively and did not render the entire TCPA robocall restriction void until the exception was severed by the court. A First Amendment defense presented by the defendant premised on the argument that “government-debt collectors have a due-process defense to liability because they did not have fair notice of their actions’ unlawfulness” for robocalls placed before AAPC was also rejected. The 6th Circuit opinion emphasized that “[w]hether a debt collector had fair notice that it faced punishment for making robocalls turns on whether it reasonably believed that the statute expressly permitted its conduct. That, in turn, will likely depend in part on whether the debt collector used robocalls to collect government debt or non-government debt. But applying the speech-neutral fair-notice defense in the speech context does not transform it into a speech restriction.”

    Courts Appellate Sixth Circuit TCPA Robocalls U.S. Supreme Court Class Action

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