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  • District Court approves $30 million settlement for post-payment interest charges on FHA mortgages

    Courts

    On January 25, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted final approval of a $30 million settlement resolving allegations that a national bank improperly collected post-payment interest on FHA-insured mortgages but did not use the FHA-approved form to provide the appropriate disclosures to consumers before doing so. The settlement covers a nationwide class of borrowers who, between June 1996 and January 2015, obtained an FHA-insured mortgage loan. Participating class members are expected to receive between $25 and $33 each. The court also approved a $7.5 million award for class counsel attorneys’ fees, of which $7,500 and $5,000 will be awarded to the named plaintiffs.

    Courts Class Action Settlement FHA Mortgages

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  • 9th Circuit holds defendant’s website and mobile app must comply with ADA

    Courts

    On January 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to a national pizza chain’s website and mobile app “even though customers predominantly access them away from the physical restaurant” because the “statute applies to the services of a public accommodation, not services in a place of public accommodation.” According to the opinion, the plaintiff sued the defendant seeking damages and injunctive relief, contending that the defendant’s website and app did not work with his screen-reading software. The plaintiff requested that the court order the defendant to alter its website and app to comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and make it accessible to individuals with disabilities as required by Title III of the ADA. The defendant argued that the ADA does not apply to its online offerings, and that applying the ADA would violate its due process rights.

    Although the district court held that Title III of the ADA applied to the defendant’s website and app, it granted defendant’s motion to dismiss under the primary jurisdiction doctrine, stating that in order to “cure” due process concerns, it would require “meaningful guidance” on website accessibility standards yet to be issued by the DOJ in order “to determine what obligations a regulated individual or institution must abide by in order to comply with Title III.” On appeal, the 9th Circuit reversed the district court’s reliance on the primary jurisdiction doctrine, finding it to be inapplicable since waiting for the DOJ to provide guidance on accessibility standards would cause “needless” delay of a resolution the lower court could determine. Moreover, the fact that the DOJ has not articulated a website accessibility standard does not violate a defendant’s due process rights because the “ADA articulates comprehensible standards to which [the defendant’s] conduct must conform.”

    Courts Americans with Disabilities Act Ninth Circuit Appellate

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  • User’s lawsuit against online digital currency exchange must be arbitrated

    Courts

    On January 24, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York granted the motion of an online digital currency exchange to compel arbitration in connection with a lawsuit alleging that the exchange negligently failed to prevent a scam. According to the opinion, the plaintiff contacted what he thought was the online exchange’s customer support to inquire about a pending transaction, but actually spoke with a hacker who used the personal information he disclosed to steal more than $200,000 worth of digital currency from his account. In his complaint, the plaintiff claimed that “stronger security measures” by the exchange would have prevented the scam. The exchange moved to compel arbitration, citing the arbitration agreement in the user agreement. In order to establish an account with the exchange, the user is required to check a box which states, “I certify that I am 18 years of age or older, and I agree to the User Agreement and Privacy Policy,” both of which are hyperlinked in the statement. The court found that this “express acceptance” required by the exchange was a clear signal that a user account would be subject to terms and conditions and that the plaintiff had inquiry notice of those terms. The court concluded that the plaintiff also assented to the terms based on witness testimony from the exchange’s “dispute analyst,” who testified that an account cannot be created unless the user checks the box agreeing to the user agreement, and a log of the plaintiff’s visit to the site contains the note “accepted_user_ agreement.” Accordingly, the court granted the exchange’s motion to compel arbitration.

    Courts Virtual Currency Arbitration

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  • Florida Attorney General settles with car rental company for misleading fee disclosures

    State Issues

    On January 22, the Florida Attorney General announced a settlement with a car rental automotive group resolving allegations the company did not adequately disclose add-on fees for cashless tolls and other related add-on charges. According to the settlement, the Attorney General launched an investigation after receiving consumer complaints alleging the company did not clearly disclose that consumers would be charged $15 per cashless toll, in addition to the actual toll fees. Additionally, consumers who opted into an add-on product that would allow them to go through cashless tolls without penalty alleged the company misled them regarding that product’s fees. The settlement requires the company to (i) clearly and conspicuously disclose all fees regarding cashless tolls or associated products within written agreements; (ii) provide clear disclosures regarding fees on their website, online reservation system, confirmation emails and at the rental counters; (iii) refund fees paid for tolls or the associated add-on product to consumers who were charged between January 1, 2011 and January 7, 2019, and who submit claim forms; and (iv) provide accurate disclosures on damage waivers. The settlement also prohibits the company from charging consumers for a higher car class when the car class reserved by a consumer is unavailable.

    State Issues Courts Disclosures State Attorney General Settlement Add-On Products

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  • District Court allows TCPA action to proceed, citing 9th Circuit autodialer definition as binding law

    Courts

    On January 17, the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona denied a cable company’s motion to stay a TCPA action, disagreeing with the company’s arguments that the court should wait until the FCC releases new guidance on what constitutes an automatic telephone dialing system (autodialer) before reviewing the case. A consumer filed a proposed class action against the company, arguing that the company violated the TCPA by autodialing wrong or reassigned telephone numbers without express consent. The company moved to stay the case, citing the FCC’s May 2018 notice (covered by InfoBytes here), which sought comments on the interpretation of the TCPA following the D.C. Circuit’s decision in ACA International v. FCC (setting aside the FCC’s 2015 interpretation of an autodialer as “unreasonably expansive”). The company argued that the FCC would “soon rule on what constitutes an [autodialer], a ‘called party,’ in terms of reassigned number liability, and a possible good faith defense pursuant to the TCPA,” all of which would affect the company’s liability in the proposed class action. The court rejected these arguments, citing as binding law Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC, a September 2018 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that broadly defined what constitutes an autodialer under the statute (covered by InfoBytes here), and therefore, determining there was nothing to inhibit the court from proceeding with the case. As for the FCC’s possible future guidance on the subject, the court concluded, “there seems little chance that any guidance from the FCC, at some unknown, speculative, future date, would affect this case.”

    Courts TCPA ACA International Autodialer Ninth Circuit Appellate FCC Class Action

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  • District Court dismisses TCPA action against ride-sharing company, allows plaintiff to correct deficiencies

    Courts

    On January 16, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted in part and denied in part a ride-sharing company’s motion to dismiss a proposed TCPA class action, holding that the plaintiff sufficiently alleged the company is vicariously liable for the sent text messages but that the plaintiff failed to sufficiently allege the use of an “automatic telephone dialing system” (autodialer). According to the opinion, the plaintiff received two unsolicited text messages from a commercial messaging system instructing him to download the ride-sharing company’s app and providing a link to download the app. The plaintiff filed suit arguing the commercial text system was acting as an agent of the company for the company’s financial benefit and that the texts were sent using an autodialer in violation of the TCPA. The company moved to dismiss the action. With regard to the use of an autodialer, the court agreed with the company, determining that the plaintiff “merely parrots [the] statutory definition of an [autodialer]” and fails to assert facts that could support a reasonable inference that the company used an autodialer to send the texts. As for vicarious liability, the court concluded that the plaintiff sufficiently alleged the company’s actual authority over the commercial messaging system by asserting the company “instructed its agent or vendor as to the content of the text messages and timing of the sending of the text messages.” The court dismissed the plaintiff’s amended complaint but allowed 30 days for the plaintiff to amend the deficiencies.

    Courts TCPA Class Action Autodialer

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  • Acting Director Otting says FHFA structure is unconstitutional, will not defend before 5th Circuit

    Courts

    On January 14, acting Director of the FHFA, Joseph Otting, filed a supplemental brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit stating the agency will no longer defend the constitutionality of the FHFA’s structure in the upcoming en banc rehearing. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in July 2018, the 5th Circuit concluded that the FHFA’s single-director structure violates Article II of the Constitution because the director is too insulated from removal by the president. In August, while the agency was still under the leadership of Mel Watt, it petitioned the court for an en banc rehearing, challenging the constitutionality holding. Now, according to the supplemental brief, the FHFA states it “will not defend the constitutionality of [the Housing Economic Recovery Act’s] for-cause removal provision and agrees with the analysis in [the relevant portion] of Treasury’s Supplemental Brief that the provision infringes on the President’s control of executive authority.” The en banc rehearing, which will address the constitutionality issue as well as the plaintiff’s other statutory claims in the case, is scheduled for January 23.

    Courts Fifth Circuit Appellate HERA FHFA Single-Director Structure

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  • District Court certifies class action against lead generator’s payday lending practices

    Courts

    On January 11, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota granted a motion for class certification in a case challenging a company’s payday lending practices under several Minnesota consumer protection statutes and common law. The plaintiffs filed the proposed class action alleging, among other things, that the company, which generates leads for payday lenders, failed to disclose that it was not licensed in the state, and that the loans may not be legal in Minnesota. The Minnesota Attorney General had notified the company in 2010 and 2012 that it was subject to Minnesota law restricting payday loans and that it was “aiding and abetting lenders that violate Minnesota law.” The court found that the plaintiffs identified “questions of law or fact common to the class that are capable of class-wide resolution,” which “predominate over any questions affecting only individual members.” The court noted that a class action would fairly promote the interests of the class and ensure judicial economy, and that even though the plaintiffs’ proposed method for measuring the amount of damages would require individual inquiry, “it is less consuming than issues requiring individual testimony and will not overwhelm the liability and damages issues capable of class-wide resolution.”

    Courts Payday Lending Class Action State Issues Consumer Lending

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  • 3rd Circuit: Enrollment packet e-signature requires student to arbitrate claims

    Courts

    On January 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit held that a student (plaintiff) attending an online school (defendant) consented to an arbitration agreement and waiver of jury trial when she electronically signed an enrollment packet. According to the opinion, when the defendant moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s lawsuit and compel arbitration, the plaintiff argued that she did not realize the enrollment packet contained an arbitration agreement. She maintained that her e-signature was applied to the agreement without her permission. The lower court, however, granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss and entered an order to compel arbitration.

    On appeal, the 3rd Circuit agreed with the lower court in a non-precedential decision that her contentions that she was never presented with the agreement and that the defendant had applied an e-signature on file were insufficient to create an issue of material fact. It observed, “[t]he most reasonable inference we can draw from the evidence presented is that [the plaintiff] simply did not read or review the [e]nrollment [p]acket PDF closely before she e-signed it, which will not save her from her obligation to arbitrate.” The 3rd Circuit further noted that Pennsylvania allows electronic signatures as a valid way to register assent, and that a “physical pen and ink signature” is not required.

    Courts Third Circuit Appellate E-Signature Arbitration

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  • 3rd Circuit: Enrollment packet e-signature requires student to arbitrate claims

    Courts

    On January 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit held that a student (plaintiff) attending an online school (defendant) consented to an arbitration agreement and waiver of jury trial when she electronically signed an enrollment packet. According to the opinion, when the defendant moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s lawsuit and compel arbitration, the plaintiff argued that she did not realize the enrollment packet contained an arbitration agreement. She maintained that her e-signature was applied to the agreement without her permission. The lower court, however, granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss and entered an order to compel arbitration.

    On appeal, the 3rd Circuit agreed with the lower court in a non-precedential decision that her contentions that she was never presented with the agreement and that the defendant had applied an e-signature on file were insufficient to create an issue of material fact. It observed, “[t]he most reasonable inference we can draw from the evidence presented is that [the plaintiff] simply did not read or review the [e]nrollment [p]acket PDF closely before she e-signed it, which will not save her from her obligation to arbitrate.” The 3rd Circuit further noted that Pennsylvania allows electronic signatures as a valid way to register assent, and that a “physical pen and ink signature” is not required.

    Courts Third Circuit Appellate E-Signature Arbitration

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