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On June 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in a consolidated appeal, affirmed summary judgment in favor of a debt collector in actions alleging that the debt collector violated the FDCPA by naming the “original creditor” and the “client” in its collection letters, but declining to identify the current owner of the debt. According to the opinion, two consumers received collection letters naming an online payment processor as the “client” and a bank as the “original creditor,” and stating that, “upon the debtor’s request, [the collector] will provide ‘the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor.’” The consumers filed class actions against the debt collector, alleging that it violated, among other things, Section 1692g(a)(2) of the FDCPA by failing to disclose the current creditor or owner of the debt in the initial collection letters. In both cases, the respective district court granted summary judgment for the debt collector, concluding that the letter not only includes the original creditor—the bank—but also provides additional information for the unsophisticated consumer by including the online payment processor so that the consumer could better recognize the debt.
On appeal, the 7th Circuit agreed with the lower courts and concluded that the letters did not violate the FDCPA. The appellate court noted that “the letter identifies a single ‘creditor,’ as well as the commercial name to which the debtors had been exposed, allowing the debtors to easily recognize the nature of the debt.” The appellate court rejected the consumers’ argument that calling the bank the “original creditor” instead of the “current creditor” creates confusion, because the letter contained language that notified consumers that the original and current creditors may be one and the same. Because the letter “provides a whole picture of the debt for the consumer,” the court concluded it is not abusive or unfair and does not violate Section 1692g(a)(2) of the FDCPA.
On June 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed a lower court’s decision to decertify a class of callers claiming their cellphone calls were unlawfully recorded, holding that the class representative lacked standing as to its individual claim. According to the opinion, customers of a concrete supplier alleged that calls placed to a phone system that the company began using in 2009 failed to inform callers that their cellphone calls were being recorded. In 2013, the company changed the recording to state that the calls maybe be “monitored or recorded.” The class representative sought to certify a class of all persons whose calls were recorded between the time that the company started using the call recording system in 2009 to when it updated the recording. The district court initially denied certification under the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 23’s predominance requirement, and later—after certifying the class based on evidence presented concerning the timing of certain recorded calls—decertified the class for failing to satisfy the “commonality” and “predominance” requirements once the concrete supplier identified nine customers who claimed they had actual knowledge of the recording practice during the class period. In addition, the court concluded that the class representative lacked standing to seek damages on its individual claim or injunctive relief because it lacked standing under the 2016 Supreme Court opinion Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, which required that it show a concrete or particularized injury as a result of the concrete supplier's alleged violation.
On appeal, the 9th Circuit rejected the class’s argument that it “has standing to appeal the decertification order notwithstanding the adverse judgment against it on the merits” due to the following two exceptions to the mootness doctrine that may permit a class representative to appeal decertification even if its individual claims have been mooted: (i) the class representative “retains a ‘personal stake’ in class certification”; or (ii) “the claim on the merits is ‘capable of repetition, yet evading review,’” even though the class representative has lost “his personal stake in the outcome of the litigation.” The appellate court concluded that “neither of these mootness principles can remedy or excuse a lack of standing as to the representative's individual claims.”
On May 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of an auto finance corporation and various dealerships (collectively, “defendants”) in a putative class action alleging the defendants failed to provide add-ons the plaintiff purchased with the vehicle. The case, which was originally brought in Washington state superior court, was removed to federal court over the consumer’s objection, where the consumer amended the complaint to include a federal TILA claim.
According to the opinion, plaintiff alleged that his purchased vehicle did not come with three add-ons listed in the “Dealer Addendum,” which was a sticker affixed to the car. At the time of purchase, the customer was not aware of what the add-ons were, nor were they explained to him; the add-ons were only listed in the addendum. Plaintiff argued that if he had known what the add-ons were, he would have declined them and paid a lower price for the vehicle. The district court rejected plaintiff’s arguments and granted summary judgment for the defendants on all claims.
On appeal, the 9th Circuit upheld the entirety of the district court’s ruling, concluding the consumer offered no evidence that the add-ons identified in the Dealer Addendum were made part of the vehicle purchase transaction. Moreover, the appellate court upheld the district court’s decision not to remand the case back to state court, determining that while the district court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction at the time of removal, it had subject-matter jurisdiction at the time it rendered its final decision, due to the consumer’s voluntary addition of the TILA claim to the complaint. The appellate court also found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the consumer’s request for additional discovery based on plaintiffs failure to “identif[y] the specific facts that further discovery would have revealed or explained[ed].”
On June 3, a consumer filed a class action complaint against a national bank alleging that the bank charges interest on credit card accounts even when consumers’ balances are paid in full by the billing cycle due date, in breach of the bank’s cardholder agreement. The complaint alleges that the cardholder agreement and monthly billing statements disclose to consumers that interest will not be charged on new purchases if those new purchases are paid off by the billing cycle’s due date, but that in practice the grace period is eliminated for new purchases “[i]f a consumer leaves even $1 on her account balance after a billing period due date.” The complaint alleges that the bank’s practice of only providing a grace period on new purchases for consumers “who have paid off their balances in full for two prior months” directly contradicts the cardholder agreement and consumer disclosures. In addition to breach of contract, the consumer alleges a violation of Delaware’s Consumer Fraud Act and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The consumer is seeking certification of a class of similarly situated consumers; damages and restitution; and injunctive relief.
On May 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit denied a plaintiff’s writ of mandamus challenging the district court’s order compelling arbitration of the plaintiff’s claims against a national shipping company. According to the opinion, a customer filed a putative class action complaint alleging the company “systematically overcharges” customers by applying delivery surcharge rates through third-parties, which are higher than the company’s advertised rates. The company moved to compel arbitration because the customer enrolled in a free, optional program offered by the company that provides tracking and managing services of packages; and that enrollment in the program required the customer to agree to arbitrate all claims related to the company’s shipping services. The customer argued that while he checked the box agreeing to the service terms and technology agreement when enrolling, he should not be bound by the arbitration agreement because it was, among other things “so inconspicuous that no reasonable user would be on notice of its existence.” The district court rejected the customer’s arguments and granted the motion to compel arbitration.
On review of the writ of mandamus, the appellate court acknowledged that “locating the arbitration clause at issue here requires several steps and a fair amount of web-browsing intuition,” detailing that “...the first hyperlink [is] to the 96-page Technology Agreement. The user must then read the [service terms] and understand that they incorporate [additional terms and conditions of service]…. the user must visit the full [company] website, intuitively find the link [to the additional terms and conditions of service] at the bottom of the webpage, select it, and locate yet another link to the [terms and conditions of service]” in order to read the document and locate the arbitration clause. The appellate court held that the “extraordinary remedy of mandamus” could not be awarded because it could not say “with ‘definite and firm conviction’ that the district court erred by finding the incorporation [of the terms and conditions of service] valid” and found that there is no question the customer affirmatively assented to the terms. While it did not impact its analysis, the appellate court noted that the company’s service terms document now includes a hyperlink to the terms and conditions of service and expressly informs the user that the terms contain an arbitration provision.
On May 28, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida ruled that customers who financed a vehicle through a Florida car dealership were bound by the arbitration provision contained within a signed purchase order and retail installment sale contact. The customer plaintiffs contended that the defendant car dealership violated the FCRA and state law when it ran a “hard” credit inquiry on them instead of the “soft” credit inquiry they had authorized on a pre-approval financing form completed on the defendant’s website. As a result, the plaintiffs’ credit scores were affected. Based on the arbitration provisions contained in the purchase order and retail sale installment contract, the defendant filed a motion to compel arbitration. The plaintiffs argued that they were not bound by the arbitration agreements because they were signed a few days after the dealership ran the unauthorized credit check. However, the court held that it did not matter when the agreement was signed, stating that the “[p]laintiffs’ sole argument is that the [hard credit report check], does not in any way ‘relate to’ the purchasing documents which contain the arbitration clauses, and thus the arbitration clauses cannot be applied retroactively to encompass disputes arising from that transaction. The [c]ourt disagrees.” In granting the motion to compel arbitration, the court explained that the plaintiffs’ argument was “essentially one relating to scope and arbitrability, issues that the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate.”
District court approves final settlement resolving breach of contract and conversion claims related to debit card overdraft fees
On May 28, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted final approval to a roughly $24.5 million settlement resolving class action allegations that a credit union unfairly charged optional overdraft protection fees on certain debit card transactions. In 2017, the plaintiffs challenged the credit union’s practices, alleging breaches of contract, covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and conversion. Specifically, the plaintiffs challenged whether the language in the accountholder agreements prohibited the credit union from assessing and collecting optional overdraft protection fees on certain debit card transactions that were authorized against positive available account balances. In 2018, the court granted in part and denied in part the credit union’s motion to dismiss, allowing the plaintiffs’ breach of contract and conversion claims to proceed. The parties entered into settlement discussions, and reached an agreement. Under the terms of the settlement, the credit union will provide $24.5 million in relief to class members, along with approximately $6.1 million in attorneys’ fees. However, the court denied a request to reimburse plaintiffs’ expert witness for work completed after the settlement agreement was preliminary approved last year, stating “as a matter of awarding funds from the [s]ettlement [f]und, the [c]ourt cannot find reasonable the $109,100.00 price tag for an exercise that appears to post-date the preliminary approval order and which merely confirmed what the parties already understood to be the class’s potential recovery.”
On May 17, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit revived a putative class action lawsuit against a national credit reporting agency for allegedly failing to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy in the plaintiffs’ credit reports, in violation of the FCRA. According to the opinion, the credit reporting agency failed to delete all the accounts associated with a defunct loan servicer, despite statements claiming to have done so in January 2015. As of October 2015, 125,000 accounts from the defunct loan servicer were still being reported, and the accounts were not deleted until April 2016. A consumer filed the putative class action alleging the credit reporting agency violated the FCRA by continuing to report her past-due account, even after deleting portions of the positive payment history on the account. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the credit reporting agency on the consumer’s claim that the credit reporting agency failed to “follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy” in her credit report.
On appeal, the court determined that a “reasonable jury could conclude that [the credit reporting agency]’s continued reporting of [the account], either on its own, or coupled with the deletion of portions of [the consumer’s] positive payment history on the same loan, was materially misleading.” Moreover, the appellate court noted that a jury could conclude that the credit reporting agency’s reading of the FCRA “runs a risk of error substantially greater than the risk associated with a reading that was merely careless,” and that the length of delay in implementing the decision to delete the defunct loan servicers accounts “entail[ed] ‘an unjustifiably high risk of harm that is either known or so obvious that it should be known.’”
On April 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit held that the receipt of unsolicited text messages, absent any additional injury, is sufficient to demonstrate injury-in-fact in a TCPA class action. According to the opinion, consumers filed a class action lawsuit against a retail store for sending unsolicited text messages in violation of the TCPA. The district court approved a settlement between the parties and certified the class despite various objections, including one from a third-party defendant who argued the consumers lacked standing under the 2016 Supreme Court opinion Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, because “they alleged only a bare statutory violation and statutory damages cannot substitute for concrete harm.”
On appeal, the appellate court first rejected the third-party defendant’s standing to appeal the district court’s decision because it had not been “‘formally strip[ped]’ of any claim or defense, it lacks standing to pursue its appeal” in the underlying class action. Notwithstanding the lack of standing by the third-party defendant, the appellate court then went on to address the jurisdictional standing issues raised against the consumers. The court reasoned that, even though the third party that raised the jurisdictional question had been dismissed, the court had an “independent obligation to satisfy [itself] of the jurisdiction” of the appellate and district court. The appellate court concluded that the consumers sufficiently alleged “nuisance and privacy invasion” by the unsolicited text messages, which “are the very harms with which Congress was concerned when enacting the TCPA.” Because the harms identified are “of the same character as harms remediable by traditional causes of action,” the appellate court held the consumers sufficiently demonstrated injury-in-fact as required by Article III.
3rd Circuit: District court erred in voiding all cash advance agreements in NFL concussion settlement litigation
On April 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in a consolidated class action, concluded that a district court went “too far” in voiding all of the cash advance arrangements between NFL concussion class members and third party lenders in their entirety. According to the opinion, in December 2017, the district court “issued an order purporting to void in their entirety all assignment agreements” where class members assigned a portion of their settlements from the 2015 NFL concussion injury litigation, concluding that it was “necessary to protect vulnerable class members from predatory funding companies.”
On appeal, the 3rd Circuit addressed the merits in three of the four timely appeals, noting that the fundamental question was whether the district court had the authority to void the agreements. The appellate court held that the district court retained the authority to enforce and administer the settlement because there was an anti-assignment language in the settlement agreement. The appellate court upheld on the district court’s interpretation of the anti-assignment provision, holding that “any true assignments contained within the cash advance agreements—that is, contractual provisions that allowed the lender to step into the shoes of the player and seek funds directly from the settlement fund were void.” However, the appellate court concluded that the district court “went beyond its authority” by purportedly voiding the agreements in their entirety, because there are portions of some of the cash advance agreements that may still be enforceable after the true assignments are voided, such as ones structured as a non-assignment loan agreement. Since the district court’s authority “does not extend to how class members choose to use their settlement proceeds after they are disbursed,” the appellate court reversed in part the December 2017 order, leaving certain cash advance agreements enforceable to the extent rights are retained after the true assignments are voided.
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