Justia Commercial Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Consumer Law
Dzielak v. Whirlpool Corp
Since 1992, the Energy Star Program has set energy efficiency standards for categories of products and permitted approved products to bear the Energy Star logo. Three models of Whirlpool top-loading clothes washers were approved to display that logo and did so from 2009-2010. Under one method of measurement, those machines did not meet the Program’s energy- and water-efficiency standards; the washers did satisfy the Program’s standards under another measurement technique, which the Program previously endorsed. Program guidance from July 2010 disapproved of that method.Consumers in several states who had purchased those models commenced a putative class action against Whirlpool and retailers that sold those machines, alleging breach of express warranty and violations of state consumer protection statutes based on the allegedly wrongful display of the Energy Star logo. The district court certified a class action against Whirlpool but declined to certify a class against the retailers. At summary judgment, the court rejected all remaining claims.The Third Circuit affirmed, finding no genuine dispute of material fact. The plaintiffs did not demonstrate that the models were unfit for their intended purpose. A reasonable jury could not find that the retailer defendants were unjustly enriched from selling the washers. Without evidence of a false or misleading statement attributable to Whirlpool or the retailers, the state consumer protection claims failed. View "Dzielak v. Whirlpool Corp" on Justia Law
Lewis v. Acuity Real Estate Services, LLC
Acuity operates a website that connects people looking to buy or sell homes with a local real estate agent. Acuity’s services are free to home buyers and sellers but realtors pay a fee for referrals. The real-estate broker that employed Lewis, a real estate agent, signed up to receive Acuity’s referrals. The broker required its agents (including Lewis) to pay Acuity’s fee out of their commissions from home sales. Lewis sued, alleging that Acuity makes false claims to home buyers and sellers on its website and that this false advertising violates the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a)(1)(B).The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Lanham Act provides a cause of action only for businesses that suffer commercial injuries (such as lost product sales) from the challenged false advertising. The Act does not provide a cause of action for customers who suffer consumer injuries (such as the cost of a defective product) from false advertising. Lewis alleges that type of consumer harm as his injury from Acuity’s allegedly false advertising: He seeks to recover the referral fee (that is, the price) he paid for Acuity’s services. View "Lewis v. Acuity Real Estate Services, LLC" on Justia Law
Bridgecrest Acceptance Corp. v. Donaldson
The Supreme Court reversed the rulings of the circuit court denying Bridgecrest Acceptance Corporation's motions to dismiss or stay the counterclaims against it and to compel the matters to arbitration pursuant to an arbitration agreement, holding that the arbitration agreement was legally valid, conscionable, and not precluded by collateral estoppel.In two separate cases, Bridgecrest sought a deficiency judgment against consumers who had defaulted on car payments. The consumers brought counterclaims, raising putative class claims for unlawful and deceptive business practices. Bridgecrest moved to stay or dismiss the consumers' counterclaims and compel arbitration pursuant to the arbitration agreements signed by the consumers when buying their vehicles. The circuit court overruled the motions in both cases. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court erred in refusing to compel arbitration. View "Bridgecrest Acceptance Corp. v. Donaldson" on Justia Law
Stahl v. Stitt
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court concluding that Plaintiff lacked standing to enforce the "midnight deadline" rule set forth in section 4-302 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), as adopted by Va. Code 8.4-302 and W. Va. Code 46-4-302, holding that there was no error.In her second amended complaint, Plaintiff alleged that MCNB Bank and Trust Company (MCNB) violated the midnight deadline rule adopted from the UCC and, therefore, MCNB was strictly liable for the payment of a check in the amount of $245,271.25. The circuit court granted summary judgment for MCNB, concluding that Plaintiff lacked standing to pursue her claim because she did not have any right to rely on the prompt payment of the check at issue. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err when it granted MCNB’s motion for summary judgment based on Plaintiff's alleged lack of standing to enforce the midnight deadline rule. View "Stahl v. Stitt" on Justia Law
Melendez v. Westlake Services, Inc.
Melendez purchased a used 2015 Toyota from Southgate under a retail installment sales contract. Southgate assigned the contract to Westlake. Weeks later, Melendez sent a notice alleging Southgate violated the Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) and demanded rescission, restitution, and an injunction. Melendez later sued Southgate and Westlake, alleging violations of the CLRA, the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, Civil Code 1632 (requiring translation of contracts negotiated primarily in Spanish), the unfair competition law, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation. Westlake assigned the contract back to Southgate. Default was entered against Southgate. Westlake agreed to pay $6,204.68 ($2,500 down payment and $3,704.68 Melendez paid in monthly payments). Melendez would have no further obligations under the contract.The parties agreed Melendez could seek attorney fees, costs, expenses, and prejudgment interest. Westlake was entitled to assert all available defenses, “including the defense that no fees at all should be awarded against it as a Holder” The FTC’s “holder rule” makes the holder of a consumer credit contract subject to all claims the debtor could assert against the seller of the goods or services but caps the debtor’s recovery from the holder to the amount paid by the debtor under the contract. The trial court awarded attorney fees ($115,987.50), prejudgment interest ($2,956.62), and costs ($14,295.63) jointly and severally against Westlake, Southgate, and other defendants. The court of appeal affirmed. The limitation does not preclude the recovery of attorney fees, costs, nonstatutory costs, or prejudgment interest. View "Melendez v. Westlake Services, Inc." on Justia Law
TitleMax of Delaware Inc v. Weissmann
TitleMax provides vehicle loans at interest rates as high as 180%. The entire process occurs at a TitleMax brick-and-mortar location. The borrower receives “a check drawn on a bank outside of Pennsylvania,” The borrower grants TitleMax a security interest in the vehicle. TitleMax records its lien with the appropriate state authority. Borrowers can make payments from their home states. TitleMax does not have any offices, employees, agents, or brick-and-mortar stores and is not licensed as a lender in Pennsylvania. TitleMax claims that it never solicited Pennsylvania business and does not run television ads within Pennsylvania.Pursuant to the Consumer Discount Company Act and the Loan Interest and Protection Law, Pennsylvania’s Department of Banking and Securities issued a subpoena requesting documents regarding TitleMax’s interactions with Pennsylvania residents. TitleMax then stopped making loans to Pennsylvania residents and asserts that it has lost revenue.The district court held that Younger abstention did not apply and that the Department’s subpoena’s effect was to apply Pennsylvania’s usury laws extraterritorially in violation of the Commerce Clause.The Third Circuit reversed. Applying the Pennsylvania statutes to TitleMax does not violate the extraterritoriality principle. TitleMax receives payments from within Pennsylvania and maintains an actionable security interest in vehicles located in Pennsylvania; its conduct is not “wholly outside” of Pennsylvania. The laws do not discriminate between in-staters and out-of-staters. Pennsylvania has a strong interest in prohibiting usury. Applying Pennsylvania’s usury laws to TitleMax’s loans furthers that interest and any resulting burden on interstate commerce is, at most, incidental. View "TitleMax of Delaware Inc v. Weissmann" on Justia Law
Anoush Cab, Inc. v. Uber Technologies, Inc.
The First Circuit affirmed the district court's final judgment against Plaintiffs on their claims that Uber Technologies competed unlawfully in the on-demand, ride-hail ground transportation in and around Boston, Massachusetts, holding that Uber did not compete unfairly in violation of statutory and common law prohibitions governing the commercial marketplace.Plaintiffs - owners of companies that dispatched, leased, and maintained taxicab vehicles and owned taxi medallions - brought this complaint alleging that, in violation of Boston regulations, Uber caused asset devaluation by competing unfairly under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, violating the common law for unfair competition, and aiding and abetting a conspiracy to engage in unfair competition. The district court issued judgment in favor of Defendants. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Uber's conduct in the transportation market during a period of regulatory uncertainty did not violate the statutory or common law governing the commercial marketplace. View "Anoush Cab, Inc. v. Uber Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law
Bell v. Albertson Companies, Inc.
The defendants sell shaker tubes in grocery stores across the country, with labels advertising “100% Grated Parmesan Cheese.” The products are not 100 percent cheese but contain four to nine percent added cellulose powder and potassium sorbate, as indicated on the ingredient list on the back of the package. Plaintiffs claim that these ingredient lists show that the prominent “100%” labeling is deceptive under state consumer-protection laws. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation transferred numerous similar actions to the Northern District of Illinois for consolidated pretrial proceedings. That court ultimately dismissed the plaintiffs’ deceptive labeling claims (100% claims) with prejudice.The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that the prominent “100%” labeling deceives a substantial portion of reasonable consumers, and their claims are not preempted by federal law. An accurate fine-print list of ingredients does not foreclose as a matter of law a claim that an ambiguous front label deceives reasonable consumers. Many reasonable consumers do not instinctively parse every front label or read every back label before purchasing groceries. For reasons specific to multidistrict litigation, the court concluded that it lacked appellate jurisdiction to review the dismissal of the 100% claims in two complaints because the appeals were filed too late. View "Bell v. Albertson Companies, Inc." on Justia Law
Murray v. UPS Capital Ins. Agency, Inc.
David Murray purchased used computer equipment worth nearly $40,000, which was damaged by the United Postal Service (UPS) while it was being transported from California to Texas. Murray believed he purchased appropriate insurance to cover this loss, but the insurance company denied his claim. Murray sued his insurance broker, UPS Capital Insurance Agency (UPS Capital), for breach of contract and negligence, claiming UPS Capital owed him a special duty to make the insurance policy language understandable to an ordinary person and to explain the scope of coverage. The court granted UPS Capital’s motion for summary judgment after concluding there was no heightened duty of care and dismissed Murray’s lawsuit. On appeal, Murray asked the Court of Appeal to create a new rule that brokers/agents, specializing in a specific field of insurance, hold themselves out as experts, and are subject to a heightened duty of care towards clients seeking that particular kind of insurance. While the Court declined the invitation to create a per se rule, it concluded Murray raised triable issues of fact as to whether UPS Capital undertook a special duty by holding itself out as having expertise in inland marine insurance, and Murray reasonably relied on its expertise. Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment of dismissal and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Murray v. UPS Capital Ins. Agency, Inc." on Justia Law
Beardsall v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc.
Defendant manufactures aloe vera gel, sold under its own brand and as private‐label versions. Suppliers harvest, fillet, and de-pulp aloe vera leaves. The resulting aloe is pasteurized, filtered, treated with preservatives, and dehydrated for shipping. Defendant reconstitutes the dehydrated aloe and adds stabilizers, thickeners, and preservatives to make the product shelf‐stable. The products are 98% aloe gel and 2% other ingredients. Labels describe the product as aloe vera gel that can be used to treat dry, irritated, or sunburned skin. One label calls the product “100% Pure Aloe Vera Gel.” An asterisk leads to information on the back of the label: “Plus stabilizers and preservatives to insure [sic] potency and efficacy.” Each label contains an ingredient list showing aloe juice and other substances.Plaintiffs brought consumer deception claims, alleging that the products did not contain any aloe vera and lacked acemannan, a compound purportedly responsible for the plant’s therapeutic qualities. Discovery showed those allegations to be false. Plaintiffs changed their theory, claiming that the products were degraded and did not contain enough acemannan so that it was misleading to represent them as “100% Pure Aloe Vera Gel,” and to market the therapeutic effects associated with aloe vera. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. There was no evidence that some concentration of acemannan is necessary to call a product aloe or to produce a therapeutic effect, nor evidence that consumers care about acemannan concentration. View "Beardsall v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc." on Justia Law