Justia U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Consumer Law
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The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit considered whether consumers can recover statutory damages under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) without proving actual damages caused by a consumer reporting agency's willful violation of the Act. The case was brought by plaintiffs Omar Santos and Amanda Clements on behalf of a class of individuals, against Experian Information Solutions, Inc. The plaintiffs alleged that Experian willfully violated its obligation under the FCRA to ensure consumer credit reports were prepared with maximum possible accuracy, allowing credit reports to reflect inaccurately updated status dates. The district court denied class certification, holding that the FCRA required proof of actual damages.The Eleventh Circuit vacated and remanded the district court's decision, holding that consumers do not need to prove actual damages to recover statutory damages under the FCRA. The court found that the FCRA allows consumers to recover damages of not less than $100 and not more than $1,000 for a willful violation of the Act, regardless of whether they can prove actual damages. The court cited the plain language of the Act, the structure of the statute, and the Act's legislative history in reaching its decision. The court also noted that its interpretation was consistent with the holdings of other circuit courts that have addressed this issue. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with this interpretation. View "Santos v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this case heard before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the appellant, Christopher Ounjian, claimed that his employer, Globoforce, Inc., retaliated against him and forced him to resign after he objected to their unlawful conduct. Ounjian filed a suit alleging constructive discharge and sought damages under the Florida Private Whistleblower Act and Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. The district court dismissed the complaint, stating that Ounjian failed to allege facts constituting a constructive discharge under the Florida Private Whistleblower Act and failed to allege damages cognizable under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.The Court of Appeals agreed with the district court's ruling, stating that the alleged instances of criticism, improper disclosure of personal information, and the withdrawn demotion threat did not meet the high bar for stating a constructive discharge claim. The court also stated that the company's actions were not compelling enough to force a reasonable employee to resign. The court further stated that the company's alleged improper sales practices were not a result of Ounjian's objections, thus negating any causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action required by the Florida Private Whistleblower Act.Regarding the claim under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, the court ruled that while Ounjian did allege deceptive or unfair actions in the conduct of trade or commerce, the damages he sought resulting from the loss of his employment were not cognizable under the Act. As such, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint with prejudice. View "Ounjian v. Globoforce, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs s filed a class action complaint and sought to represent a class of individuals whose Healthcare Revenue tradelines had been wrongly “re-aged” by Experian. They alleged that Experian “willfully” violated its obligation under the Fair Credit Reporting Act to “follow reasonable procedures” to ensure consumer credit reports were prepared with “maximum possible accuracy” when it allowed credit reports to reflect allegedly inaccurate status dates. The district court denied Experian’s summary judgment motion. After the close of discovery, Plaintiffs moved to certify a class of all consumers “whose Experian credit reports had an account or accounts reported by [Healthcare Revenue] with an inaccurately displayed Date of Status and were viewed by one or more third parties.” The district court adopted the magistrate judge’s recommendation and denied class certification. Plaintiffs petitioned for permission to appeal the district court’s class certification order under Rule 23(f).   The Eleventh Circuit vacated and remanded. The court held that the denial of Plaintiffs' motion for class certification was an abuse of discretion because the district court’s analysis of Rule 23(b)(3)’s predominance requirement was based on its contrary interpretation of the second option in section 1681n(a)(1)(A). The court wrote that a consumer alleging a willful violation of the Act doesn’t need to prove actual damages to recover “damages of not less than $100 and not more than $1,000.” While the parties raise other issues that may ultimately affect whether the class should be certified, the district court’s order denying class certification only relied on its interpretation of section 1681n(a)(1)(A) and didn’t address these other arguments. View "Omar Santos, et al v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc." on Justia Law

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Over 20 years ago, a group of Florida wine consumers and an out-of-state winery (collectively, the “Plaintiffs”) sued the Director of the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, alleging that certain provisions of Florida’s beverage laws unconstitutionally discriminated against out-of-state wineries. After the United States Supreme Court ruled a virtually identical statutory scheme unconstitutional, the Division agreed to the entry of a judgment declaring Florida’s direct shipment laws unconstitutional as applied to out-of-state “wineries.” The Division also agreed to an injunction prohibiting it from enforcing its direct shipment laws “against out-of-state vendors and producers.” Significantly, these last five words were absent from the parties’ proposed injunction and were added sua sponte by the district court. No one objected to the court’s addition of this language. However, 16 years later, the Division filed a motion in district court to “clarify and modify” the injunction. Specifically, the Division asked the district court to confirm that the injunction applied only to out-of-state wineries rather than out-of-state wine retailers generally. The district court denied the Division’s motion.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that here, the district court expressly determined that the injunction the court entered “accurately reflects the intent of the parties and the Court.” Rule 60(a) does not allow a district court to rewrite its decision any time a party later contends that the language is ambiguous. Thus, the court held that the district court did not err by construing the Division’s motion as made under Rule 60(b)(1) instead of Rule 60(a). View "Jerry Bainbridge, et al. v. Director of the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco" on Justia Law

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In August 2019, Plaintiff filed a class action against GoDaddy. The putative class alleged that the web-hosting company embarked on an unlawful telemarketing campaign. Objector-Appellant then filed an objection and moved to reconsider the fee award. He made two arguments. First, he objected that the district court awarded fees to class counsel twenty days before the court’s purported objection deadline. Second, he claimed that the parties’ settlement was a “coupon settlement” under 28 U.S.C. Section 1712(e) of the Class Action Fairness Act because GoDaddy class members could select GoDaddy vouchers as their recompense. The question at the core of this appeal is whether the plaintiffs who received a single unwanted, illegal telemarketing text message suffered a concrete injury.   The Eleventh Circuit remanded this appeal to the panel to consider the CAFA issues raised in Appellant’s appeal. The court held that the receipt of an unwanted text message causes a concrete injury. The court explained that while an unwanted text message is insufficiently offensive to satisfy the common law’s elements, Congress has used its lawmaking powers to recognize a lower quantum of injury necessary to bring a claim under the TCPA. As a result, the plaintiffs’ harm “is smaller in degree rather than entirely absent.” View "Susan Drazen, et al v. Mr. Juan Pinto" on Justia Law

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This appeal arises from a dispute about CoolSculpting, a medical device intended to minimize the appearance of fat. When Plaintiff tried CoolSculpting, he developed a rare condition called Paradoxical Adipose Hyperplasia (“PAH”), which enlarges the targeted fat tissue. Needless to say, Plaintiff was unhappy that CoolSculpting maximized the fat he wanted to minimize. So Plaintiff sued Zeltiq Aesthetics, Inc., the manufacturer of the CoolSculpting system, for failure to warn and design defects under Florida law. The district court granted Zeltiq summary judgment. On failure to warn, the district court concluded that Zeltiq’s warnings about PAH were adequate as a matter of law. On design defect, the court determined that Plaintiff failed to provide expert testimony that the risk of CoolSculpting outweighed its utility. Plaintiff challenged both of the district court’s rulings on appeal.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Zeltiq warned medical providers in its user manual and training sessions about the exact condition Plaintiff experienced: PAH is an increase of adipose tissue in the treatment area that may require surgery to correct. Accordingly, the district court properly concluded Zeltiq’s warnings were adequate as a matter of law. Further, the court held that it is convinced that Plaintiff’s defect claim fails under either test. View "Terrance Nelson Cates v. Zeltiq Aesthetics, Inc." on Justia Law

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Brinker International, Inc. (“Brinker”), the owner of Chili’s restaurants, faced a cyber-attack in which customers’ credit and debit cards were compromised. Chili’s customers have brought a class action because their information was accessed (and in some cases used) and disseminated by cyber criminals. The district court certified the class, and Brinker appealed that decision. On appeal, Brinker mounted three arguments: 1) the District Court’s class certification order violates our precedent on Article III standing for class actions; 2) the district court improvidently granted certification because the class will eventually require individualized mini-trials on class members’ injuries; and 3) the district court erred by finding that a common damages methodology existed for the class.   The Eleventh Circuit vacated in part and remanded. The court explained that although all three plaintiffs adequately allege a concrete injury sufficient for Article III standing, two of the plaintiffs' allegations face a fatal causation issue. The court explained that while the district court’s interpretation of the class definitions surely meets the standing analysis, the court has outlined for one of the named plaintiffs, the court noted that the phrase in the class definitions “accessed by cybercriminals” is broader than the two delineated categories the district court gave, which were limited to cases of fraudulent charges or posting of credit card information on the dark web. Therefore, the court remanded this case to give the district court the opportunity to clarify its predominance finding. View "Eric Steinmetz, et al v. Brinker International, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff used Roundup on his lawn for thirty years until 2016, when he was diagnosed with malignant fibrous histiocytoma, a form of cancer. He sued Monsanto, Roundup’s manufacturer, in the district court. He alleged that Monsanto knew or should have known that Roundup was carcinogenic but did not warn users of that danger. The question on appeal is whether, under an express preemption provision, a federal agency action that otherwise lacks the force of law preempts the requirements of state law. The district court ruled that a provision of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, 7 U.S.C. Section 136v(b), expressly preempts some of Plaintiff’s claims under Georgia law because the Environmental Protection Agency had approved a label for Roundup that lacked a cancer warning and the Agency classifies Roundup’s main ingredient—glyphosate—as “not likely to be carcinogenic.” Plaintiff argued that his suit is not preempted.   The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the question at issue must be answered by recourse to ordinary principles of statutory interpretation, and the court remanded this appeal to the panel to decide whether Plaintiff’s suit is preempted. The court explained that a conflict between a state-law rule that has the force of law and a federal agency rule that does not have the force of law is not the type of conflict between state and federal legal obligations that the Supremacy Clause addresses. But this reasoning does not extend to express-preemption cases the meaning of the express-preemption provision—not conflicting federal and state legal obligations—triggers preemption. View "John D. Carson v. Monsanto Company" on Justia Law

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Ford Motor Company advertised its Shelby GT350 Mustang as “track ready.” But some Shelby models weren’t equipped for long track runs, and when the cars overheated, they would rapidly decelerate. A group of Shelby owners sued Ford on various state-law fraud theories and sought class certification, which the district court granted in substantial part. Ford challenged class certification on the ground that proving each plaintiff’s reliance on the alleged misinformation requires individualized proof and, therefore, that common questions don’t “predominate” within the meaning of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3).   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s certification of the statutory classes in Florida, New York, Missouri, and Washington. The court reversed the certification of the Texas statutory consumer-fraud claim and the Tennessee, New York, and Washington common-law fraud claims. And the court remanded for the district court to consider whether the facts, in this case, support a presumption of reliance for the California statutory and common-law fraud claims and whether California- and Texas-based breach-of-implied-warranty claims satisfy state-law requirements. Finally, the court instructed the district court on remand to reconsider the manageability issue. View "George Tershakovec, et al v. Ford Motor Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) is not exempt from the rules of discovery. Nonetheless, the CFPB tried to bring a wide-ranging civil lawsuit against 18 defendants without ever being deposed. When the district court ordered the CFPB to sit for Rule 30(b)(6) depositions, the CFPB doubled down by engaging in dramatic abuse of the discovery process. The district court imposed sanctions for this misconduct. On appeal, the CFPB maintains that it behaved properly.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that violating the district court’s clear orders and derailing multiple depositions is nowhere near proper conduct. The court explained that the CFPB was determined to avoid 30(b)(6) depositions. To realize its goal, the CFPB employed tactics that the district court repeatedly forbade. As such, the CFPB clearly violated Rule 37(b), and severe sanctions were warranted. The court, therefore, held that the district court’s sanctions order dismissing the CFPB’s claims against the five appellees was not an abuse of discretion. View "Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Check & Credit Recovery, LLC, et al" on Justia Law