Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Consumer Law
MARSHALL GROSS V. CITIMORTGAGE, INC.
CitiMortgage, Inc. (“CitiMortgage”) erroneously reported that Plaintiff owed a debt that had been “abolished” under Arizona law. After Plaintiff disputed the entry, CitiMortgage continued to report late payments on the debt and mounting interest and late fees. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of CitiMortgage in Plaintiff’s action alleging that CitiMortgage violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. Sections 1681, et seq., by failing to reasonably investigate Plaintiff's dispute concerning a debt that CitiMortgage reported to national credit reporting agencies and by providing inaccurate information to those agencies. The court held that Plaintiff has more than satisfied his burden to make a prima facie showing of inaccurate reporting by establishing as a matter of law that CitiMortgage’s reports were “patently incorrect.” The court further explained that the question is not whether the junior mortgage was entirely “extinguished” by Arizona law, or whether the debt continued to exist; the point is that vis-à-vis Plaintiff, no outstanding balance existed, because the statute abolished his personal liability.The court held that there is a genuine factual dispute about the reasonableness of CitiMortgage’s investigation, and thus left it to the jury to determine the reasonableness. The court wrote that the issue of causation is quintessentially one for the jury and not for this court to decide on appeal. View "MARSHALL GROSS V. CITIMORTGAGE, INC." on Justia Law
Posted in: Consumer Law
SUSAN CLARK V. EDDIE BAUER LLC
Plaintiff bought garments from Eddie Bauer Outlet Stores advertising sales of 40–70% off. The price tags of the garments included two numbers: a higher price, which the parties call a “reference” or “list price,” and a lower “sale” price. Plaintiff paid the “sale” price for the clothes. She alleges that she relied on the representation that she was getting the clothes on sale, but later discovered that the “list prices” were misleading because Eddie Bauer never sold the garments for the “list price” and that the Eddie Bauer Outlet Stores have perpetual sales of 40–70% off.The court concluded that the disposition of this appeal turns on a question of Oregon law: whether a consumer suffers an “ascertainable loss” under Or. Rev. Stat. Sec. 646.638(1) when the consumer purchased a product that the consumer would not have purchased at the price that the consumer paid but for a violation of Or. Rev. Stat. Secs. 646.608(1)(e), (i), (j), (ee), or (u), if the violation arises from a representation regarding the product’s price, comparative price, or price history, but not about the character or quality of the product itself. View "SUSAN CLARK V. EDDIE BAUER LLC" on Justia Law
NICHOLAS SHONER V. CARRIER CORPORATION
Plaintiff filed a class action against air conditioner manufacturer Carrier Corporation alleging that his air conditioner was defective, asserting state law claims and a federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act ("MMWA") claim. The court reasoned that although the MMWA is a federal statute, federal courts do not have jurisdiction over an MMWA claim if the amount in controversy is less than $50,000. At issue is whether attorneys’ fees count toward the MMWA’s amount in controversy requirement.The panel held that attorneys’ fees are not “costs” within the meaning of MMWA, and therefore they may be included in the amount in controversy if they are available to prevail plaintiffs pursuant to state fee-shifting statutes.The panel next considered whether Plaintiff could include attorneys’ fees toward the MMWA’s $50,000 jurisdictional threshold. Plaintiff’s MMWA claim was premised on Carrier’s alleged breach of express and implied warranties pursuant to Michigan law. Neither of these statutes grants a prevailing plaintiff attorneys’ fees. The court found that even if this claim was included in his lawsuit, the Act makes clear that attorneys’ fees are not available in a class action. Thus, because Plaintiff brought this claim as part of a putative class action, he is not entitled to attorneys’ fees under state law. View "NICHOLAS SHONER V. CARRIER CORPORATION" on Justia Law
California Chamber of Commerce v. Council for Education and Research on Toxics
CalChamber filed suit, 42 U.S.C. 1983, to “vindicate its members’ First Amendment rights to not be compelled to place false and misleading acrylamide warnings on their food products.” The district court entered a preliminary injunction, prohibiting the Attorney General and related entities, including private enforcers from pursuing new lawsuits to enforce Proposition 65's requirement that “[n]o person in the course of doing business shall knowingly and intentionally expose any individual to a chemical known to the state to cause cancer . . . without first giving clear and reasonable warning.”The Ninth Circuit affirmed. CalChamber was likely to succeed on the merits of its compelled speech claim. Given the robust disagreement by reputable scientific sources over whether acrylamide in food causes cancer in humans, the warning was controversial and misleading. Proposition 65’s enforcement regime created a heavy litigation burden on manufacturers who use alternative warnings rather than the regulatory safe harbor warning. The serious constitutional issue provided sufficient reason to enjoin Proposition 65 acrylamide litigation until the case was finally decided; the injunction was not an impermissible prior restraint. CalChambers established irreparable harm, and the scope of the injunction was not impermissible; and the balance of hardships weighed in CalChamber’s favor. The injunction was in the public interest. View "California Chamber of Commerce v. Council for Education and Research on Toxics" on Justia Law
B&G Foods North America, Inc. v. Embry
Food manufacturer B&G sued, 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that Embry and her attorney violated B&G’s constitutional rights by suing B&G to enforce California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, Proposition 65. Proposition 65 requires businesses to notify customers if their products contain chemicals known to the state to cause cancer. Acrylamide, the chemical allegedly found in B&G’s Cookie Cakes, is on a state list of such chemicals based solely on laboratory studies in which pure acrylamide was given to rats or mice.The district court dismissed B&G’s complaint based on the Noerr-Pennington doctrine, which provides that those who petition any department of the government for redress are generally immune from statutory liability for their petitioning conduct. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. B&G’s section 1983 suit burdened Embry's petition activities; Embry's prelitigation communications and suit to enforce Proposition 65 were protected by the Petition Clause. B&G failed to show that any of the Noerr-Pennington sham exceptions applied. Even if Embry and her attorney were state actors, the suit was barred. The court remanded to allow B&G to amend its complaint. B&G proposed additional allegations concerning a sham exception that examines the objective reasonableness of a defendant’s suit and the defendant’s subjective motivation. View "B&G Foods North America, Inc. v. Embry" on Justia Law
Tailford v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiffs' motion for a remand to state court and the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' class action suit alleging violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by Experian. Plaintiffs alleged that the FCRA required Experian to disclose behavioral data from its "ConsumerView" marketing database, "soft inquiries" from third parties and affiliates, the identity of certain parties who procured consumer reports, and the date on which employment data was reported.The panel concluded that the allegations of injury to plaintiffs' informational and privacy interests as recited in the first amended complaint are sufficiently concrete to support Article III standing at this pleading stage. The panel also concluded that none of the information plaintiffs contend Experian failed to include in its section 1681g of the FCRA disclosures is subject to disclosure under section 1681g(a)(1), (3) or (5), considered individually or in combination. View "Tailford v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc." on Justia Law
Lara v. First National Insurance Co.
Plaintiffs, whose vehicles had been “totaled,” sued Liberty, an auto insurer, and CCC, alleging that Liberty breached its contracts with its insureds and that both companies violated Washington’s unfair trade practices law and committed civil conspiracy. Liberty’s valuation method uses a report about the value of “comparable vehicles,” provided by CCC. To account for the difference between the average car owned by a private person and the cars for sale at dealerships, CCC reduces a totaled car’s valuation.The district court declined to certify a proposed class because individual questions predominated over common questions and individualized trials were superior to a class action. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Whether Liberty and CCC’s condition adjustment violates the Washington state regulations is a common question but to show liability for breach of contract or unfair trade practices, the plaintiffs must show an injury. Establishing an injury will require an individualized determination for each plaintiff; those individualized determinations predominate over the common questions. A class action here would involve adjudicating issues specific to each class member’s claim, and that would be unmanageable. Individual trials would be a better way to adjudicate those issues. View "Lara v. First National Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Moran v. The Screening Pros, LLC
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) prohibits credit reporting agencies from disclosing in a credit report “[a]ny . . . adverse item of information . . . which antedates the report by more than seven years,” 15 U.S.C. 1681c(a)(5). The Ninth Circuit previously held that Screening Pros, a credit reporting agency, violated FCRA when, in 2010, it issued a tenant screening report that disclosed a criminal charge that was filed against Moran in 2000 (beyond the seven-year window) but dismissed in 2004 (within the seven-year window).On remand, the district court granted Screening Pros summary judgment, holding that Moran failed to present evidence that Screening Pros violated the FCRA willfully or negligently, as required for liability. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. To prove a negligent violation of the FCRA, a plaintiff must show that the defendant acted pursuant to an objectively unreasonable interpretation of the statute. A plaintiff can prove a willful violation by showing a knowing or a reckless violation of a standard. Screening Pros’ interpretation of the FCRA was not objectively unreasonable. Screening Pros presented evidence that its interpretation was consistent with industry norms; the FTC’s only guidance at the time appeared to permit reporting the criminal charge. View "Moran v. The Screening Pros, LLC" on Justia Law
Posted in: Consumer Law
Widjaja v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A.
Plaintiff filed suit under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) against JPMorgan Chase Bank, alleging that she was the victim of unauthorized electronic fund transfers from her checking account at Chase. Chase reimbursed plaintiff for some of those losses, but refused to repay $300,000 of the funds stolen from her account. The district court dismissed plaintiff's complaint at the pleading stage on the ground that her lengthy delay in reporting the unauthorized withdrawals to Chase barred her claims as a matter of law.The Ninth Circuit concluded that the district court misinterpreted the relevant provision of the EFTA and reversed the dismissal of plaintiff's EFTA claim. The panel concluded that, under 15 U.S.C. 1693g(a), a consumer may be held liable for unauthorized transfers occurring after the 60-day period only if the bank establishes that those transfers "would not have occurred but for the failure of the consumer" to timely report the earlier unauthorized transfer reflected on her bank statement. In this case, plaintiff met her pleading burden by alleging facts plausibly suggesting that even if she had reported an unauthorized transfer within the 60-day period, the subsequent unauthorized transfers for which she sought reimbursement would still have occurred. The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's state law claims, concluding that plaintiff's claim for breach of contract failed because a Privacy Notice appended to her Deposit Account Agreement did not impose any substantive duties on Chase. Furthermore, plaintiff's claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing failed because the Deposit Account Agreement expressly permitted Chase to close plaintiff’s accounts. View "Widjaja v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A." on Justia Law
Cohen v. ConAgra Brands, Inc.
The district court dismissed a putative class action challenge to ConAgra’s poultry labels and its website advertising, alleging that ConAgra falsely advertised its frozen chicken products as natural and preservative-free, when in fact they contain synthetic ingredients. The court found the claims preempted by the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA), 21 U.S.C. 467e, under which the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) had approved ConAgra’s poultry labels.The Ninth Circuit reversed in part; the mere existence of the label was insufficient to establish that it was reviewed and approved by FSIS. Preemption is an affirmative defense, and when the parties dispute whether review occurred at all, the defendant must produce evidence that the label was reviewed and approved by FSIS. If the evidence on remand shows that ConAgra’s label was approved by FSIS, then the claims are preempted. The plaintiff may not assert that FSIS’s approval decision was wrong. ConAgra’s website representations were not reviewed by FSIS. The label and the website were not materially identical. A challenge to that part of the website’s representation that was materially different from the representations on the label is not preempted. The court rejected an argument under the primary jurisdiction doctrine, a prudential doctrine under which courts may determine that the initial decision-making responsibility should be performed by the relevant agency rather than the courts. View "Cohen v. ConAgra Brands, Inc." on Justia Law