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  • 11th Circuit holds ADA action against restaurant chain’s website is not moot

    Courts

    On June 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit held that a plaintiff’s claims against a national restaurant chain for allegedly operating a website that was not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are not moot despite a previous settlement with a separate plaintiff. The plaintiff sued the restaurant chain seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, requesting that the court (i) order the restaurant to alter its website and make it accessible to individuals with disabilities as required by Title III of the ADA; and (ii) order the restaurant chain to continually update and maintain that accessibility. Prior to the plaintiff’s filing, the restaurant chain reached a settlement in an earlier case with similar claims. The district court held that the plaintiff’s claims were moot because the restaurant chain had already agreed to the remedy the plaintiff sought in the previous settlement and had begun the process of its remediation plan by placing an accessibility notice on its website. On appeal, the 11th Circuit disagreed with the lower court, holding that the plaintiff’s claims are not moot, finding that the restaurant chain has not yet successfully remediated its website and the plaintiff’s request for an injunction against the restaurant chain if the website is not brought into compliance is still viable. The appellate court also noted that the current plaintiff would have no way of enforcing the settlement’s remediation plan because he was not a party to that action.

    Courts Appellate Eleventh Circuit Americans with Disabilities Act

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  • 8th Circuit affirms $17 million class settlement for retailer data breach

    Courts

    On June 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling approving a $17 million class settlement to resolve consumer claims related to a 2013 data breach, which resulted in the compromise of at least 40 million credit cards and theft of personal information of up to 110 million people. The settlement, which consists of $10 million in consumer redress and almost $7 million in plaintiffs’ attorney fees, was preliminarily approved in 2015 by the district court (previously covered by InfoBytes here) but was remanded back to the court by the 8th Circuit for failing to conduct the appropriate pre-certification analysis. After the district court recertified the class, two settlement challengers appealed, arguing that the class was not properly certified as there were not separate counsel for the subclasses and that the court erred in approving the settlement because the award of attorney’s fees was not reasonable. The appellate court disagreed, holding that no fundamental conflict of interest required separate representation for named class members and class members who suffered no actual losses. The court also concluded that the 29 percent in total monetary payment to the plaintiffs’ attorneys was “well within the amounts [the court] has deemed reasonable in the past” and therefore, the district court did not error in its discretion.

     

    Courts Appellate Eighth Circuit Class Action Data Breach Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security

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  • 11th Circuit vacates FTC data security cease and desist order issued against medical testing laboratory

    Courts

    On June 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit vacated an FTC cease and desist order (Order) that directed a Georgia-based medical testing laboratory to overhaul its data security program, ruling that the Order was unenforceable because it lacked specifics on how the overhaul should be accomplished. In 2013, the FTC claimed that the laboratory’s violation of Section 5(a) of the FTC Act constituted an “unfair act or practice” by allegedly failing to implement and provide reasonable and appropriate data security for patient information. The now defunct laboratory argued, among other things, that the FTC did not have the authority under Section 5 to regulate how it handled its data security measures. But the three-judge panel chose not to rule on the broader question about the scope of the FTC’s Section 5 data security authority, choosing to focus its decision on the Order. As previously covered in InfoBytes, in 2016 the FTC reversed an Administrative Law Judge’s Initial Decision to dismiss the 2013 FTC complaint, ordering the laboratory to, among other things, employ reasonable security practices that complied with FTC standards.

    After the Order was issued, the laboratory asked the 11th Circuit to decide whether the FTC’s Order was “unenforceable because it does not direct it to cease committing an unfair ‘act or practice’ within the meaning of Section 5(a).” The 11th Circuit agreed to stay enforcement of the Order and ultimately permanently vacated it. “In the case at hand, the cease and desist order contains no prohibitions,” the panel wrote. “It does not instruct [the laboratory] to stop committing a specific act or practice. Rather, it commands [the laboratory] to overhaul and replace its data security program to meet an indeterminable standard of reasonableness. This command is unenforceable.” The court concluded that “[t]his is a scheme that Congress could not have envisioned.”

    Courts FTC Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Eleventh Circuit Appellate FTC Act

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  • 4th Circuit affirms sanctions for attorneys in payday lawsuit

    Courts

    On May 31, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit affirmed sanctions against three attorneys for challenging the authenticity of a loan document for two years without revealing they had obtained a copy of the document from their client before filing the original complaint. The action results from a now closed case in which a consumer alleged he received loans at predatory interest rates (annual interest rate of about 139 percent) from a tribal lender and sought to impose liability on the non-lenders, including a credit union, which processed the debit transactions under the loan agreement. In response to a motion to dismiss, the attorneys for the consumer challenged the authenticity of the loan agreement provided by the credit union. After years of litigation, the credit union discovered the consumer had provided his attorneys with the loan agreement prior to the original complaint filing and moved for sanctions against the attorneys. The attorneys argued that they had no affirmative duty to disclose documents before the opening of discovery.

    The lower court disagreed, determining that each attorney had “acted in bad faith and vexatiously and violated their duty of candor by hiding a relevant and potentially dispositive document from the Court in connection with a long-running dispute over arbitrability.” In February 2017, the lower court ordered two attorneys and their respective law firms jointly liable for $150,000 in attorneys’ fees and a third associate attorney jointly liable for $100,000. Upon appeal, the 4th Circuit held that the lower court did not abuse its discretion in awarding the compensatory sanctions, stating “without losing the forest for the trees, we conclude that the district court reasonably described sanctioned counsels’ conduct as evincing a multi-year crusade to suppress the truth to gain a tactical litigation advantage.”

    Courts Appellate Fourth Circuit Payday Lending Attorney Fees Sanctions

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  • 9th Circuit affirms credit reporting agency’s code data did not violate the FCRA

    Courts

    On May 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed summary judgment for a national credit reporting agency, holding that the company did not violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) in its reporting of short sales executed by the plaintiffs. The decision results from a proposed class action suit alleging that the credit reporting agency violated the FCRA by reporting short sales executed between 2010 and 2011 with code numbers that misreported the data as foreclosures. In September 2016, the lower court found that the credit reporting agency provided creditors with clear instructions on how to interpret the code system and Fannie Mae’s Desktop Underwriter program misinterpreted the “settled” code number “9” as a foreclosure, which was not the credit reporting agency’s fault. In affirming the lower court’s decision, the 9th Circuit held that the credit reporting agency “clearly and accurately disclosed to [consumers] all information that [the company] recorded and retained that might be reflected in a consumer report.” Additionally, the panel noted that the credit reporting agency was not required to report that Fannie Mae mishandled the code data when it became aware of it.

    Courts Ninth Circuit FCRA Credit Reporting Agency Short Sale Foreclosure Fannie Mae Appellate

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  • 3rd Circuit reverses district court’s decision, rules TILA provisions misapplied to unauthorized-charge suit

    Courts

    On May 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit reversed a district court’s decision, holding that the lower court, among other things, misapplied a TILA provision under Regulation Z that requires cardholders to dispute charges within 60 days of the “first periodic statement that reflects the alleged billing error.” According to the opinion, the plaintiff-appellant filed a suit against the bank after he was allegedly rebilled for a $657 fraudulent money transfer charge that originally appeared on his statement in July 2015. The charge was originally removed from his account but reappeared in mid-September of that year after the bank claimed the charge was valid after verifying transaction details. The plaintiff-appellant challenged the decision in writing, and later filed a complaint against the bank, alleging he had “timely submitted a written notice of billing error,” and that the bank “had neither credited the charge nor conducted a reasonable investigation” and imposed liability of more than $50. The district court dismissed the complaint with prejudice for failure to state a claim, which the plaintiff appealed.

    At issue, the three-judge panel determined, were two provisions under TILA: (i) the “Fair Credit Billing Act” (FCBA), which stipulates that creditors must “comply with particular obligations when a consumer has asserted that his billing statement contains an error,” and (ii) the “unauthorized-use provision,” which requires certain conditions to be met before a credit card issuer can hold the cardholder liable, up to a limit of $50, for any unauthorized use. The panel first addressed the district court’s finding that the bank’s obligations under FCBA were “never triggered” because his written notice came 63 days after the July statement first included the charge. The panel held that, because the plaintiff-appellant’s August billing statement showed a credit to his account for the charge and that “there was no longer anything to dispute” and no reason to believe his statement contained a billing error, the 60-day time limit should have started when the bank rebilled him in September. In addressing the second issue, the district court held that plaintiff-appellant was not entitled to “reimbursement” under the unauthorized-use claim. However, the panel opined that he was not seeking reimbursement but rather “actual damages,” for which the statute does provide relief. “We conclude that a cardholder incurs ‘liability’ for an allegedly unauthorized charge when the issuer, having reason to know the charge may be unauthorized, bills or rebills the cardholder for that charge,” the panel wrote.

    Courts Third Circuit Appellate Fair Credit Billing Act TILA Regulation Z Consumer Finance

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  • 3rd Circuit holds FDCPA statute of limitations begins to run on occurrence, not discovery, of violations, splitting from 4th and 9th Circuits

    Courts

    On May 15, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit issued an en banc ruling that the statute of limitations on the ability to sue for a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is one year from the date the Act is violated. The ruling is a departure from contrary decisions issued by the 4th and 9th Circuits, which both held that the statute of limitations begins to run when a violation is discovered, not when it occurs.

    Citing the FDCPA’s provision that claims must be filed “within one year from the date on which a violation occurs,” the court found that intent of the FDCPA is that the statute of limitations should begin to run at the moment the alleged wrongdoing happens, and not when the cause of action is discovered. The Court found that the 4th and 9th Circuits’ decisions to the contrary failed to analyze the “violation occurs” language of the statute.

    However, the court noted that its holding does not serve to undermine the doctrine of equitable tolling, and “should not be read to foreclose the possibility that equitable tolling might apply to FDCPA violations that involve fraudulent, misleading, or self-concealing conduct.” This question was not addressed, the court noted, because the plaintiff-appellant failed to preserve the issue on appeal.

    Courts FDCPA Debt Collection Third Circuit Appellate

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  • 9th Circuit will not rehear interest on escrow preemption decision

    Courts

    On May 16, a panel of three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit denied the petition for an en banc rehearing of its March decision, which held that a California law that requires a bank to pay interest on escrow funds is not preempted by federal law. In addition to the national bank’s appeal for a rehearing, the OCC notably filed an amicus brief supporting the rehearing, arguing that the court “comprehensively misinterpreted” the Supreme Court’s 1996 decision Barnett Bank of Marion County v. Nelson. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.) The panel noted that the full court had been advised of the bank’s petition for rehearing, and no judge had requested a vote on rehearing.

    Courts Ninth Circuit Appellate Mortgages Escrow Preemption National Bank Act Dodd-Frank OCC State Issues

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  • D.C. Circuit rejects challenge to FTC’s 2016 staff letter on soundboard technology

    Courts

    On April 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dismissed a challenge to a November 2016 FTC staff letter, which announced the FTC would treat calls using soundboard technology as robocalls. According to the D.C. Circuit opinion, the FTC’s 2016 staff letter rescinded a 2009 staff letter, which reached the conclusion that soundboard technology was not subject to robocall regulation. The Soundboard Association filed suit, seeking to enjoin the rescission of the 2009 letter, arguing that the 2016 staff letter violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) by issuing a legislative rule without notice and comment and that it unconstitutionally restricted speech in violation of the First Amendment. The lower court granted summary judgment for the FTC holding that the 2016 letter did not violate the First Amendment and that the letter was an interpretive rule and therefore not subject to the notice and comment requirements of the APA. Upon appeal, the D.C. Circuit vacated the lower court’s decision and dismissed the action in its entirety, holding that the 2016 letter was not a “final agency action” and therefore, the plaintiffs failed to state a cause of action under the APA.

    Courts D.C. Circuit Appellate FTC Robocalls Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security

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  • FCC seeks comments on interpretation of autodialer under TCPA

    Federal Issues

    On May 14, the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau released a notice seeking comment on the interpretation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) in light of the recent D.C. Circuit decision in ACA International v. FCC. (Covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert.) The notice requests, among other things, comment on what constitutes an “automatic telephone dialing system” (autodialer) due to the court setting aside the FCC’s 2015 interpretation of an autodialer as “unreasonably expansive.” Specifically, the FCC requests comment on how to interpret the term “capacity” under the TCPA’s definition of an autodialer (“equipment which has the capacity—(A) to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator; and (B) to dial such numbers”) and requests comment on the functions a device must be able to perform to qualify as an autodialer, including how “automatic” the dialing mechanism must be. Additionally, the notice seeks comment on (i) how to treat reassigned wireless numbers under the TCPA; (ii) how a party may revoke prior express consent to receive robocalls; and (iii) three pending petitions for reconsideration, including the 2016 Broadnet Declaratory Ruling and the 2016 Federal Debt Collection Rules. Comments are due by June 13 and reply comments are due by June 28.

    On May 3, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Bankers Association, and over a dozen more trade associations petitioned the FCC seeking a declaratory ruling on the definition of an autodialer under the TCPA, previously covered by InfoBytes here.

    Federal Issues TCPA Consumer Finance FCC Agency Rule-Making & Guidance D.C. Circuit Appellate Autodialer

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