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  • California state appeals court partially reverses proposed class action suit addressing arbitration terms

    Courts

    On October 2, a California state appeals court partially reversed a trial court’s denial of class certification in a putative class action alleging that a written cardmember agreement issued by a credit card company contained unconscionable and unenforceable arbitration terms. According to the opinion, after the cardmember and his company failed to make timely and sufficient payments on their accounts, the credit card company closed the accounts and filed a collection action. The cardmember subsequently filed a putative class action cross-complaint against the credit card company and two other card issuers, alleging the arbitration terms in the cardmember agreements he signed are unlawful under California’s Unfair Competition Law, and asserting, among other things, that the legally unenforceable contract terms prevented negotiations, prohibited injunctive relief, and failed to communicate to cardholders what the rules would be at the time of arbitration. The cardmember further alleged that cardholders were overcharged annual credit card fees or purchase fees “as consideration for the promises contained in the cardmember agreement.” During the course of the litigation, the credit card companies sent certain cardmembers modified contract terms, which allowed cardmembers the option to reject arbitration altogether if a written rejection notice was provided within a specific time period.

    The trial court denied class certification, finding, among other things, that the cardmember was not an adequate class representative and did not have claims typical of the putative class because there was no evidence he paid annual fees and that individual issues would predominate with respect to procedural unconscionability and each individual class member’s entitlement to declaratory relief. On appeal, the court held that the trial court “used improper criteria and erroneous assumptions” when reaching its decision that “procedural unconscionability would involve predominantly individualized issues.” Moreover, the appellants and absent class members were linked by common questions, including whether it was unreasonable for the respondent to modify its arbitration terms during pending litigation, since this denied cardholders who opted out of arbitration the right to join the class.

    Courts Appellate Arbitration State Issues Credit Cards Class Action

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  • FCC seeks comments on interpretation of TCPA definition of autodialer following 9th Circuit decision

    Federal Issues

    On October 3, the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau released a notice seeking comment on the interpretation of the TCPA in light of a recent 9th Circuit decision, which broadened the definition of an automatic telephone dialing system (autodialer) under the TCPA. As previously covered in InfoBytes, on September 20, the 9th Circuit held that the TCPA’s definition of an autodialer includes equipment with the capacity to store numbers to be called and to automatically dial such numbers whether or not those numbers have been generated by a random or sequential number generator. The court, however, declared the statutory definition of an autodialer to be “ambiguous on its face” and, thus, it looked to the context and structure of the TCPA in reaching its conclusion regarding the scope of the definition.

    The FCC issued the notice “to supplement the record developed in response” to a prior notice issued last May, which sought comments on the interpretation of the TCPA following the D.C. Circuit’s decision in ACA International v. FCC. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on the May 2018 notice here.) Specifically, the FCC seeks comments on the following issues relevant to developing an interpretation of the TCPA’s definition of autodialer: (i) To the extent the definition of an autodialer is ambiguous, how should the FCC exercise its discretion to interpret such ambiguities? (ii) Does the 9th Circuit’s interpretation mean that any device with the capacity to dial stored numbers automatically qualifies as an autodialer? (iii) What devices have the capacity to store numbers, and do smartphones have such capacity? and (iv) What devices that have the capacity to dial stored numbers also have the capacity to automatically dial such numbers and do smartphones have such capacity?

    Comments are due October 17 with reply comments due October 24.

    Federal Issues FCC Autodialer TCPA Ninth Circuit Appellate ACA International

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  • 11th Circuit holds deaf plaintiff not required to file complaint with FCC before filing lawsuit under other federal disability rights laws

    Courts

    On September 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit vacated a district court’s decision to grant a Florida city’s (City) motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that (i) the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA) did not require the appellant to exhaust his remedies before the FCC prior to commencing a lawsuit under other federal disability statutes; and (ii) the primary-jurisdiction doctrine does not apply to this case.

    According to the opinion, the appellant, a deaf individual, alleged that none of the video content stored on the City’s four webpages provided closed captioning, in violation of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court dismissed the action without prejudice, holding the CVAA requires exhaustion of remedies by the FCC as a prerequisite to the filing of a lawsuit.

    On appeal, the 11th Circuit rejected as “an overbroad reading of the statute” the City’s argument that the CVAA contains an exhaustion requirement for claims brought under other disability rights statutes. In support of its position that the FCC only has exclusive jurisdiction over closed captioning complaints brought under the relevant section of the CVAA, the Court cited a 9th Circuit decision, which concluded “the FCC’s exclusive jurisdiction over complaints under the CVAA does nothing to extinguish [the plaintiff’s] right to pursue broader relief for online captioning under [California state law].” In rejecting the City’s primary-jurisdiction argument, the 11th Circuit first cited instances where the FCC—in a report to Congress and in a communication to this plaintiff in an unrelated action—took the position that the CVAA does not require plaintiffs to exhaust administrative remedies as a prerequisite to bringing lawsuits under other federal statutes. The Court also applied the two-factor primary jurisdiction doctrine test, concluding that (i) the FCC has no expertise with respect to the claims under the other federal disability rights statutes before the lower court; and (ii) “this case presents no special need for uniformity.”  

    Courts Eleventh Circuit Appellate Americans with Disabilities Act FCC

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  • 11th Circuit holds filed-rate doctrine bars class actions relating to lender-placed insurance

    Courts

    On September 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of two class actions on grounds that the “filed-rate doctrine” precludes the plaintiffs’ claims. In their complaints, the plaintiffs alleged that their loan servicers charged “inflated amounts” for lender-placed insurance by receiving “rebates” or “kickbacks” from an insurance company without passing the savings on to consumers. The district court dismissed the actions with prejudice, holding that the filed-rate doctrine barred the plaintiffs’ claims. On appeal, the 11th Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision, finding that the plaintiffs’ allegations challenged the insurance company’s filed rate. As a result, the court determined that the plaintiffs’ allegations were textbook examples of claims barred by the nonjusticiability principle, which provides that duly-empowered administrative agencies have exclusive say over the rates charged by regulated entities because agencies are more competent than the courts at the rate-making process.

    Courts Eleventh Circuit Appellate Force-placed Insurance Flood Insurance Mortgages Class Action

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  • 3rd Circuit says IRS reporting language may violate FDCPA

    Courts

    On September 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of a putative class action alleging a debt collector violated the FDCPA by including a statement noting that debt forgiveness may be reported to the IRS. The case was centered on the plaintiffs’ claim that letters sent to collect on debts that were less than $600, which contained the language “[w]e are not obligated to renew this offer. We will report forgiveness of debt as required by IRS regulations. Reporting is not required every time a debt is canceled or settled, and might not be required in your case,” were “false, deceptive and misleading” under the FDCPA because only discharged debts over $600 are required to be reported to the IRS. The district court dismissed the action, concluding the letters were not deceptive and the least sophisticated consumer would interpret the statement to mean in certain circumstances some discharges are reportable but not all are reportable.

    Upon appeal, the 3rd Circuit disagreed with the district court, finding “the least sophisticated debtor could be left with the impression that reporting could occur,” notwithstanding the letter’s qualifying statement that reporting is not required every time a debt is canceled or settled, and therefore, the language could signal a potential FDCPA violation. Recognizing the industry’s regular use of form letters, the appeals court noted, “we must reinforce that convenience does not excuse a potential violation of the FDCPA.”

    Courts Third Circuit Appellate IRS FDCPA Debt Collection Class Action

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  • 9th Circuit ruling broadens the definition of automatic telephone dialing system under TCPA

    Courts

    On September 20, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit vacated the district court’s order granting summary judgment in a TCPA action, in light of the recent D.C. Circuit opinion in ACA International v. FCC (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert). The case arises from a plaintiff’s allegations that a California gym violated the TCPA by sending three text messages to the plaintiff’s cell phone. In October 2014, the district court granted summary judgment for the gym, holding that the automatic text messaging system used by the gym was not an “automatic telephone dialing system” (autodialer) under the TCPA because it lacked the capacity “to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator.” In 2016, the 9th Circuit stayed the appeal of the district court’s ruling pending the ACA International decision, which was issued in March of this year. In ACA International, the D.C. Circuit struck down the FCC’s definition of an autodialer, reasoning that the FCC’s definition “unreasonably, and impermissibly” included all smartphones while inadequately describing the functions that made a device an autodialer.

    Because the ACA International decision set aside the FCC’s definition, the 9th Circuit performed its own review of the statutory definition of an autodialer in the TCPA. Through this review, the court concluded that the TCPA defined an autodialer as “equipment which has the capacity—(i) to store numbers to be called, or (ii) to produce numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator—and to dial such numbers automatically (even if the system must be turned on or triggered by a person).” Because the text system used by the gym stores numbers and dials them automatically to send the messages to the stored list of phone numbers, the 9th Circuit held there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the system qualified as an “autodialer” and remanded the case to district court for further proceedings.

    Courts ACA International Ninth Circuit TCPA Autodialer D.C. Circuit Appellate

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  • D.C. Circuit remands SEC case to be heard by new ALJ

    Courts

    On September 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit remanded an SEC case against an investment adviser and his company for a new hearing before another Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) or before the Commission in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lucia v. SEC. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in June, the Supreme Court held that SEC ALJs are “inferior officers” subject to the Appointments Clause of the Constitution. After the decision in Lucia, the SEC moved to remand the case for a new hearing. In response, the investment adviser moved to have the SEC’s previous orders, including those imposing penalties, set aside in whole, arguing that remand is not authorized in this circumstance; citing to Lucia, the investment adviser argued the penalties resulted from an unconstitutional hearing and the language concerning remand for a new hearing in Lucia was dicta and carried no weight. The D.C. Circuit rejected this argument and denied the motion to set aside in part, citing D.C. Circuit precedent in stating “carefully considered language of the Supreme Court, even if technically dictum, generally must be treated as authoritative.”

    Courts Federal Issues ALJ U.S. Supreme Court D.C. Circuit Appellate SEC

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  • OFAC reaches $1.5 million settlement with electronics company for alleged Iranian sanctions violations

    Financial Crimes

    On September 13, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $1.5 million settlement with a California-based electronics company for alleged violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations when it sold equipment to a Dubai-based distributor it knew or had reason to know distributed most, if not all, of its products to Iran. The settlement resolves litigation between the California company and OFAC stemming from a 2014 lawsuit challenging OFAC’s initial $4.07 million civil penalty. While the lower count ultimately granted summary judgment in favor of OFAC after finding enough evidence that the company knew the distributor’s business was primarily in Iran at the time the shipments were made, upon appeal, the D.C. Circuit reached a split decision in May 2017 setting aside OFAC’s initial penalty. While the appellate court affirmed that 34 of 39 shipments in question were in violation of the sanctions regulations, the company had produced emails indicating that the other shipments were intended for a retail store in Dubai. Because the penalty was calculated in such a way that the two shipments categories were “intertwined,” the court remanded the matter to OFAC for further consideration of the total penalty calculation.

    In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered the following aggravating factors: (i) “the [a]lleged [v]iolations constituted or resulted in a systematic pattern of conduct”; (ii) the company exported goods valued at over $2.8 million; and (iii) the company had no compliance program in place at the time of the alleged violations. However, OFAC also considered mitigating factors such as the company’s status as a small business, the company not receiving a penalty or finding of a violation in the five years prior to the transactions at issue, and some cooperation with OFAC. OFAC further noted that following litigation, the company “took additional remedial actions to address the conduct that led to the [a]lleged [v]iolations, including terminating its relationship with [the Dubai-based distributor] and instituting an OFAC sanctions compliance program.”

    Financial Crimes Department of Treasury Sanctions OFAC Iran Courts Appellate Civil Money Penalties

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  • 3rd Circuit: Failure to provide job applicants consumer reports has standing under Spokeo

    Courts

    On September 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit issued a precedential order reversing in part and affirming in part a lower court’s dismissal of claims brought by three individuals who claimed a company violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) when it failed to provide them with copies of their consumer reports. According to the opinion, the three plaintiffs applied for jobs with the company and were ultimately not hired due to information discovered in their background checks. The plaintiffs filed a putative class action asserting the company did not send them copies of their background checks before it took adverse action when deciding not to hire them, and also failed to provide them with notices of their rights under the FCRA. The district court dismissed the claims against the company, finding there was only a “bare procedural violation,” and not a concrete injury in fact as required under the Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins (covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert). On appeal, the 3rd Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision, concluding that the plaintiffs had standing to assert that the company violated the FCRA by taking adverse action without first providing copies of their consumer reports. Additionally, the court noted that “taking an adverse employment action without providing the required consumer report is ‘the very harm that Congress sought to prevent, arising from prototypical conduct proscribed’ by the FCRA.” However, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claim alleging the company failed to provide them with a notice of their FCRA rights, finding that the claim was a “‘bare procedural violation, divorced from any concrete harm,’” and lacked Article III standing under Spokeo. The 3rd Circuit remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with their findings.

    Courts Third Circuit Appellate Consumer Reporting FCRA Spokeo

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  • CFPB argues structure is constitutional under current precedent

    Courts

    On September 10, the CFPB rejected the arguments made by two Mississippi-based payday loan and check cashing companies (appellants) challenging the constitutionality of the CFPB’s single director structure. The challenge results from a May 2016 complaint filed by the CFPB against the appellants alleging violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act (CFPA) for practices related to the companies’ check cashing and payday lending services, previously covered by InfoBytes here. The district court denied the companies’ motion for judgment on the pleadings in March 2018, declining the argument that the structure of the CFPB is unconstitutional and that the CFPB’s claims violate due process. The following April, the 5th Circuit agreed to hear an interlocutory appeal on the constitutionality question and subsequently, the appellants filed an unopposed petition requesting for initial hearing en banc, citing to a July decision by the 5th Circuit ruling the FHFA’s single director structure violates Article II of the Constitution (previously covered by InfoBytes here).

    In its September response to the appellants’ arguments, which are similar to previous challenges to the Bureau’s structure—specifically that the Bureau is unconstitutional because the president can only remove the director for cause—the Bureau argues that the agency’s structure is consistent with precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has held that for-cause removal is not an unconstitutional restriction on the president’s authority. The brief also cited to the recent 5th Circuit decision holding the FHFA structure unconstitutional and noted that the court acknowledged the Bureau’s structure as different from FHFA in that it “allows the President more ‘direct[] control.’” The Bureau also argues that the appellants are not entitled to judgment on the pleadings because the Bureau’s complaint— which was filed under the previous Director, Richard Cordray— has been ratified by acting Director, Mick Mulvaney, who is currently removable at will under his Federal Vacancies Reform Act appointment and therefore, any potential constitutional defect in the filing is cured. Additionally, the Bureau argues that even if the single-director structure were deemed unconstitutional, the provision is severable from the rest of the CFPA based on an express severability clause in the Dodd-Frank Act.

    Courts Fifth Circuit Appellate Federal Issues CFPB CFPB Succession Dodd-Frank FHFA Single-Director Structure U.S. Supreme Court

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