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  • New Jersey appeals court says choice-of-law exception may apply in interest rate class action suit

    Courts

    On October 9, the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division reversed a trial court’s decision to revive a proposed class action that challenged, among other things, interest rates of over 30 percent on car title loans. According to the appellate court, the trial court dismissed the case because Delaware, not New Jersey, had a more substantial relationship with the parties’ dispute. While the plaintiff’s contract with the Delaware-based title loan company stipulated that Delaware law applied even though she resided in New Jersey, the appellate court said that under the second exception of the test established by Instructional Systems Inc. v. Computer Curriculum Corp., New Jersey courts will uphold the contractual choice unless the “application of the law of the chosen state would be contrary to the fundamental policy of the state which has a materially greater interest than the chosen state in the determination of the particular issue and which . . . would be the state of the applicable law in the absence of an effective choice of law by the parties.”

    “In her certification, plaintiff asserted that she applied for the title loan from her home in New Jersey and that defendant advised her that the loan had been approved by calling and advising her that all she had to do to pick up the money was to come to Delaware and sign the contract.” The appellate court stated that these additional facts may be sufficient to satisfy the second exception’s prerequisites, and that from a procedural standpoint, the trial court should have either converted the title loan company’s motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment in order to consider the new information or granted the plaintiff’s motion to file a second amended complaint.

    Courts State Issues Class Action Interest Auto Finance Usury

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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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  • Court denies motion to certify classes in TCPA action against national mortgage servicer

    Courts

    On September 27, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied certification of two proposed classes in a TCPA action against a national mortgage servicer, concluding that plaintiff had failed to meet his burden of demonstrating, under FRCP 23(b)(3), that common issues of fact or law predominated over any questions affecting only individual members. According to the opinion, plaintiff alleged the mortgage servicer contacted consumer phones, without express consent, using an automatic telephone dialing system (autodialer) in violation of the TCPA. One of the four named plaintiffs sought to represent two classes of consumers who were contacted by the servicer two or more times between October 2010 and November 2014: (i) those who received calls or texts and told the servicer to cease contact; and (ii) those who received calls and told the servicer it had called the wrong number.

    The court found the issue of consent was decisive in this action, relying on authority holding that individual issues of consent predominate where a defendant “provides specific evidence that a significant number of putative class members consented to contact . . . .” The opinion notes that mortgage servicer’s policies contained a process for flagging accounts that withdrew consent to be contacted and if an account was flagged, the autodialer would not initiate calls to that number. The mortgage servicer argued that many consumers gave permission, retracted it, and gave the permission to be contacted again. The court found the servicer had “put forth specific evidence establishing that a significant percentage of the putative class consented to receiving calls.” The court reviewed expert reports by both parties and ultimately concluded that the method for determining class members suggested by the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s expert did not “adequately identify a common way to address the individual variations of consent and revocation that occurred in this case.” The court determined that it would need to conduct an individualized consent inquiry for accountholders in each putative class.

    Courts TCPA Autodialer Class Action Mortgage Servicing Mortgages

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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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  • District court approves an $8.8 million TCPA class action settlement with an inmate telephone company

    Courts

    On September 24, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California approved an $8.8 million class action settlement between consumers and an inmate telephone company. The settlement resolves allegations that the company violated the TCPA by playing a separate prerecorded “Notification Call” directing the receiving party to provide billing information for the inmate’s collect calls without obtaining the receiving party’s prior consent or providing the receiving party with an opt out mechanism for future calls. Under the terms of the settlement, the company will pay almost $175 to each class member and will change its practices to include both an interactive-voice/key activated opt-out mechanism and a toll-free number that the receiving party may use to opt-out of all future notification calls.

    Courts TCPA Settlement Class Action

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  • Court sends class action TCPA suit against global ride-sharing company to arbitration

    Courts

    On September 20, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted a global ride-sharing company’s motion for summary judgment, ruling that a user had consented to arbitrate any disputes when he signed up for an account with the company. Specifically, the named plaintiff of the proposed class action brought the suit against the company for allegedly violating the TCPA when he received a single text message he claims he did not consent to after signing up for the company’s app, and that he claimed he received after he deleted the app. The company moved to compel arbitration, which initially was denied in 2017, when the court held that the company had not shown enough evidence that users were aware of the arbitration agreement and ordered the parties to engage in expedited discovery limited to the arbitration agreement formation. However, following both parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment, the court determined that the plaintiff “failed to raise a genuine dispute as to whether he entered into an enforceable agreement to arbitrate,” and that the app presented a statement that creating an account meant that users agreed to the terms of service and privacy policy, which was presented to users “in an easy-to-read font on an uncluttered screen” and required no scrolling.

    According to the court, “the manner in which this statement and the Terms of Service were presented placed a reasonable person on notice that there were terms incorporated with creating an . . . account and that, by creating an account, he or she was agreeing to those terms.” Concerning the plaintiff’s argument that his TCPA claim does not fall under the arbitration agreement’s purview, the court stated that the question of what falls within the scope of the arbitration agreement is itself subject to arbitration, and also stated that the Terms of Service specifically permitted the texting of promotional offers to customers, arguably requiring the TCPA claim to be arbitrated. The court dismissed without prejudice the plaintiff’s claims against the company and stayed the case until arbitration proceedings are resolved.

    Courts Arbitration TCPA 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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  • District Court dismisses NFL season ticket class action because plaintiff received the “reasonably expected fruits under the contract”

    Courts

    On August 30, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed with prejudice a putative class action alleging that an NFL team’s season ticket sales practices had violated the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (CFA). The case was centered on the named plaintiff’s claim that the team made representations to him that his purchase of a personal seat license (PSL) would give him an exclusive right to purchase season tickets in a particular seating area in the team’s stadium. The plaintiff alleged that the team ran afoul of the CFA when, counter to its alleged representations, it opened up sales for season tickets in that area to people who had not purchased a personal seat license, thus rendering worthless the license plaintiff had purchased.

    The Court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims with prejudice because the plaintiff had received the “reasonably expected fruits under the contract.” The PSL agreement did not promise an exclusive right to purchase seats in a particular area of the team’s stadium, nor did it “purport to extend licensing or equity rights to [p]laintiff to control the ticketing policy for other” seats in that area. Rather, the PSL simply promised the plaintiff the right to purchase two seats in the area he chose, and that right had not been interfered with.

    Courts Class Action Fraud Contracts

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  • Court approves final class action settlement; previously ruled that extended overdrawn balance charge fees are “interest” under National Bank Act

    Courts

    On August 31, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted final approval to a class action settlement, resolving a suit alleging that a national bank’s overdraft fees exceeded the maximum interest rate permitted by the National Bank Act (NBA). According to the order, the settlement ends a putative class action concerning the bank’s practice of charging a $35 “extended overdrawn balance charge” fee (EOBCs) on deposit accounts that remained overdrawn for more than five days when funds were advanced to honor an overdrawn check. Class members argued that the fee amounted to interest and—when taken into account as a percentage of an account holder’s negative balance—exceeded the NBA’s allowable interest rate. The bank countered, stating that “EOBCs were not ‘interest’ and therefore cannot trigger the NBA.” A 2016 order denying the bank’s motion to dismiss, which departed from several other district courts on this issue, found that “covering an overdraft check is an ‘extension of credit’” and therefore overdraft fees can be considered interest under the NBA. The bank appealed the decision to the 9th Circuit in April 2017, but reached a settlement last October with class members.

    Under the terms of the approved settlement, the bank will refrain from charging extended overdraft fees for five years—retroactive to December 31, 2017—unless the U.S. Supreme Court “expressly holds that EOBCs or their equivalent do not constitute interest under the NBA.” The bank also will provide $37.5 million in relief to certain class members who paid at least one EOBC and were not provided a refund or a charge-off, and will provide at least $29.1 million in debt reduction for class members whose overdrawn accounts were closed by the bank while they still had an outstanding balance as a result of one or more EOBCs applied during the class period. The bank also will pay attorneys’ fees.

    Courts Overdraft Settlement Class Action National Bank Act Fees Consumer Finance

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  • Court approves $17 million class action settlement with mortgage company and real estate service companies for alleged RESPA violations

    Courts

    On August 27, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California approved a class action settlement agreement resolving allegations against a national mortgage company and a real estate services family of companies (defendants) for allegedly arranging kickbacks for unlawful referrals of title services in violation of RESPA. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the 2015 complaint accused the defendants of violating RESPA by allegedly facilitating the exchange of unlawful referral fees and kickbacks through an affiliated business arrangement, while also directing various banks to refer title insurance and other settlement services to a subsidiary in the family of real estate services companies without informing customers of the relationship between the entities. In a stipulation of settlement filed in 2017 alongside a motion for preliminary approval, defendants indicated that they continued “to deny each and all of the claims and contentions alleged in the [a]ction . . . [but] have concluded that the further conduct of the [a]ction against them would be protracted and expensive.” The stipulation further noted that “substantial amounts of time, energy and resources have been and, unless this [s]ettlement is made, will continue to be devoted to the defense of the claims asserted in the [a]ction.” 

    The approved settlement class encompasses more than 32,000 transactions related to borrowers who closed on mortgage loans originated by the mortgage company between approximately November 2014 through November 2015, and who paid any title, escrow or closing related charges to the real estate services companies. The defendants will pay $17 million into a settlement fund, which covers payment to class members as well as attorney’s fees and costs.

    Courts Class Action Kickback RESPA Mortgages Settlement

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