Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Consumer Law
Chung v. Lamb, et al.
After a prior remand to the district court, the Tenth Circuit reviewed the propriety of that court’s revised award of attorney fees under 28 U.S.C. § 1927, which permitted monetary sanction when an attorney has unreasonably and vexatiously multiplied the proceedings. Appellant Karen Hammer claimed the district court failed to make the findings necessary to support an award under § 1927, failed to abide by the statutory requirement that a court award only excess fees incurred because of the sanctioned attorney’s multiplication of proceedings, and failed to apply the law of the case. She also argued the court erred in striking a surreply that she filed without leave. With one exception, the Tenth Circuit found no merit in these arguments. The Court affirmed except to remand for one reduction in the fee award. View "Chung v. Lamb, et al." on Justia Law
Vitamins Online, Inc. v. HeartWise, Inc.
Plaintiff Vitamins Online, Inc. believed that its competitor, Defendant Heartwise, Inc. (d/b/a NatureWise), was misrepresenting the ingredients of its competitive nutritional supplements and manipulating those products’ Amazon reviews. Vitamins Online sued for violations of the Lanham Act and Utah’s common law Unfair Competition Law. The case proceeded to a bench trial, at the conclusion of which the district court ruled for Vitamins Online and ordered disgorgement of NatureWise’s profits for 2012 and 2013. The court also awarded Vitamins Online attorney fees and costs for NatureWise’s willful misrepresentation and for various discovery abuses. Both parties appealed. NatureWise contended the district court erred in finding that it made false or misleading representations about its own nutritional supplements’ ingredients and its Amazon reviews. NatureWise further asserted the district court erred in concluding that Vitamins Online was entitled to a presumption of injury for these misrepresentations. Vitamins Online contended the district court erred in bifurcating Vitamins Online’s injury into two separate time periods and requiring Vitamins Online to prove that a presumption of injury was applicable separately for each period. Vitamins Online also argued the district court erred in denying disgorgement for the second time period, and for failing to consider an award of punitive damages and an injunction as to NatureWise’s further manipulation of reviews. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court did not clearly err in applying a presumption of injury, and affirmed the award of profits, attorney fees, and costs, and found no reversable error in the amount awarded. The Court also held the district court failed to consider properly Vitamins Online’s request for punitive damages and an injunction; the Court remanded for the district court to reconsider. View "Vitamins Online, Inc. v. HeartWise, Inc." on Justia Law
McAuliffe, et al. v. Vail Corporation
In March 2020, The Vail Corporation and Vail Resorts, Inc. (collectively, “Vail”) closed its ski resorts and did not reopen them until the start of the 2020–2021 ski season. Plaintiffs-Appellants (“Passholders”) were a group of skiers and snowboarders who purchased season passes from Vail to access its resorts during the 2019–2020 ski season. Passholders, on behalf of themselves and a class of similarly situated individuals, brought contractual, quasi-contractual, and state consumer protection law claims based on Vail’s decision to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic without issuing refunds to Passholders. The district court granted Vail’s Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss all of Passholders’ claims for failure to state a claim. Passholders appealed, arguing the district court erred in its interpretation of their contracts with Vail. Although it did not agree with the district court’s interpretation of “2019–2020 ski season,” the Tenth Circuit concurred with the ultimate conclusion that Passholders failed to state a contractual claim. Passholders sought only one form of relief in their complaint, but they purchased passes under the condition that the passes were not eligible for refunds of any kind. Recognizing that Passholders might amend their breach of contract and breach of warranty claims to seek other forms of relief, the Tenth Circuit vacated the dismissal of these two claims with prejudice and remanded for the district court to modify its judgment to a dismissal without prejudice. As with Passholders’ breach of contract and breach of warranty claims, the Court concluded the district court correctly dismissed Passholders’ consumer protection claims. Recognizing Passholders could refile these claims to seek an alternative remedy, the Tenth Circuit vacated the district court’s dismissal of Passholders’ state consumer protection law claims with prejudice so the district court could modify its dismissal of these six claims to be without prejudice. View "McAuliffe, et al. v. Vail Corporation" on Justia Law
Shields v. Professional Bureau of Collections of Maryland
Professional Bureau of Collections of Maryland, Inc. sent three collection letters to Elizabeth Shields over outstanding student loan debt. It used an outside mailer to send the letters. The letters did not indicate the debt balance could increase due to interest and fees from the date of the letters. Shields sued, alleging the disclosure of her debt and the misleading letters violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The district court dismissed because it found Shields lacked a concrete injury necessary for standing. To this the Tenth Circuit affirmed: Shields did not allege that Professional Bureau’s use of a mailer and the content of its letters sufficiently harmed her. View "Shields v. Professional Bureau of Collections of Maryland" on Justia Law
Tavernaro v. Pioneer Credit Recovery
Pioneer Credit Recovery, Inc. sent plaintiff-appellant Jason Tavernaro a letter attempting to collect a student loan debt. A district court dismissed plaintiff’s complaint filed under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) for failing to state a claim because the alleged facts were insufficient to establish Pioneer used materially misleading, unfair or unconscionable means to collect the debt. To this, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed: violations of the FDCPA is determined through the perspective of a reasonable consumer, and Pioneer’s letter was not materially misleading. View "Tavernaro v. Pioneer Credit Recovery" on Justia Law
Walker v. BOKF National Assoc.
The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals' review was one of first impression in the circuit: whether extended overdraft charges made to a checking account were “interest” charges governed by 12 C.F.R. 7.4001, or “non-interest charges and fees” for “deposit account services” governed by 12 C.F.R. 7.4002. Petitioner Berkley Walker held a checking account at the national bank BOKF, National Association, d/b/a Bank of Albuquerque, N.A. (“BOKF”). He filed a putative class action challenging BOKF’s “Extended Overdraft Fees,” claiming they were in violation of the interest rate limit set by the National Bank Act of 1864 (“NBA”). BOKF charged Walker Extended Overdraft Fees after he overdrew his checking account, BOKF elected to pay the overdraft, and then Walker failed to timely pay BOKF for covering the overdraft. Walker alleges that when he overdrew his account and BOKF paid his overdraft, BOKF was extending him credit and this extension of credit was akin to a loan. Walker argues that the Extended Overdraft Fees of $6.50 he was charged for each business day his account remained negative after a grace period constituted “interest” upon this extension of credit and were in excess of the interest rate limit set by the NBA. The district court concluded that BOKF’s Extended Overdraft Fees were fees for “deposit account services” and were not “interest” under the NBA. The district court granted BOKF’s motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) and dismissed Walker’s action for failure to state a claim. Finding no reversible error in the district court judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Walker v. BOKF National Assoc." on Justia Law
Thornton, et al. v. Tyson Foods, et al.
Plaintiffs Robin Thornton and Michael Lucero alleged defendants Tyson Foods, Inc., Cargill Meat Solutions, Corp., JBS USA Food Company, and National Beef Packing Company, LLC, used deceptive and misleading labels on their beef products. In particular, plaintiffs contended the “Product of the U.S.A.” label on defendants’ beef products was misleading and deceptive in violation of New Mexico law because the beef products did not originate from cattle born and raised in the United States. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined the federal agency tasked with ensuring the labels were not misleading or deceptive preapproved the labels at issue here. In seeking to establish that defendants’ federally approved labels were nevertheless misleading and deceptive under state law, plaintiffs sought to impose labeling requirements that were different than or in addition to the federal requirements. The Tenth Circuit concluded plaintiffs’ deceptive-labeling claims were expressly preempted by federal law. Further, the Court agreed with the district court that plaintiffs failed to state a claim for false advertising. View "Thornton, et al. v. Tyson Foods, et al." on Justia Law
Renfro, et al. v. Champion Petfoods USA, et al.
A group of pet owners brought a class action against Champion Petfoods USA, Inc., alleging representations on Champion’s packaging on its Acana and Orijen brands of dog food were false and misleading. Champion’s dog food packaging contained a number of claims about the product, advertising the food as “Biologically Appropriate,” “Trusted Everywhere,” using “Fresh and Regional Ingredients,” and containing “Ingredients We Love [From] People We Trust.” The district court dismissed the claims as either unactionable puffery or overly subjective and therefore not materially misleading to a reasonable consumer. To this, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, finding Plaintiffs’ claims failed to allege materially false or misleading statements on Champion’s packaging because the phrases failed to deceive or mislead reasonable consumers on any material fact. View "Renfro, et al. v. Champion Petfoods USA, et al." on Justia Law
Hood v. American Auto Care, et al.
Alexander Hood, a Colorado resident, appealed the dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction of his putative class-action claim against American Auto Care (AAC) in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. AAC, a Florida limited liability company whose sole office was in Florida, sold vehicle service contracts that provided vehicle owners with extended warranties after the manufacturer’s warranty expires. Hood’s complaint alleged AAC violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and invaded Hood’s and the putative class members’ privacy by directing unwanted automated calls to their cell phones without consent. Although he was then residing in Colorado, the calls came from numbers with a Vermont area code. He had previously lived in Vermont, and his cell phone number had a Vermont area code. Hood was able to trace one such call to AAC. Although it determined that Hood had alleged sufficient facts to establish that AAC purposefully directs telemarketing at Colorado, the trial court held that the call to Hood’s Vermont phone number did not arise out of, or relate to, AAC’s calls to Colorado phone numbers. In light of Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, 141 S. Ct. 1017 (2021), the Tenth Circuit determined the trial court's dismissal could not stand. "The argument regarding 'purposeful direction' ... is implicitly rejected by Ford, and the argument regarding 'arise out of or relate to' ... is explicitly rejected. ... We also determine that AAC has not shown a violation of traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." View "Hood v. American Auto Care, et al." on Justia Law
Lupia v. Medicredit
On a Monday, Medicredit, a debt collection agency, received a letter from a consumer, plaintiff-appellee Elizabeth Lupia, demanding that it cease calling her about an unpaid medical debt. The next day, before Medicredit processed the letter, it called Ms. Lupia again about the debt. This call served as grounds for Ms. Lupia's suit under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). According to Medicredit, its Tuesday call was a bona fide error, thereby shielding the agency from liability. Lupia argued Medicredit’s policy allowed for more time than that: permitting up to three business days of lag time between its receipt and processing of mail (which was how long it took Medicredit to process the letter). For that, Lupia contended, Medicredit could not shield itself under the bona fide-error defense. The district court agreed and granted Lupia’s motion for summary judgment. On appeal, Medicredit challenged Lupia’s standing in federal court and claimed the district court committed several reversible errors in granting Lupia’s motion. After review, the Tenth Circuit found no merit in any of these claims, and affirmed the district court. View "Lupia v. Medicredit" on Justia Law