Articles Posted in Consumer Law

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Cox Cable subscribers cannot access premium cable services unless they also rent a set-top box from Cox. A class of plaintiffs in Oklahoma City sued Cox under antitrust laws, alleging Cox had illegally tied cable services to set-top-box rentals in violation of section 1 of the Sherman Act, which prohibits illegal restraints of trade. Though a jury found that Plaintiffs had proved the necessary elements to establish a tying arrangement, the district court disagreed. In granting Cox’s Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b) motion, the court determined that Plaintiffs had offered insufficient evidence for a jury to find that Cox’s tying arrangement "foreclosed a substantial volume of commerce in Oklahoma City to other sellers or potential sellers of set-top boxes in the market for set- top boxes." After careful consideration, the Tenth Circuit ultimately agreed with the district court and affirmed. View "Healy v. Cox Communications" on Justia Law

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Several individuals in multiple states (collectively, plaintiffs) brought class action lawsuits against various fuel retailers (collectively, defendants) based on defendants’ failure to control for, or at least disclose, the effects of temperature on gasoline. In 2007, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated these cases and designated the District of Kansas as the transferee district. After years of legal wrangling, several of the parties entered into settlement agreements, which the district court ultimately approved. These appeals arose from: (1) the district court’s approval of those settlement agreements; and (2) its interpretation of one of them. The Tenth Circuit consolidated the appeals for procedural purposes. “The settlement agreements at issue here are unusual. But the decision to approve them rests with the sound discretion of the district court. Under the unique facts of this case, we can’t say the district court abused that discretion. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s approval of the 10 settlement agreements.” View "In re: Motor Fuel Temperature" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee Elizabeth Hammond sought to pursue a class action in New Mexico state court on behalf of everyone in the country who, like her, called to cancel their Stamps.com subscriptions after “discovering” that Stamps.com “was taking money from them” every month. Hammond alleged that this class included “hundreds or thousands of persons.” And while she didn't allege a total damages amount, she contended that she was entitled to $300 in statutory damages and that other members of the proposed class should “likely” receive damages of $31.98, representing two monthly subscription charges ($15.99 x 2), based on her estimate of how long customers could have reasonably failed to notice the monthly charges before calling to cancel. Hammond also sought punitive damages for herself and other class members. Stamps.com sought to remove the case to federal court, presenting uncontested declarations showing that in the last four years, at least 312,680 customers called to cancel their subscriptions. The company observed that, if each of these persons were to win the same $300 in damages Hammond sought for herself, the value of this case would exceed $93 million. And even if other class members could secure only $31.98 in damages, the company noted, the case’s potential value would still lie at almost $10 million. The district court found lack of jurisdiction, holding that Stamps.com failed to meet its burden of showing that over $5 million was "in controversy" because the company failed to disaggregate from the total number of customer cancellations those customers who “felt duped” by Stamps.com’s website disclosures. Disagreeing with the district court's decision it lacked jurisdiction, the Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hammond v. Stamps.com" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Zen Magnets, LLC (“Zen”) challenged a regulation promulgated by Respondent Consumer Product Safety Commission (“the Commission”) restricting the size and strength of the rare earth magnets that Zen sold. The sets consisted of small, high-powered magnets that users could arrange and rearrange in various geometric designs. The component magnets are unusually small (their diameters are approximately five millimeters) and unusually powerful. Magnets of this type have been marketed and sold to consumers (by Zen and other distributors) as desktop trinkets, stress-relief puzzles, and toys, and apparently also for educational and scientific purposes. Although the strength of these magnets was part of their appeal, it could also pose a grave danger when the magnets are misused, particularly if two or more magnets were ingested. During 2011, in response to reports of injured children, Commission staff began evaluating whether the magnet sets currently on the market complied with ASTM F963 (“the toy standard”). In May 2012, the Commission required the thirteen leading magnet set distributors to report any information of which they were aware reasonably supporting the conclusion that their magnets did not comply with an applicable safety standard, contained a defect, or created an unreasonable risk of serious injury. Four months after eliminating ten of the leading magnet set distributors, the Commission proposed a new safety standard aimed at regulating the size and strength of all magnet sets. Unlike the toy standard, the final rule was not limited to magnets designed or marketed as toys for children under fourteen years of age, but rather applied to all magnet sets. Zen was the only remaining importer and distributor of the magnet sets targeted by the final rule. Over the years, Zen made efforts to comply with the toy standard by implementing age restrictions and placing warnings on its website and packaging, as well as by imposing sales restrictions on its retail distributors. Its magnet sets, however, did not comply with the strength and size restrictions of the final rule. Zen sought judicial review of that safety standard. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the Commission’s prerequisite factual findings, which were compulsory under the Consumer Product Safety Act, were incomplete and inadequately explained. Accordingly, the Court vacated and remanded this case back to the Commission for further proceedings. View "Zen Magnets v. Consumer Product Safety Comm'n" on Justia Law

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The Internal Revenue Service filed a notice of federal tax lien against "Attorneys Title Insurance Agency of Wright Gary A Member" with the Pitkin County Recorder. The Recorder, however, listed the lien on its indexing website as against "Gary A. Wright" in his personal capacity. Wright paid the underlying lien. Credit reporting agencies (“CRAs”) Experian Information Services, Inc. (“Experian”) and Trans Union LLC (“Trans Union”) received information about the lien from their contractor, LexisNexis, and included it in their reports of Wright’s credit history. Wright learned about the lien appearing in his credit reports. He sent letters to the CRAs disputing the lien, asserting: (1) the IRS had withdrawn the lien because the taxes had subsequently been paid; and (2) the notice of the lien inaccurately stated the lien was assessed against him when it should have been assessed only against Attorneys Title Insurance Agency of Aspen (“ATA”). In response to these letters, the CRAs checked the information, but did not remove the lien entirely from Wright’s credit report because the IRS treated the lien as "released" rather than withdrawn. Wright sued under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) and Colorado Consumer Credit Reporting Act (“CCCRA”), claiming the credit reports were inaccurate, the CRAs acted unreasonably in reporting the lien and responding to his letters, and the foregoing caused him to suffer damages. The district court granted summary judgment to the CRAs, concluding they used reasonable procedures to prepare Wright’s credit report and to reinvestigate in response to Wright’s letters. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Wright v. Experian Information Solutions" on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law

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Four Western Union customers whose wire transfers failed sued Western Union, alleging state-law claims for, among other things, conversion, unjust enrichment, and breach of fiduciary duty. The Named Plaintiffs initiated this litigation as a class action on behalf of all Western Union customers whose wire transfers failed. This class included three groups: 1) those customers who, like the named Plaintiffs, had already reclaimed their funds from Western Union; 2) those customers whose funds had already escheated to a state; and 3) those customers whose funds Western Union was currently holding. Two unnamed class members challenged the district court’s decision to certify the class and approve the settlement. They argued, among other things, that the class representatives could not adequately represent all of the class members; the settlement was unfair because it used primarily the money belonging to the class to fund the settlement; and the district court did not adequately notify absent class members of the class action and the settlement. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded their objections lacked merit. View "Tennille v. Western Union" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Brett Woods and Kathleen Valdes were state employees and representatives of a class of New Mexico state and local government employees who alleged they paid for insurance coverage through payroll deductions and premiums pursuant to a policy issued by Standard Insurance Company (Standard), but did not receive the coverage for which they paid and, in some cases, were denied coverage entirely. Plaintiffs filed suit in New Mexico state court against three defendants: Standard, an Oregon company that agreed to provide the subject insurance coverage; the Risk Management Division of the New Mexico General Services Department (the Division), the state agency that contracted with Standard and was responsible for administering benefits under the policy; and Standard employee Martha Quintana, who Plaintiffs allege was responsible for managing the Division’s account with Standard and for providing account management and customer service to the Division and state employees. Plaintiffs' ninety-one-paragraph complaint, stated causes of action against Standard and the Division for breach of contract and unjust enrichment; against Standard for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing, and Unfair Practices Act violations; and against Standard and Ms. Quintana for breach of the New Mexico Trade Practices and Fraud Act. The issue this appeal presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether remand to the state court pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) was required under either of two CAFA provisions: the state action provision, which excludes from federal jurisdiction cases in which the primary defendants are states; or the local controversy exception, which requires federal courts to decline jurisdiction where, among other things, there is a local defendant whose alleged conduct forms a significant basis for the claims asserted by plaintiffs and from whom plaintiffs seek significant relief. The Court concluded that neither provision provided a basis for remand, and therefore reversed the decision of the magistrate judge remanding the case to state court. But because the Tenth Circuit could not determine whether Defendants have established the amount in controversy required to confer federal jurisdiction, the case was remanded to the district court for the resolution of that issue. View "Woods v. Standard Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Defendants–Appellants Abercrombie & Fitch Co., Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., and J.M. Hollister LLC, d/b/a Hollister Co. (collectively, Abercrombie) appealed several district court orders holding that Hollister clothing stores violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Plaintiff–Appellee Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition (CCDC) is a disability advocacy organization in Colorado. In 2009, CCDC notified Abercrombie that Hollister stores at two malls in Colorado violated the ADA. Initial attempts to settle the matter were unsuccessful, and this litigation followed. Abercrombie took it upon itself to correct some barriers plaintiff complained of: it modified Hollister stores by lowering sales counters, rearranging merchandise to ensure an unimpeded path of travel for customers in wheelchairs, adding additional buttons to open the adjacent side doors, and ensuring that the side doors were not blocked or locked. However, one thing remained unchanged: a stepped, porch-like structure served as the center entrance at many Hollister stores which gave the stores the look and feel of a Southern California surf shack. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's judgment: affirming the court's denial of Abercrombie's summary judgment motion and certification of a class. However, the Court reversed the district court's partial grant, and later full grant of summary judgment to plaintiffs, and vacated the court's permanent injunction: "each of the district court’s grounds for awarding the Plaintiffs summary judgment [were] unsupportable. It was error to impose liability on the design of Hollister stores based on 'overarching aims' of the ADA. It was also error to impose liability based on the holding that the porch as a 'space' must be accessible. Finally, it was error to hold that the porch must be accessible because it is the entrance used by a 'majority of people.'" View "CO Cross-Disability Coalition, et al v. Abercrombie & Fitch, et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Richard Salzer received medical care at an SSM Healthcare of Oklahoma (SSM) facility for injuries he sustained in an accident. At the time of his treatment, he had a health insurance plan (the "Plan"). Salzer entered into a contract with SSM to receive its services (the "Hospital Services Agreement"), under which he "authorized disclosure of [his] medical information for billing purposes and authorized [his] health insurance company to pay." SSM had an existing contract with Salzer's health insurance company (the "Provider Agreement") which required SSM to submit covered medical charges to Salzer's insurance company and accept discounted payment from the insurer. Although the Provider Agreement prohibited SSM from seeking payment for a covered charge from Salzer, SSM sought the non-discounted amount directly from him. Salzer sued SSM alleging breach of contract and other state law claims based on SSM's attempt to collect payment for medical care from Salzer instead of his health insurance company. SSM removed the case to federal district court. Salzer challenged the district court's denial of his motion to remand based on its determination that his claims were completely preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Salzer v. SSM Health Care of Oklahoma" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee Randy Howard sought to bring a class action suit against Ferrellgas Partners, LP in federal district court for allegedly overcharging him and other customers. Ferrellgas moved to force plaintiff to pursue his individual claim alone, in arbitration, arguing that arbitration was the procedure the parties had agreed to. The district court was unable to conclude that the parties agreed to arbitrate. Rather than proceed to trial as the Federal Arbitation Act required, the district court entered an order denying arbitration outright. The Tenth Circuit concluded that denial was error: "When it's apparent from a quick look at the case that no material disputes of fact exist, it may be permissible and efficient for a district court to decide the arbitration question as a matter of law through motions practice and viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing arbitration. . . . Parties should not have to endure years of waiting and exhaust legions of photocopiers in discovery and motions practice merely to learn where their dispute will be heard. The Act requires courts process the venue question quickly so the parties can get on with the merits of their dispute in the right forum. It calls for a summary trial — not death by discovery." View "Howard v. Ferrellgas Partners, et al" on Justia Law