Justia U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Consumer Law
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Petitioners, Northstar Wireless, LLC (“Northstar”), and SNR Wireless LicenseCo, LLC (“SNR”) placed more than $13 billion in winning bids at a Federal Communications Commission  (“Commission”) auction to license wireless spectrum. The Commission determined that neither company was eligible for the very-small-business discount because both were de facto controlled by their biggest investor, the large telecommunications company DISH Network Corporation (“DISH”). Northstar and SNR (collectively, “Companies”) petitioned for a review of that decision.   Northstar and SNR have again sought our review, contending that the Commission flouted this court’s orders in SNR Wireless by not working closely enough with them to reduce DISH’s control, wrongfully found them to be controlled by DISH, and penalized them without fair notice.   The DC Circuit rejected the Companies’ challenges to the Commission’s orders. The court held that the Commission complied with the court’s previous decision by affording the Companies an opportunity to cure. The Commission also reasonably applied its precedent to the Companies and gave them fair notice of the legal standards that it would apply in analyzing their claims to be very small companies. View "Northstar Wireless, LLC v. FCC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sued the Inter-American Development Bank (the “IDB” or the “Bank”), alleging that the IDB violated its internal investigatory procedures when investigating allegations that the Plaintiffs had engaged in “Prohibited Practices”—e.g., corruption, fraud, coercion, collusion, obstruction and misappropriation—in the performance of IDB-financed contracts, an investigation that ultimately led to the imposition of severe sanctions against the Plaintiffs. The IDB moved to dismiss the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, asserting immunity under the International Organizations Immunities Act (IOIA), 22 U.S.C. Sections 288–288l. Plaintiffs countered that their case fell within two exceptions to IOIA immunity: the commercial activity exception and the waiver exception. Rejecting the Plaintiffs’ arguments, the district court granted the IDB’s motion to dismiss.   The DC Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling, holding that Plaintiffs’ cases did not fall within the IOIA immunity exceptions. The court reasoned that in the context of a multilateral bank like the IDB, the Court has generally looked to whether waiver of immunity serves to “enhance the marketability” of an international organization’s financial products “and the credibility of its activities in the lending markets. Weighing the costs and benefits here, the court saw no reason to find a waiver of immunity. It is true that the IDB is obligated to, among other things, “promote the investment of public and private capital for development purposes” and “encourage private investment,” IDB Charter art. I, Section 2(a), meaning that the Plaintiffs’ argument that judicial review would assuage commercial partners’ “fears that [the Sanctions Procedures] will be applied in bad faith,” and thereby promote investment, is, at the very least, colorable. View "Noah Rosenkrantz v. Inter-American Development Bank" on Justia Law

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Appellant used an email application on his laptop to send Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") records requests to fourteen components of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). Not having received any response, he filed a complaint in district court almost seven months later seeking an order to require the DOD to conduct a search for and promptly produce the requested records. Appellant attached copies of the emails to the complaint. The DOD responded by moving for summary judgment, relying on a DOD official’s declaration that all fourteen components had searched for but had not received any request from Appellant. The district court granted the DOD’s motion, concluding that Appellant had not created a genuine dispute as to the DOD’s “receipt” of the requests under 5 U.S.C. Section 552(a)(6)(A)(i).   The DC Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling granting summary judgment to the DOD. First, Appellant argued that it “goes well beyond any agency deference and borders on vacuous” to allow the government to prevail based solely on a declaration that it could not find a request. But, the court reasoned, Appellant’s framing—that any declaration denying receipt after a search would warrant granting summary judgment to the government—is flawed. The court affords a presumption of good faith only if we conclude that an agency’s declaration is “relatively detailed and non-conclusory, and . . . submitted in good faith.”  The court explained that Appellant, who filed suit over six months after saving the requests on his computer, has presented insufficient evidence to create a genuine dispute regarding the DOD’s “receipt” of his FOIA requests View "Patrick Eddington v. DOD" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are commercial truck drivers who received citations for violating state vehicle safety laws. State officials reported these citations to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for inclusion in the Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS), 49 U.S.C. 31106(a)(3)(B). After state courts dismissed misdemeanor charges arising from the citations, the drivers asked the Administration to remove them from the MCMIS. The Administration forwarded the requests to the relevant state agencies, which declined to remove the citations. The drivers later authorized the release of their PreEmployment Screening Program (PSP) reports to prospective employers.The drivers allege harm from the inclusion of their citations in the PSP reports and sought damages under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. 1681e. The drivers alleged that the Administration violated FCRA by not following reasonable procedures to ensure that their PSP reports were as accurate as possible, by failing to investigate the accuracy of their PSP reports upon request, and by refusing to add a statement of dispute to their PSP reports. The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Administration, in releasing MCMIS records as required by the SAFE Transportation Act, is not a “consumer reporting agency” under FCRA. View "Mowrer v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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In 2019, the Consumer Product Safety Commission revised its safety standard for infant bath seats, stating: “Each infant bath seat shall comply with all applicable provisions of ASTM F1967–19, Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Infant Bath Seats.” When Milice, a then-expectant mother, contacted Commission staff about inspecting the ASTM standard, they were told they would have to purchase the standard from its developer. Milice challenged the 2019 Rule on the grounds that it violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the First and Fifth Amendments because its content is not freely available to the public. The D.C. Circuit declined to address Milice’s arguments, finding her petition for review was untimely, having been filed more than 60 days after the 2019 Rule was published in the Federal Register, 15 U.S.C. 2060(g)(2). A revised voluntary safety standard issued by an outside organization that serves as the basis of a Commission standard “shall be considered to be a consumer product safety standard issued by the Commission” effective 180 days after the Commission is notified, “unless . . . the Commission notifies the organization that it has determined that the proposed revision does not improve the safety of the consumer product covered by the standard,” 15 U.S.C. 2056a(b)(4)(B). View "Milice v. Consumer Product Safety Commission" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a putative class action against Autovest and its debt-collection agency under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), alleging claims related to a prior collection action.The DC Circuit vacated the district court's order granting summary judgment to defendants, holding that plaintiff lacked Article III standing because she did not suffer a concrete injury-in-fact traceable to the alleged false representations or alleged statements for requested contingency fees. Rather, plaintiff testified unequivocally that she neither took nor failed to take any action because of these statements. Nor did plaintiff testify that she was otherwise confused, misled, or harmed in any relevant way during the collection action by the contested affidavits. In this case, although plaintiff stated that Autovest's collection action caused her stress and inconvenience, she never connected those general harms to the affidavits. Therefore, the court remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint. View "Frank v. Autovest, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003's truncation requirement imposes on the merchant the duty not to print "more than the last 5 digits of the card number or the expiration date." The duty applies at the "point of the sale or transaction" and a violation occurs regardless whether a plaintiff ever becomes the victim of any crime. The interest protected by FACTA—avoiding an increased risk of identity theft—is concrete.The DC Circuit reversed the district court's grant of Centerplate's motion to dismiss plaintiff's action alleging that Centerplate violated FACTA. In this case, plaintiff made a credit card purchase at a Centerplate location and received a receipt that displayed her sixteen-digit credit card number and credit card expiration date. Although not every FACTA violation creates a concrete injury in fact, the court concluded that the alleged violation of plaintiff's right does so. The court held that plaintiff has pleaded enough facts to establish standing, because she was not able to use her credit card without incurring an increased risk of identity theft and, as a result, suffered a concrete injury in fact. View "Jeffries v. Volume Services America, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law
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Plaintiff filed suit against defendant after it attempted to collect debt from plaintiff, alleging that the company violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), the District of Columbia Consumer Protections Procedures Act (CPPA), and the District of Columbia Debt Collection Law (DCDCL). Plaintiff eventually accepted defendant's offer of judgment regarding the FDCPA claim and the district court determined the attorney's fees to which she was entitled for this success. The DC Circuit held that Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 54(d)(2)(D) and 72(b)(3) foreclose the district court from using a "clearly erroneous or contrary to law" standard when evaluating a magistrate judge's proposed disposition of an attorney's fee request. The correct standard of review is de novo. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded to allow the trial judge to reconsider this matter in the first instance applying de novo review. The court affirmed as to the remaining orders challenged on appeal. View "Baylor v. Mitchell Rubenstein & Assoc." on Justia Law

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In the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, 12 U.S.C. 5491, Congress established a new independent agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), an independent agency headed not by a multi-member commission but rather by a single Director. PHH is a mortgage lender that was the subject of a CFPB enforcement action that resulted in a $109 million order against it. PHH seeks to vacate the order, arguing that the CFPB’s status as an independent agency headed by a single Director violates Article II of the Constitution. The court concluded that CFPB’s concentration of enormous executive power in a single, unaccountable, unchecked Director not only departs from settled historical practice, but also poses a far greater risk of arbitrary decisionmaking and abuse of power, and a far greater threat to individual liberty, than does a multi-member independent agency. The court noted that this new agency lacks that critical check and structural constitutional protection, yet wields vast power over the U.S. economy. The court concluded that, in light of the consistent historical practice under which independent agencies have been headed by multiple commissioners or board members, and in light of the threat to individual liberty posed by a single-Director independent agency, Humphrey’s Executor v. United States cannot be stretched to cover this novel agency structure. Therefore, the court held that the CFPB is unconstitutionally structured. To remedy the constitutional flaw, the court followed the Supreme Court’s precedents and simply severed the statute’s unconstitutional for-cause provision from the remainder of the statute. With the for-cause provision severed, the court explained that the President now will have the power to remove the Director at will, and to supervise and direct the Director. Because the CFPB as remedied will continue operating, the court addressed the statutory issues raised by PHH and agreed with PHH that Section 8 of the Act allows captive reinsurance arrangements so long as the amount paid by the mortgage insurer for the reinsurance does not exceed the reasonable market value of the reinsurance; CFPB’s order against PHH violated bedrock principles of due process; and the CFPB on remand still will have an opportunity to demonstrate that the relevant mortgage insurers in fact paid more than reasonable market value to the PHH-affiliated reinsurer for reinsurance, thereby making disguised payments for referrals in contravention of Section 8. Accordingly, the court granted the petition for review, vacated the order, and remanded for further proceedings. View "PHH Corp. v. CFPB" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against defendant, alleging violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692 et seq.; the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act, D.C. CODE 28-3901 et seq.; and the District of Columbia Debt Collection Law, D.C.CODE 28-3814 et seq. Plaintiff alleged that the debt collection letter sent to her from defendant violated these statutes because the letter falsely implies both that defendant is meaningfully involved with the case as an attorney and that the creditor is threatening to bring a lawsuit to collect the debt. The court concluded, however, that the letter does not threaten any legal action, and the prominent disclaimer made clear that defendant was acting only in his capacity as a debt collector. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment on the pleadings. View "Jones v. Dufek" on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law