Commercial Litigation Alert Blog

Third Circuit Affirms the Dismissal of a Putative Class Action against TD Bank for Failure to Meet Pleading Requirements

Third Circuit Affirms the Dismissal of a Putative Class Action against TD Bank for Failure to Meet Pleading Requirements

Last month, the Third Circuit upheld the dismissal of a putative class action against TD Bank, finding that plaintiffs’ conclusory allegations lacked sufficient evidence and failed to satisfy Rule 9(b)’s heightened pleading standard for claims that sound in fraud. In MZL Capital Holdings, Inc. et al. v. TD Bank, N.A. et al., two account holders with TD Bank filed a proposed class action accusing the Bank of obscuring its exchange rates and improperly charging an embedded fee for converting foreign currency, thereby defrauding its customers in violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. Shortly thereafter, plaintiffs amended their complaint to add claims for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and violation of numerous other state consumer-protection laws. TD Bank moved to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims for failure to state a claim, and the District Court granted TD Bank’s motion, dismissing all of plaintiffs’ claims. On appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, concluding that plaintiffs’ claims were inadequately pled. At the outset, the Court re-affirmed the basic principle that claims brought under the Consumer Fraud Act sound in fraud and therefore must comply with Rule 9(b)’s particularity requirement. The Third...

New Jersey Appellate Court Upholds Class Waiver & Arbitration Provision

New Jersey Appellate Court Upholds Class Waiver & Arbitration Provision

The New Jersey Supreme Court has noted that both “federal and state policies favor[] arbitration.” Nevertheless, the High Court’s Atalese v. Legal Servs. Grp. decision—rejecting the enforceability of an arbitration clause—continues to raise questions about whether New Jersey state courts view such provisions with more skepticism than other jurisdictions. In this regard, the Appellate Division’s recent decision in Signor v. GWC Warranty Corp. provides some welcome guidance. In Signor, the trial court refused to dismiss and compel arbitration of class claims grounded in a particular automobile service contract. The contract contained an arbitration provision with language including: ARBITRATION PROVISION: READ THE FOLLOWING ARBITRATION PROVISION (“Provision”) CAREFULLY, IT LIMITS CERTAIN RIGHTS, INCLUDING YOUR RIGHT TO OBTAIN RELIEF OR DAMAGES THROUGH COURT ACTION. Any and all claims, disputes, or controversies of any nature whatsoever . . . shall be resolved by binding arbitration before a single arbitrator. You agree that any arbitration proceeding will only consider Your Claims. Claims by, or on behalf of, other individuals will not be arbitrated in any proceeding that is considering Your Claims. You and We understand and agree that because of this Provision neither You nor Us will have the right to go to court except as provided...

Third Circuit Holds Agreement to Arbitrate in Illusory Forum Is Unenforceable

Third Circuit Holds Agreement to Arbitrate in Illusory Forum Is Unenforceable

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently held, in a precedential decision, that when parties enter an agreement directing them to arbitrate in an illusory forum, the forum selection clause is not severable and the entire agreement to arbitrate is unenforceable. In MacDonald v. CashCall, Inc. et al., a plaintiff brought suit on behalf of himself and a putative class, alleging a loan agreement between the parties was unconscionable and usurious. The agreement at issue included “(1) a provision requiring that all disputes be resolved through arbitration conducted by a representative of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (‘CRST’) and (2) a clause that delegates questions about the arbitration provision’s enforceability to the arbitrator.” The defendants moved to compel arbitration. The district court declined to compel arbitration because the agreement at issue expressly disavowed federal and state law, thus rendering the arbitration provisions invalid as an impermissible prospective waiver of federal and state statutory rights. The district court further held that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable because the forum was illusory, as the selected forum did not conduct arbitrations or have rules for conducting arbitrations. The Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s conclusion that the loan agreement’s arbitration provision cannot direct...

In Defective Shingles Class Action, Third Circuit Rejects Novel “Expected Useful Life” Defect Theory Premised on Warranty Period

In Defective Shingles Class Action, Third Circuit Rejects Novel “Expected Useful Life” Defect Theory Premised on Warranty Period

The Third Circuit recently confirmed that plaintiffs must provide evidence of a specific defect, capable of classwide proof, in order to prevail on proposed class claims, holding that, where defective design is “an essential element of Plaintiffs’ misrepresentation-based claims,” whether proof of the defect “is susceptible to classwide evidence is dispositive of whether Plaintiffs can satisfy predominance” under Rule 23(b)(3). In Gonzalez v. Owens Corning, the plaintiffs sued the manufacturer of Oakridge fiberglass roofing shingles, claiming that their shingles, which were subject to warranties of 25 years or more, were “plagued by design flaws that result in cracking, curling and degranulation” and “will eventually fail.” The plaintiffs argued that the product warranties amounted to representations about the shingles’ expected useful life. Plaintiffs did not dispute that the design specifications for all shingles met the applicable industry design standard (“ASTM”), but claimed that compliance with the ASTM specifications did not consistently yield shingles that would last the stated warranty period. Thus, plaintiffs claimed that the issue of “defectiveness should be judged by the expected useful life of the shingles as represented by the applicable warranty period.” The plaintiffs’ expert, whose testimony was largely stricken as unreliable under Daubert, acknowledged that there...

Feeling the Chill: The Petro Lubricant Decision – Can Correcting an Online Error Hurt You?

Feeling the Chill: The Petro Lubricant Decision – Can Correcting an Online Error Hurt You?

The New Jersey Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Petro-Lubricant Testing Laboratories, Inc. v. Adelman left unanswered significant questions as to what constitutes a republication when corrections or modifications are made to an online publication, thereby retriggering the statute of limitations for defamation. In a 4-3 opinion, the majority established a test for whether a correction or modification is a republication that increases the likelihood that trial courts will deny summary judgment motions, leaving the question of republication for the jury. The practical effect of this will likely be far fewer corrections to online publications for fear of reviving or extending the applicable statute of limitations. Specifically, the majority held that an online article is republished if an author makes a material and substantive change to the original defamatory article. According to the majority: A material change is one that relates to the defamatory content of the article at issue. It is not a technical website modification or the posting on the website of another article with no connection to the original defamatory article. A substantive change is one that alters the meaning of the original defamatory article or is essentially a new defamatory statement incorporated into the original article. It is...

New Jersey Appellate Division Holds Rescission of Contract Also Rescinds Agreement to Arbitrate Contractual Disputes

New Jersey Appellate Division Holds Rescission of Contract Also Rescinds Agreement to Arbitrate Contractual Disputes

In a recent published opinion, the New Jersey Appellate Division held that an arbitration provision will not survive rescission of the contract in which it is contained unless the parties expressly agree otherwise, and that the issue is properly decided by the trial court and not the arbitrator. This opinion marks one more step in New Jersey’s evolving landscape regarding questions of arbitrability. In Goffe v. Foulke Management Corp., the panel considered two actions consolidated on appeal. Both actions involved consumers who attempted to purchase cars from two separate dealerships. Both consumers signed some of the initial paperwork (which contained an arbitration provision), accepted possession of the vehicle, but returned the vehicles after a few days for different reasons. When their respective security deposits for the vehicles were withheld, they each brought suit claiming wrongful conduct on the part of the dealerships. The defendant dealerships successfully moved to dismiss, asserting that plaintiffs were contractually required to arbitrate their pleaded claims. Plaintiffs appealed. After determining that issues of fact as to whether valid sales contracts had been formed and were enforceable should have prevented dismissal of the actions, the Appellate Division addressed whether the arbitration provisions in the contracts were rescinded...

New Jersey Supreme Court’s “Aggrieved Consumer” Ruling Will Erode TCCWNA Class Actions

New Jersey Supreme Court’s “Aggrieved Consumer” Ruling Will Erode TCCWNA Class Actions

The New Jersey Supreme Court’s April 16, 2018 decision in Spade v. Select Comfort (consolidated with Wenger v. Bob’s Discount Furniture, LLC), entirely destroys the viability of “no injury” class actions under the New Jersey Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act (“TCCWNA”) and will also surely erode the viability of TCCWNA class certification more broadly. Via referred questions from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the N.J. Supreme Court held that in order to be an “aggrieved consumer” under the TCCWNA, a plaintiff must demonstrate an adverse consequence caused by an unlawful provision in a consumer contract or other writing. The TCCWNA essentially prohibits businesses from including in any written consumer contract, warranty, or sign any provision that “violates any clearly established legal right of a consumer or responsibility of a seller” or other business. N.J.S.A. § 56:12-15. Although the TCCWNA on its face appears to only allow an “aggrieved consumer” to sue to recover a “civil penalty” of not less than $100 or actual damages, this Statute has been used—some might say abused—with increasing frequency by the plaintiff class action bar to bring “no injury” class actions premised solely upon the existence of a contract containing some unenforceable or...

Enough Said: Southern District of New York Decision Reiterates Limits of Disclosure Obligations Under Securities Laws

Enough Said: Southern District of New York Decision Reiterates Limits of Disclosure Obligations Under Securities Laws

The Southern District of New York’s recent decision in Employees Retirement System of the City of Providence v. Embraer S.A. may provide useful guidance for companies struggling with disclosure obligations in the midst of ongoing investigations into potential unlawful conduct. Defendant Embraer, S.A., a Brazilian aircraft manufacturer, made a series of disclosures regarding external and internal investigations into potential U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violations. Specifically, in November 2011, Embraer disclosed investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and advised that it had retained outside counsel to conduct an internal investigation. Although the company repeatedly warned that it may be required to pay substantial fines or incur other sanctions, it also stated early in the investigation that it did not believe there was a basis to estimate reserves or quantify any loss contingency. In July 2016, Embraer announced that settlement negotiations with the DOJ and SEC had progressed to a point warranting recognition of a $200 million loss contingency. Nearly three months later, the company announced a settlement that included a fine of over $107 million and disgorgement of nearly $84 million in profits. On December 13, 2016, Employees’ Retirement System of the...

TCPA Update: When Revocation of Consent Is Unreasonable

TCPA Update: When Revocation of Consent Is Unreasonable

The District of New Jersey recently made clear that when attempting to cancel unwanted commercial text messages, if the recipient does not follow the sender’s simple instructions, any other attempts to revoke consent to the text messages may be found unreasonable. In Rando v. Edible Arrangements International, LLC, a class action lawsuit claiming violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), 47 U.S.C. § 227, et seq., plaintiff claimed that she was sent commercial text messages from defendant using an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”). Though plaintiff had originally consented to receive such text messages, and never followed defendant’s instruction to text “STOP to cancel,” the complaint alleged that plaintiff had revoked her consent to receive the messages via other return text messages of varying content and that defendant had impermissibly designated an exclusive means for the revocation of consent.” The Rando court held that the complaint failed to state a TCPA claim by failing to allege that the plaintiff’s chosen method of revoking consent was reasonable. Plaintiff had replied to the text with language which would clearly indicate to a human being that she wanted to revoke her consent, but she did not text back “STOP” as instructed in...

No Harm to Competition: Third Circuit Upholds Decision for Uber in Antitrust Challenge by Philadelphia Taxicab Drivers

No Harm to Competition: Third Circuit Upholds Decision for Uber in Antitrust Challenge by Philadelphia Taxicab Drivers

The Third Circuit’s newly-issued precedential opinion in Philadelphia Taxi Association v. Uber Technologies, Inc. is a classic reminder that the antitrust laws protect against harm to competition – not harm to competitors. In 2016, a group of Philadelphia taxicab drivers sued Uber in federal district court, alleging that the ride-sharing service was unlawfully attempting to monopolize the vehicle-for-hire market in Philadelphia. Plaintiffs pointed to the fact that, in October 2014, just prior to Uber’s entry into Philadelphia, there were 7,000 taxi drivers, and each of the city’s 1,610 taxicab medallions was valued at an average of $545,000. Two years later, 1,200 medallion taxi drivers had fled to Uber, those still driving taxis saw a thirty percent decline in their earnings, and the value of a medallion plummeted to just $80,000. The district court dismissed the complaint, holding that the plaintiffs had not pled antitrust injury – i.e., harm that the antitrust laws are designed to prevent – and thus did not have antitrust standing to maintain their suit. This appeal followed. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal but, unlike the district court, did so first based on plaintiffs’ failure to plausibly allege the elements of their attempted monopolization claim – i.e.,...