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New Jersey Appellate Division Affirms Dismissal of Four Putative Class Actions Claiming Violations of Section 16 of the TCCWNA

New Jersey Appellate Division Affirms Dismissal of Four Putative Class Actions Claiming Violations of Section 16 of the TCCWNA

In Duke v. All American Ford, the New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed dismissal of four putative class actions (consolidated for appeal) alleging that agreements to purchase, lease, or rent motor vehicles violated the Truth in Consumer Contracts, Warranty, and Notice Act’s (TCCWNA) Section 16. The trial courts had dismissed all such claims for failure to plead a violation of Section 16. While the appeals in these matters were pending, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Spade v. Select Comfort, holding that “an adverse consequence is a necessary element of the TCCWNA cause of action.” As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Spade, the Appellate Division in Duke rejected the appeals and affirmed the orders of dismissal without even considering the various substantive Section 16 arguments. Each of the putative class action complaints alleged that certain clauses in purchase, lease, or rental documents violated Section 16 of the TCCWNA, which, among other things, prohibits language in a written contract “that any of its provisions is or may be void, unenforceable, or inapplicable in some jurisdictions without specifying which provisions are or are not void, unenforceable or inapplicable within the State of New Jersey.” Three of the cases (Duke,...

Third Circuit Affirms Narrow Definition of Autodialer Under the TCPA

Third Circuit Affirms Narrow Definition of Autodialer Under the TCPA

In a precedential decision, the Third Circuit affirmed a narrow reading of autodialer under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), the first such decision within this Circuit following the D.C. Circuit’s rejection of the FCC’s 2015 definition of autodialer in ACA International. In Dominguez v. Yahoo, Inc., plaintiff purchased a cell phone with a reassigned telephone number, the prior owner of which had subscribed to Yahoo’s Email SMS Service. Because the prior owner of the number never cancelled the subscription, plaintiff received a text message from Yahoo every time the prior owner received an email, which amounted to thousands of text messages. Plaintiff filed a putative class action alleging that Yahoo had violated the TCPA, which requires that plaintiff prove that Yahoo’s Email SMS Service was an “automatic telephone dialing system,” i.e., an autodialer. Following the FCC’s 2015 ruling, plaintiff amended his complaint to allege that the Email SMS Service “ha[d] the potential capacity to place autodialed calls.” Yahoo moved for summary judgment, and both parties submitted expert reports addressing the Email SMS Service’s latent or potential capacity. The District Court granted Yahoo’s motion to exclude plaintiff’s expert reports and granted summary judgment in favor of Yahoo. On appeal, the...

New Jersey Appellate Division Continues to Hold Sky-High Bar for Arbitration Clauses

New Jersey Appellate Division Continues to Hold Sky-High Bar for Arbitration Clauses

In determining the enforceability of arbitration agreements, the New Jersey Appellate Division recently considered the interplay of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2017 decision in Kindred Nursing Ctrs. v. Clark and the New Jersey Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Atalese v. U.S. Legal Services Grp., L.P. In Defina v. Go Ahead and Jump 1, the Appellate Division held that Kindred Nursing did not abrogate the holding in Atalese. In Defina, the plaintiff, a minor, broke his ankle while playing trampoline dodgeball at Defendant’s facility. Plaintiff’s father had signed a document entitled “Participation Agreement, Release, and Assumption of Risk,” which contained the following arbitration provision: If there are any disputes regarding this agreement, I on behalf of myself and/or my child(ren) hereby waive any right I and/or my child(ren) may have to a trial and agree that such dispute shall be brought within one year of the date of this Agreement and will be determined by binding arbitration before one arbitrator to be administered by JAMS pursuant to its Comprehensive Arbitration Rules and Procedures. . . . Plaintiffs sued, and the trial court granted Defendant’s motion to compel arbitration. On appeal, the Appellate Division reversed, holding that “the arbitration clause at issue in this...

Third Circuit Holds Anti-Assignment Clauses in ERISA Plans Are Enforceable

Third Circuit Holds Anti-Assignment Clauses in ERISA Plans Are Enforceable

The Third Circuit, in a decision that may limit the remedies available to medical providers in the event of non-payment, recently clarified that “anti-assignment clauses in ERISA-governed health insurance plans as a general matter are enforceable.” In so holding, the Third Circuit joins all other circuit courts that have addressed the issue. On the basis of that clause, the Court held that the plaintiff out-of-network health care provider seeking reimbursement for a participant’s medical claims lacked standing to pursue the claim against the insurers on the participant’s behalf. In October 2015, the plaintiff provider performed shoulder surgery on a patient who was covered by an ERISA-governed health-insurance plan. In billing the individual for the procedure, the provider – because it was not part of the plan’s provider network – charged amounts that far exceeded the plan’s reimbursement limits for the surgery. The plan’s insurers applied its out-of-network limit in processing the claim and reimbursed only a fraction of the total amount charged. The provider appealed the claim on the patient’s behalf. At the same time, the provider had the patient sign an assignment-of-benefits form which assigned to the provider the patient’s right to pursue claims under his health-insurance plan for the...

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...

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...

Plaintiffs No Longer Need a “Nexus” to Pennsylvania in Order to Bring Claims Under the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law

Plaintiffs No Longer Need a “Nexus” to Pennsylvania in Order to Bring Claims Under the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law

In answering a certified question from the Third Circuit, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently issued a decision that greatly expands the reach of Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL). In Danganan v. Guardian Protection Services, the Supreme Court held that “a non-Pennsylvania resident may bring suit under the UTPCPL against a [Pennsylvania]-headquartered business based on transactions that occurred out-of-state.” Plaintiff Danganan contracted with Guardian Protection Services (“Guardian”), a Pennsylvania-headquartered business, for home security equipment and services at the plaintiff’s then-home in Washington, DC. The contract contained, inter alia, a choice-of-law provision, stating that the “Agreement shall be governed by the laws of Pennsylvania.” After moving to California, the plaintiff attempted to cancel the agreement, but Guardian continued to bill the plaintiff, claiming the agreement authorized ongoing charges through the contract’s term, regardless of cancellation attempts. The plaintiff brought suit in Pennsylvania state court, and Guardian removed the matter to the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Guardian then moved to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiff had not, pursuant to the UTPCPL, demonstrated a “sufficient nexus” between Pennsylvania and the improper conduct alleged in the complaint. The district court agreed and dismissed the complaint....

Dos and Don’ts for Online Retailers Listing Terms and Conditions on Their Websites

Dos and Don’ts for Online Retailers Listing Terms and Conditions on Their Websites

A recent California federal decision states clear guidelines for consumer-focused companies’ online terms and conditions. In McKee v. Audible, Inc., the plaintiff signed up on his smartphone for a free one-month trial with Audible, an Amazon subsidiary offering audiobook subscription services. Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a putative class action against Audible and Amazon.com taking issue with Audible’s policy regarding unused credits. Defendants then filed a motion to compel arbitration. The motion to compel arbitration was granted as to Amazon, but denied as to Audible. The court found that while both companies’ arbitration agreements were valid and enforceable, Audible’s customer user agreements were not clearly displayed when consumers signed up for the service online and were blocked by certain images when using the Audible app. Therefore, customers were not given the requisite actual or constructive notices of the terms of service, such that they could mutually assent to the terms of service in order to create a valid and enforceable contract. The court offered the following guidelines for constructive notice in internet commerce: (1) “terms of use” will not be enforced where there is no evidence that the website user had notice of the agreement; (2) a user should be encouraged...

Supreme Court Rejects Class Action Plaintiffs’ Attempts to Circumvent Rule 23(f)

Supreme Court Rejects Class Action Plaintiffs’ Attempts to Circumvent Rule 23(f)

As previously discussed on this blog, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to address the question of whether federal courts of appeals have jurisdiction to review an order denying class certification after the named Plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their claims with prejudice. In the June 12, 2017 decision in Microsoft Corp. v. Baker, the high court answered this question with a very resounding “no.” In Baker, a putative class of owners of Microsoft Corporation’s Xbox 360® video game console filed suit, alleging that the console suffered from a design defect that gouged game discs. Microsoft opposed Plaintiffs’ motion to certify the class. The District Court denied certification, citing comity considerations and relying on the class certification denial in a similar case. The Ninth Circuit denied the Plaintiffs’ 23(f) petition for interlocutory appeal. Plaintiffs then voluntarily dismissed the case with prejudice for the express purpose of obtaining immediate Ninth Circuit review of the District Court’s denial of class certification. Plaintiffs filed an appeal from the final judgment, challenging the denial of class certification, but not the order dismissing the case with prejudice. The Ninth Circuit held that it had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 because the stipulated dismissal did not involve a...

Supreme Court to Decide Whether Class Action Plaintiffs Can Ring Their Own “Death Knell” Bell

Supreme Court to Decide Whether Class Action Plaintiffs Can Ring Their Own “Death Knell” Bell

The United States Supreme Court heard oral argument last month on the issue of whether a federal court of appeals has jurisdiction to review an order denying class certification after the named plaintiffs voluntarily dismiss their individual claims with prejudice. The case comes to the Supreme Court from the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Baker v. Microsoft Corp. In Baker, a putative class of owners of Microsoft Corporation’s (Microsoft) Xbox 360® video game console filed suit, alleging that the console suffered from a design defect that gouged game discs. Microsoft opposed Plaintiffs’ motion to certify the class. The District Court denied certification, citing comity considerations and relying on the class certification denial in a similar case. Thereafter, Plaintiffs filed a 23(f) petition for interlocutory appeal with the Ninth Circuit, which was denied. The Plaintiffs then voluntarily dismissed the case with prejudice, with the express purpose of obtaining immediate Ninth Circuit review of the District Court’s denial of class certification. Plaintiffs filed an appeal from the final judgment, challenging the denial of class certification. On appeal, Microsoft argued that the Ninth Circuit lacked jurisdiction because a voluntary dismissal with prejudice does not sufficiently affect the merits of the substantive claims to constitute...