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...

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...

D.C. Circuit’s Rejection of FCC’s 2015 “Autodialer” Definition is Welcome News for Businesses in TCPA Class Actions

D.C. Circuit’s Rejection of FCC’s 2015 “Autodialer” Definition is Welcome News for Businesses in TCPA Class Actions

On March 16, 2018, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a long awaited decision in its review of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2015 Declaratory Ruling and Order, which among other things, had sought to clarify various aspects of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s (TCPA) general bar against using automated dialing devices (ATDS) to make uninvited calls or texts messages. The FCC’s 2015 Order was largely viewed by businesses as having greatly expanded the scope of the TCPA, opening the floodgates of class action litigation against businesses utilizing virtually any type of text messaging to communicate ads to customers. In ACA International v. FCC, the D.C. Circuit, among other things, struck down the Commission’s broad definition of autodialer. The TCPA generally makes it unlawful to call a cell phone using an ATDS, i.e., “equipment which has the capacity-(A) to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator; and (B) to dial such numbers.” Id. § 227(a)(1). The FCC’s 2015 Order declined to define a device’s “capacity” in a manner confined to its “present capacity,” but rather, construed a device’s “capacity” to encompass its “potential functionalities” with modifications such as software changes. Thus,...

Class Certification Denied in Tropicana Orange Juice Labeling MDL

Class Certification Denied in Tropicana Orange Juice Labeling MDL

In the Tropicana Orange Juice multidistrict litigation (MDL), plaintiffs’ bid for class certification has been rejected due to the need for individualized proofs and inability to ascertain class members. On January 22, 2018, U.S. District Judge William J. Martini (DNJ) denied class certification in the multidistrict litigation, In re Tropicana Orange Juice Marketing and Sales Practices Litigation. The lawsuit claimed that “Tropicana Pure Premium” (TPP) orange juice was mislabeled and misbranded as “100% pure and natural” because the juice contains undisclosed natural flavoring in violation of FDA standards of identity for pasteurized orange juice. Plaintiffs also attacked the marketing of TPP as “pure, natural and fresh from the grove” as demonstrably false given the added flavoring. The MDL judge, however, concluded that plaintiffs’ common law and N.J. Consumer Fraud Act (“CFA”) claims were “plainly unsuitable for class certification” because each claim “requires individualized proof.” Plaintiffs argued that their unjust enrichment claim was uniform because it focused on the TPP label and consumers uniformly paid for pasteurized orange juice that they did not receive. But the court held that defendant would be unjustly enriched only if a consumer did not receive the benefit of the bargain for which she paid, thus...

Class Certification of TCCWNA Claims Dealt a Serious Blow by NJ Supreme Court in Dugan v. TGI Fridays and Bozzi v. Restaurant Partners, LLC

Class Certification of TCCWNA Claims Dealt a Serious Blow by NJ Supreme Court in Dugan v. TGI Fridays and Bozzi v. Restaurant Partners, LLC

On October 4, 2017, the Supreme Court of New Jersey dealt a subtle but serious blow to “no injury” TCCWNA class actions. In consolidated appeals, Dugan v. TGI Fridays and Bozzi v. Restaurant Partners, LLC, the plaintiffs had argued that the defendant restaurant operators violated the plaintiffs’ clearly established rights by failing to list prices for beverages on their menus, that the restaurants were required to plainly mark the prices, and that when the restaurants’ employees presented menus to customers (class members), they “offered” contracts that violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (“CFA”) and the Truth-in Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act (“TCCWNA”). However, the Court concluded that class certification was not appropriate because individual, rather than common, issues would predominate in proving TCCWNA’s “aggrieved consumer” and “clearly established legal right” requirements. The fundamental take-away from the Supreme Court’s analysis of TCCWNA’s “aggrieved consumer” requirement is that simply demonstrating that a consumer contract offends TCCWNA does not establish liability under the Act, because “[b]y its very terms, TCCWNA . . . does not apply when a defendant fails to provide the consumer with a required writing.” Rather, “at a minimum, a claimant must prove that he or she was...

Seventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Data Privacy Class Action on Article III Standing Grounds

Seventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Data Privacy Class Action on Article III Standing Grounds

Since the United States Supreme Court decided Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins in May 2016, lower courts have struggled to consistently determine whether a plaintiff has standing to sue in federal court, which, as the Spokeo court explained, “requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation.” That is, even when Congress has made something unlawful and authorized an award of statutory damages for the unlawful act, the mere violation of that law is not itself sufficient to confer standing to sue under Article III of the U.S. Constitution. But precisely what is required to demonstrate sufficient “injury” under Article III remains unclear after Spokeo, especially in the data-breach and data-privacy contexts. In Gubala v. Time Warner Cable, Inc., however, a unanimous Seventh Circuit decision, authored by Judge Posner, held that the defendant’s possible failure to comply with a requirement contained in the Cable Communications Policy Act (requiring the destruction of personally identifiable information (“PII”) if the information is no longer necessary for the purpose for which it was collected) did not afford the plaintiff Article III standing to sue for violation of the statute where his personal information was not released or disseminated in any way. The plaintiff...

California District Court Dismisses Facebook’s TCCWNA “Website Terms and Conditions” Lawsuit in Light of Valid Choice-of-Law Provision

California District Court Dismisses Facebook’s TCCWNA “Website Terms and Conditions” Lawsuit in Light of Valid Choice-of-Law Provision

New Jersey’s Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty, and Notice Act (“TCCWNA”) ushered in a wave of class actions last year, targeting various provisions in retailers’ websites “terms and conditions.” Broadly speaking, the TCCWNA prohibits “consumer contracts” from containing language that violates any “clearly established legal right[s].” New Jersey courts have not been alone in adjudicating these cases, however, as a number of similar lawsuits have been brought in other jurisdictions, including California federal district courts. For example, on September 7, 2016, the Central District of California dismissed the complaint in Candelario v. Rip Curl, Inc. on standing grounds, holding that because the plaintiff’s “only connection to the Terms and Conditions appears to be her decision to read them” and because her complaint essentially alleged only “bare procedural violation[s]” of the TCCWNA – without more – she could not satisfy “the injury-in-fact requirement of Article III.” Even more recently, although on different grounds, the Northern District of California dismissed a “website terms and conditions” class action against Facebook. In Palomino v. Facebook, Inc., as in Candelario, the plaintiffs alleged that the social media company’s website terms and conditions violated the TCCWNA because of “provisions that purport to ‘1) disclaim liability for claims brought for...

Nordic Naturals Vindicated Again with Third Circuit Affirming Class Action Dismissal and Granting Sanctions for Frivolous Appeal under FRAP 38 0

Nordic Naturals Vindicated Again with Third Circuit Affirming Class Action Dismissal and Granting Sanctions for Frivolous Appeal under FRAP 38

On September 14, 2016, in a precedential opinion, the Third Circuit upheld the dismissal of a serial, pro se attorney’s class action lawsuit against international dietary supplement manufacturer Nordic Naturals, Inc., which asserted label-related claims under the N.J. Consumer Fraud Act. Notably, the Third Circuit also entered a separate order, which granted Nordic’s motion for sanctions under Federal Rule Appellate Procedure 38 for Plaintiff’s frivolous appeal.

E-Commerce in New Jersey Threatened by Rise of TCCWNA Class Actions 0

E-Commerce in New Jersey Threatened by Rise of TCCWNA Class Actions

Owners and operators of e-commerce websites should be aware of an eruption in threatened and filed class actions against online retailers under the New Jersey Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act (“TCCWNA”). The TCCWNA was enacted decades ago, as the New Jersey Supreme Court has explained, to “prohibit[] businesses from offering or using provisions in consumer contracts, warranties, notices and signs that violate any clearly established right of a consumer.” Yet, as laudable as this goal may be, with the potential for class-wide statutory penalty damages, the brevity and breadth of the statute has led to a tidal wave of litigation now targeting terms and conditions within e-commerce websites—an application of the law that could not have even been conceived of when the TCCWNA was passed in 1981.

TCCWNA Back Before the New Jersey Supreme Court 0

TCCWNA Back Before the New Jersey Supreme Court

This year the federal courts in New Jersey have seen a dramatic uptick in the filing of class action lawsuits seeking statutory damages under the New Jersey Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act (“TCCWNA”), particularly cases targeting merchants selling or promoting goods or services via the internet. These cases are premised on the notion that the “terms and conditions” or “terms of use” on a company’s website constitute a contract and thus subject companies to potentially massive class-wide penalty damages should the terms of use contain language which violates the TCCWNA. As motions to dismiss are pending in many of these cases, the federal courts in New Jersey may soon provide further clarity on a number of important questions, including: (1) whether online website users are “aggrieved consumers” as required under the statute; (2) whether plaintiffs bringing bare TCCWNA claims have Article III standing given the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Spokeo decision; and (3) whether the statute reaches contractual provisions wholly unrelated to a consumer’s transaction.