Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals
Acosta v. Target Corp.
Target Guest Cards only permit purchases only at Target. Target Visa Cards are all-purpose credit cards that can be used anywhere. Target used different underwriting criteria and agreements for the cards. Between 2000 and 2006, Target sent unsolicited Visas to 10,000,000 current and former Guest Card holders, with agreements and marketing materials to entice activation of the new card. If a customer activated a new Visa, its terms became effective and the Guest Card balance was transferred to the Visa. If the customer did not activate the Visa, Target closed the account. The materials did not suggest that keeping the Guest Card was an option, but customers could opt out. A Guest Card holder could call Target to reject the Visa but ask to keep the Guest Card. If a holder attempted to use the Guest Card after the Visa was mailed, she was informed that the account had been closed but that she could reopen it. The credit limits on the Autosubbed Visas were between $1,000 and $10,000, and Target could change the credit limit. New customers had to open a Target Visa through a standard application, and cards could have credit limits as low as $500. The Autosub materials did not indicate that credit limits were subject to change; customers often had their credit limits reduced after activation. The district court rejected a putative class action under the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. 1642, which prohibits mailing unsolicited credit cards and requires credit card mailings to contain certain disclosures in a “tabular format.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "Acosta v. Target Corp." on Justia Law
McMahon v. LVNV Funding, LLC
McMahon apparently did not pay a 1997 utility bill. In 2011, LVNV purchased the debt, then $584.98. LVNV retained a collection agency, Tate, which sent a letter that said nothing about when the debt was incurred or the four-year Illinois statute of limitations. The district court dismissed McMahon’s classwide allegations, but did not dismiss his individual claim. McMahon ignored two settlement offers. The court found that the proposed settlement offered McMahon complete recovery for his individual claim, that it was made prior to class certification, and that it had the effect of depriving McMahon of a personal stake in the litigation. The Seventh Circuit consolidated appeals and held that, in some circumstances, a dunning letter for a time‐barred debt could mislead an unsophisticated consumer to believe that the debt is enforceable in court, and thereby violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692. The court also held that the McMahon case is not moot. View "McMahon v. LVNV Funding, LLC" on Justia Law
Americana Art China Co., Inc. v. Foxfire Printing & Packaging, Inc.
In 2008, defendant faxed tens of thousands of unsolicited advertisements, violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227. After defendant’s insurer intervened, a second proposed class action settlement was reached. The insurer, Continental, agreed to make $6.1 million available to class members. The total is approximately equal to the number of faxes sent (110,853) times per-fax damages offered by Continental ($55.03) with an attorney fee award of 1/3 the total amount: $2,033,333.33. The district court preliminarily approved the settlement and 24,389 of the 28,879 class members were successfully notified; five requested exclusion. None objected. Only 1,820 returned a claim form, seeking damages for 7,222 unlawful fax transmissions, so that Continental would pay out only $397,426.66 of the $6.1 million, with the remainder, less attorney fees and incentive awards, to revert. Despite the relatively meager final payout to class members, plaintiffs’ attorneys continued to demand more than $2 million. The district court employed the lodestar method, rather than the percentage method, applying a risk multiplier of 1.5 to arrive at a final fee award of $1,147,698.70. After arguments on appeal, the attorneys sought to dismiss. The Seventh Circuit declined to dismiss and affirmed the reduced fee award. View "Americana Art China Co., Inc. v. Foxfire Printing & Packaging, Inc." on Justia Law
McDaniel v. Qwest Commc’ns Corp.
More than 13 years ago, lawyers around the country began class actions challenging the installation of fiberoptic cable on property without landowners’ consent. The cases began to settle on a state-by-state basis, leaving the lawyers to allocate awarded and expected attorney’s fees. The lawyers informally grouped themselves based on their negotiation and litigation positions. The Susman Group participated in mediation and agreed to a fee division, but balked at signing a written agreement, ostensibly because Susman disliked its enforcement terms. The district court held that Susman is bound by the agreement despite his failure to sign. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, reasoning that, given the parties’ lengthy course of dealing, Susman’s failure to promptly object to the written agreement can objectively be construed as assent. A finding that Susman’s refusal to sign was a case of “buyer’s remorse” rather than a genuine objection to the enforcement terms in the agreement was supported by the record. View "McDaniel v. Qwest Commc'ns Corp." on Justia Law
Pennington v. ZionSolutions LLC
ComEd closed its Zion nuclear power plant in 1998. A decommissioned nuclear must be “decommissioned” and not be dangerously radioactive. Decommissioning is supervised by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which requires the operator to finance the decommissioning. The details of the trust fund are left to the state agency, in this case the Illinois Commerce Commission, which (220 ILCS 5/9‐201.5(a)), authorized ComEd to create a trust to be funded by $700 million in charges levied by ComEd on its customers. The Act entitles ComEd customers to the return of money not spent when the decommissioning is completed. In 2001, with the permission of the ICC, ComEd transferred ownership of the Zion plant and the trust assets, to ComEd’s parent, Exelon. Neither Exelon nor its subsidiary is a public utility. Ordinarily the utility (ComEd) would have owned the plant after shutting it down, but transaction costs would be reduced by uniting financing and decommissioning in the same company. After several transfers, plaintiffs brought suit, claiming that the trust funds are being misused in violation of the Illinois Public Utilities Act and common law of trusts. The district court, without deciding whether to certify a class, dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that that none of the plaintiffs are beneficiaries of the trust. View "Pennington v. ZionSolutions LLC" on Justia Law
Scott v. Westlake Servs., LLC
Scott alleged that Westlake repeatedly called her cell phone using an automated dialer in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, and sought, for herself and a putative class, statutory damages of $500 for each negligent violation and $1500 for each intentional violation, injunctive relief, and attorney fees. Before she moved for class certification, Westlake sent Scott’s attorney an offer to pay Scott $1500 (the statutory maximum) “for each and every dialer-generated telephone call made to plaintiff.” Westlake agreed to pay costs and to entry of an injunction. The message concluded by warning Scott that, in Westlake’s opinion, its offer rendered her case moot. The next day, Scott moved for class certification and declined the offer, stating that there was “a significant controversy” concerning how many dialer-generated calls Westlake had placed to her phone, so the offer was inadequate and did not render her case moot. The district court dismissed, finding that Westlake had offered Scott everything she sought, depriving the court of subject matter jurisdiction, but retained jurisdiction to enforce compliance with the offer and directed the parties to conduct discovery to determine how many calls Scott received from Westlake. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that the case is not moot. View "Scott v. Westlake Servs., LLC" on Justia Law
Wheelahan v. Trans Union LLC
Beginning in 1998, consumer class actions were filed against Trans Union alleging violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. 1681, by selling consumer information to target marketers and credit and insurance companies. The court approved a settlement. Trans Union agreed to give all class members “basic” credit monitoring services. Class members could also either claim cash from a $75 million fund or claim “enhanced” in-kind relief consisting of additional financial services. Trans Union was to provide $35 million worth of enhanced relief. The class was estimated at 190 million people. The Act authorizes damages of between $100 and $1000 per consumer for willful violations, so Trans Union faced theoretically possible liability of $190 billion. To persuade the court to approve the settlement, the parties agreed to an unusual provision that preserved substantive claims after settlement. Instead of releasing their claims, class members who did not get cash or enhanced in-kind relief retained the right to bring individual claims. Trans Union also partially waived the limitations period. The settlement authorized reimbursements from the fund to Trans Union itself “equal to any amounts paid to satisfy settlements or judgments arising from Post-Settlement Claims,” not including defense costs. There have been more PSCs than expected, depleting the fund. In a second appeal, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the orders authorizing disbursement of the remainder of the fund. View "Wheelahan v. Trans Union LLC" on Justia Law
Shell Oil Co. v. Parko
About 150 property owners in a village near the Mississippi River claim that defendants’ refinery leaked benzene and other contaminants into the groundwater. They sued, alleging nuisance and related torts. The district court certified the class. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The court first rejected an argument that most class members had suffered no injury. How many class members have a valid claim is determined after certification. Predominance of issues common to all class members, like other certification requirements, goes to the efficiency of a class action as an alternative to individual suits. In this case, the alleged contamination occurred over a 90‐year period and involved different levels of contamination, caused by different polluters. Not every class member has experienced the same diminution in property value even if everyone had the same level of contamination. Plaintiff’s hydrogeologist, intended to measure contamination by the benzene levels in the groundwater beneath the plaintiffs’ properties, even though their water does not come from groundwater, but from an uncontaminated aquifer. It cannot be assumed that a decline in the value of property in the village is the result of proximity to a refinery. The district judge did not explore any of these issues, but treated predominance as a pleading requirement. View "Shell Oil Co. v. Parko" on Justia Law
Smith v. Driver
The district court certified a class of waiters, bartenders, and other tipped employees at defendant restaurants. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 203(d), and the Illinois Minimum Wage Law their employer is not required to pay tipped employees full federal or state minimum wage. If tipped employees also perform unrelated non‐tipped duties such as washing dishes, preparing food, or cleaning bathrooms, they are entitled to full minimum wage for time spent at that work. After the court amended the class definition to employees “who worked as tipped employees earning a sub‐minimum, tip credit wage rate,” the last remaining defendant sought permission to appeal for a second time. The Seventh Circuit denied the petition. While the definition is overinclusive because it says nothing about untipped work, the defendant did not challenge the definition. The change to the definition since denial of the previous petition does not open the door to a challenge to the initial grant of class certification on grounds derived from developments since that grant, including rulings by the district court. To justify a second appeal from grant or denial of class certification the order appealed from must have materially altered a previous order granting or denying certification. View "Smith v. Driver" on Justia Law
Fiala, et al. v. B&B Enterprises, et al.
Plaintiffs filed a class action suit against B&B and others, alleging violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1962. The alleged scheme involved "Population Equivalents" (PEs), specified quantities of sewage that a house or other building was estimated to dump into the local sewage system. The complaint alleged that B&B had improperly taken control of the Wasco Sanitary District and used that control to divert to itself permit fees that should have gone to the district to finance an expansion of its sewage system. The district court dismissed the claim for want of RICO standing because plaintiffs could not demonstrate an injury to their business or property. On appeal, defendants challenged the district court's denial of their application for an award of attorneys' fees under Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(b)(1) and (2). The court concluded that plaintiffs' suit, while meritless, was not frivolous. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Fiala, et al. v. B&B Enterprises, et al." on Justia Law