Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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The plaintiffs, used car dealerships, were solicited by the defendant to enter into a “Demand Promissory Note and Security Agreement.” The defendant would issue a line of credit for the plaintiffs to access in purchasing used vehicles at automobile auctions. The plaintiffs claim defendant did not pay the auction house at the time that possession was delivered put paid only after it received the title to the vehicles purchased, which could take several weeks, but charged interest from the date of the initial purchase. The plaintiffs filed suit and sought class certification to sue on behalf of all other dealers who were subject to the same Agreement. The district court granted Rule 23(b)(3) class certification as to the breach of contract and substantive RICO claims. Weeks later, defendant filed a Motion to Reconsider, arguing that the plaintiffs had asserted in summary judgment briefing that the Agreements are ambiguous and that under such a theory courts must resort to extrinsic evidence on a plaintiff-by-plaintiff basis to determine intent. The court rescinded class certification. The Seventh Circuit vacated. Neither the categorization of the contract as ambiguous nor the prospect of extrinsic evidence necessarily imperils class status. The Agreement at issue is a standard form contract; there was no claim that its language has different meanings for different signatories. View "Red Barn Motors, Inc. v. NextGear Capital, Inc." on Justia Law

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Nielen-Thomas, on behalf of herself and others similarly situated, filed a complaint in Wisconsin state court alleging she and other class members were defrauded by their investment advisor. Defendants removed the case to federal court and argued the action should be dismissed because it was a “covered class action” precluded by the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 (SLUSA), 15 U.S.C. 78bb(f)(1), (f)(5)(B), According to Nielen-Thomas, her lawsuit did not meet SLUSA’s “covered class action” definition because she alleged a proposed class with fewer than 50 members. The district court held that Nielen-Thomas’s suit was a “covered class action” because she brought her claims in a representative capacity, section 78bb(f)(5)(B)(i)(II), and dismissed her claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The plain language of SLUSA’s “covered class action” definition includes any class action brought by a named plaintiff on a representative basis, regardless of the proposed class size, which includes Nielen-Thomas’s class action lawsuit and her complaint meets all other statutory requirements, her lawsuit is precluded by SLUSA. View "Nielen-Thomas v. Concorde Investment Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Illinois Department of Human Services pays personal home health care assistants to care for elderly and disabled persons. The assistants are public employees under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act, which authorizes collective bargaining. The Union is their exclusive representative, required to represent all public employees, including non-members. Under the collective bargaining agreement, the Union collected limited "fair share" fees from workers who chose not to join, which were automatically deducted from the assistants' pay. Workers who objected to this arrangement sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of their claim; the Supreme Court reversed. On remand, the Objectors sought certification of a class, arguing that their proposed class of around 80,000 members was entitled to a refund of approximately $32 million. The Seventh Circuit affirmed a holding that class certification was inappropriate, stating that: the class definition was overly broad in light of evidence that a substantial number of class members did not object to the fee and could not have suffered an injury; named plaintiffs were not adequate representatives; individual questions regarding damages predominated over common ones; the class faced manageability issues; and a class action was not a superior method of resolving the issue. Following a second remand, the Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the Supreme Court’s 2018 “Janus” decision does not require a different result on whether the class-action device is proper for use in seeking refunds of fair-share fees. View "Riffey v. Rauner" on Justia Law

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The lead plaintiffs in consolidated purported class actions received faxed advertisements that allegedly did not comply with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227 and the Federal Communication Commission’s Solicited Fax Rule. Each district court refused to certify the proposed class, largely on the authority of the D.C. Circuit’s 2017 decision in Bais Yaakov of Spring Valley v. FCC, regarding the validity of the FCC’s 2006 Solicited Fax Rule. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. At a minimum, it is necessary to distinguish between faxes sent with permission of the recipient and those that are truly unsolicited. The question of what suffices for consent is central, and it is likely to vary from recipient to recipient. The district courts were within their rights to conclude that there are enough other problems with class treatment here that a class action is not a superior mechanism for adjudicating these cases. View "Alpha Tech Pet, Inc. v. Lagasse, LLC" on Justia Law

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When Beaton’s laptop malfunctioned, he discovered SpeedyPC, which offered a diagnosis and a cure. Beaton took advantage of Speedy’s free trial, which warned that his device was in bad shape and encouraged him to purchase its software, The software failed to improve his laptop’s performance. Beaton filed a consumer class action, raising contract and tort theories. The district court certified a nationwide class and an Illinois subclass of software purchasers. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Speedy’s argument that the class definitions and legal theories covered by the certification orders impermissibly differ from those outlined in the complaint by the narrowing of the class from everyone in the U.S. who had purchased SpeedyPC Pro, to individual persons (not entities) who downloaded the free trial and purchased the licensed software over a three‐year period. Speedy did not suffer “unfair surprise,” given that the “legal basis for liability is based on the same allegations” about the sale of worthless software. By not raising the argument before the district court, Speedy forfeited its assertion that Beaton is judicially estopped from seeking relief under the law of British Columbia, having initially argued for Illinois law. Class certification satisfied Rule 23(a); common questions of fact and law predominate and the amount of damages to which each plaintiff would be entitled is so small that no one would otherwise bring suit. Consumer class actions are a crucial deterrent against the proliferation of bogus products. View "Beaton v. SpeedyPC Software" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Standard sued, on behalf of itself and “all others similarly situated," alleging that was injured when it “purchased several items of steel tubing [at an inflated price] indirectly … for end use," claiming that eight U.S. steel producers colluded to slash output to drive up the price of steel so that plaintiffs overpaid for steel sheets, rods, and tubing. Eight years later, the plaintiffs amended their complaint, asserting that they overpaid for end-use consumer goods, including vehicles, washing machines, and refrigerators, that were manufactured by third parties using steel. The district court dismissed the suit as time-barred because it redefines “steel products” to give rise to an entirely different, and exponentially larger, universe of plaintiffs, and, in the alternative, for not plausibly pleading a causal connection between the alleged antitrust conspiracy and plaintiffs’ own injuries. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. No reasonable defendant, reading the original complaint, would have imagined that plaintiffs were actually suing over the thousands of end-use household and commercial goods manufactured by third parties—a reading so broad that it would make nearly every person in the country a potential class member. The court further noted that it was unclear how to trace the effect of an alleged overcharge on steel through the complex supply and production chains that gave rise to consumer products. View "Supreme Auto Transport, LLC v. Arcelor Mittal USA, Inc." on Justia Law

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A class action stemming from Southwest’s decision to stop honoring drink vouchers for “business select” customers settled with the customers receiving replacement vouchers. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that 28 U.S.C. 1712, the Class Action Fairness Act, allowed the court to award class counsel (Siprut) attorney fees ($1,365,882) based on the lodestar method rather than the value of the redeemed vouchers. On remand, Siprut sought supplemental fees. For its work on the motion to amend the fee award and the prior appeal, The court called the number of hours requested “grossly excessive,” stating that counsel was trying to reach “some of the originally hoped‐for $3,000,000 that Southwest agreed not to oppose.” The court awarded $455,294 plus expenses, then vacated so that the class would receive notice. In exchange for dismissal of an appeal, by objector Markow, Siprut agreed to take $227,647 plus $3,529.68 in expenses; Southwest agreed to issue two additional vouchers for each one claimed. The court was notified that the number of vouchers claimed under the original settlement was less than one-third what the parties earlier indicated and approved the new settlement. Southwest distributed the vouchers and paid Siprut. Markow then unsuccessfully moved for $80,000 in attorney fees and an incentive award of $1,000 from Siprut’s fee award. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Unless the parties to a class action settlement, including objecting parties, expressly agree otherwise, settlement agreements should not be read to bar objectors from requesting fees for their efforts in adding value to a settlement. View "Markow v. Southwest Airlines Co." on Justia Law

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Wheelchair-using detainees sued Cook County, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, based on purportedly inaccessible ramps and bathroom facilities at six county courthouses. The district court certified a class for purposes of injunctive relief. The named plaintiffs also sought damages individually for the same alleged violations. The district court held an evidentiary hearing on the equitable claims and entered a permanent injunction, finding that the defendants had violated the ADA. Relying largely on the same findings, the court granted the plaintiffs partial summary judgment on liability in their personal damage actions, then submitted the question of individual damage awards to a jury. The Seventh Circuit vacated in part. The district court improperly relied on its own findings of fact when it granted partial summary judgment to the plaintiffs on their damage claims. When equitable and legal claims are joined in a single suit, common questions of fact should be tried first to a jury unless there are extraordinary circumstances or an unequivocal waiver by all parties of their jury trial rights. The court upheld the class certification. View "Lacy v. Cook County, Illinois" on Justia Law

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Camp Drug Store filed a proposed class action, alleging that Cochran Wholesale had violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, by faxing unsolicited advertisements to class members. The parties entered into early mediation and reached a settlement. Cochran would “make up to $700,000.00 available” but was not required to create a separate account to hold the funds or to deposit them with the court. Each class member could submit a claim for $125; if the value of the claims exceeded the total available funds, each timely claim would be subject to a pro‐rata reduction. Any funds that were not claimed by class members were to be kept by Cochran. Each representative plaintiff was entitled to an incentive award of $15,000, and class counsel was to be paid one-third of the Settlement Fund ($233,333.33). The total Cochran actually paid to claimants was $220,625.00. The court approved the settlement but reduced the proposed attorney fee to $73,468.13 and incentive awards to $1,000. Camp argued that the settlement created a common fund against which the reasonableness of the fee award should be assessed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting the “common fund” argument.. Given the early stage at which the litigation settled, the reductions in the fee and incentive awards were not an abuse of discretion. View "Camp Drug Store, Inc. v. Cochran Wholesale Pharmaceutic, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2011-2012 a million people received phone calls asking them to take political surveys in exchange for a chance to go on a free cruise. Some recipients filed a class action under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, seeking damages from defendants who had not placed the calls but had directed them. The district court certified a class and later granted plaintiffs partial summary judgment. The parties settled. Plaintiffs agreed to release their claims against all defendants and their agents. Defendants agreed to pay into a fund between $56 million and $76 million, depending on the number of approved claims submitted. Out of the fund will come payments to the class, incentive awards to the named representatives, about $2 million in administrative expenses, and attorneys’ fees. The class will receive payments in two rounds. If some claimants do not cash the checks during the second round, remaining funds will go to “an appropriate cy pres recipient.” Over the objections of a class member, the court approved the settlement, estimating that each claimant will receive $400. Class counsel will receive 36% of the first $10 million, 30% of the next $10 million, 24% of the next $36 million, and 18% of any additional recovery. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the award of fees overcompensates class counsel and that the settlement’s approval was improper. View "McCabe v. Caribbean Cruise Line, Inc." on Justia Law