Articles Posted in Consumer Law

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The Third Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of Pennsylvania law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Appellant Jobe Danganan’s contracted with Appellee Guardian Protection Services (“Guardian”), a Pennsylvania-headquartered business, for home security equipment and services at his then-home in Washington, D.C. The contract signed by Appellant, a standardized form agreement employed by Guardian, contained, inter alia, a choice-of-law provision, stating that the “Agreement shall be governed by the laws of Pennsylvania.” Another clause required that any suit or legal proceeding pertaining to the Agreement be brought in the other party’s district or county of residence and mandated that the parties consent to jurisdiction in such venue. Prior to the expiration of the Agreement’s purported three-year initial term, Appellant moved to California and sold his Washington, D.C. house, notifying Guardian of his intent to cancel the contract and related home protection services. However, Guardian continued to bill Appellant, citing provisions of the Agreement that it claimed authorized ongoing charges through the contract’s term, regardless of cancellation attempts. Appellant filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County on behalf of himself and a putative class of nationwide plaintiffs who were subject to the same form contract. His claims for relief were predicated exclusively on Pennsylvania statutory grounds, namely, the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law ("UTPCPL") and Pennsylvania’s Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act. The matter was removed to federal district court, and Guardian moved to dismiss, arguing that Appellant had not, pursuant to the UTPCPL, demonstrated a "sufficient nexus" between the Commonwealth and the improper conduct alleged in the complaint. In response to the first certified question, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a non- Pennsylvania resident may bring suit under the UTPCPL against a Commonwealth-headquartered business based on transactions that occurred out-of-state. Furthermore, the Court concluded that its answer to the first issue eliminated the predicate to the second question certified for review. The matter was thus returned to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. View "Danganan v. Guardian Protection Svc." on Justia Law

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No fiduciary duty arises in a consumer transaction for the purchase of a whole life insurance policy based upon the advice of a financial advisor where the consumer purchasing the policy does not cede decision -making control over the purchase to the financial advisor. In 1995, Bryan Holland, a financial advisor for IDS Life Insurance Corporation, made an unsolicited telephone contact, a "cold call," to Eugene and Ruth Yenchi. At a subsequent meeting and for a fee of $350, Holland presented the Yenchis with a financial management proposal containing a notice that it had been prepared by "your American Express financial advisor" (Holland) and that "[alt your request, your American Express financial advisor can recommend products distributed by American Express Financial Advisors and its affiliates as investment alternatives for existing securities." The Proposal offered the Yenchis a number of general recommendations, including that they monitor monthly expenses, consolidate their debt, consider various savings plans, consolidate current life insurance policies into one policy, review long-term care coverage, keep accurate records for tax purposes (medical expenses and charitable contributions), transfer 401(k) funds into mutual funds, and continue estate planning with an attorney and their financial advisor. The Yenchis implemented some of these recommendations. In 2000, the Yenchis had their portfolio independently reviewed. Through this process, they were advised that Holland’s recommendations would be financially devastating to the Yenchis. In April 2001, the Yenchis sued Holland and his company, American Express Financial Services Corporation, American Express Financial Advisors Corporation, and IDS Life Insurance Company. The Yenchis' asserted claims of negligence/willful disregard, fraudulent misrepresentation, violation of the Uniform Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law ("UTPCPL"), bad faith, negligent supervision, and breach of fiduciary duty. Of relevance here, with respect to the breach of fiduciary duty claim, the trial court held that no fiduciary relationship was established between the Yenchis and Holland because the Yenchis continued to make their own investment decisions. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that, consistent with its jurisprudence, no fiduciary duty arose in such a situation. Consequently, the Court reversed the Superior Court's decision to the contrary. View "Yenchi v. Ameriprise Financial" on Justia Law

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Appellee signed a contract in December 2010, to rent a car from Appellant Enterprise Leasing Company of Philadelphia, LLC (“Enterprise”). She agreed in the contract that she would pay for repairs for any damage the car incurred during the rental period, along with any administrative, loss-of-use, and diminishment-in-value fees. The contract set forth formulas for calculating the loss-of-use and diminishment-in-value fees. It also contained a power-of-attorney clause allowing Enterprise to request payment for any unpaid “claims, damages, liabilities, or rental charges” directly from Appellee’s insurance carrier or credit card company. When Appellee returned the car following the rental, an Enterprise employee informed her that she was responsible for a scratch on the car. Enterprise later sent Appellee a letter with an estimate for repairs and an invoice for administrative, loss-of-use, and diminishment-of-value fees, for a total of $840.42. Appellee, represented by counsel, sued Enterprise, filing a six-count complaint that included a claim for damages under the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law's ("UTPCPL) “catchall” provision. Appellee’s complaint alleged that Enterprise had engaged in deceptive acts and had made misrepresentations by charging her unconscionable fees bearing no reasonable relationship to the costs of repairing the alleged damage to the car. The Superior Court reversed as to Appellee’s UTPCPL claim, concluding that Appellee had sufficiently pled an “ascertainable loss.” The court considered Enterprise’s alleged threats to collect the $840.42 from Appellee’s auto insurance carrier and her credit card issuer, and Appellee’s hiring counsel to file suit to halt Enterprise’s collection efforts, to be sufficient to satisfy the “ascertainable loss” requirement. The court also pointed out that Enterprise had stipulated that it would cease its collection efforts only if the trial court granted its motion. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Enterprise argued that merely retaining an attorney to commence suit cannot satisfy the UTPCPL’s “ascertainable loss” element. The Supreme Court concluded that Appellee’s construction of the “ascertainable loss” element as including attorney fees was unreasonable, and contradicted by the plain language of the statute. Accordingly, the Court reversed. View "Grimes v. Enterprise Leasing Co of Phila." on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law, Contracts

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In February, 2006, Konstantinos Koumboulis shot and killed his wife and himself inside his house. The murder/suicide was highly publicized in the local media and on the internet. The Jaconos purchased the property from the Koumboulis estate at auction in September, 2006, for $450,000. After investing thousands in renovations, the Jaconos listed the property for sale in June, 2007. They informed Re/Max, their listing agents, of the murder/suicide. The issue this case presented to the Supreme Court for review was whether the occurrence of a murder/suicide inside a house constituted a material defect of the property, such that appellees' failure to disclose the same to the buyer of the house constituted fraud, negligent misrepresentation, or a violation of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law's (UTPCPL). The Court concluded a murder/suicide does not constitute an actionable material defect. View "Milliken v. Jacono" on Justia Law

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Appellees are former Community College of Beaver County students who, according to their allegations, enrolled in and completed substantial work in CCBC's police training program. Their academic progress was cut short when, in 2002, CCBC’s alleged malfeasance caused state officials to decertify the program, thereby rendering their educational and financial investments largely worthless. Appellees filed actions in the Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County, asserting claims of breach of contract, breach of warranty, and a claim under the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law 's (UTPCPL) provisions providing a private cause of action for "persons" injured by other "persons'" employment of unfair trade practices. In this appeal, the issue before the Supreme Court centered on whether the UTPCPL defined a "person" subject to liability as including both private entities and political subdivision agencies. After careful review, the Supreme Court held that the UTPCPL defined a "person" as including private entities, but not political subdivision agencies. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Commonwealth Court's order affirming the trial court's denial of partial summary judgment on this issue and remanded to the Commonwealth Court for further proceedings. View "Meyer v. Community College of Beaver County" on Justia Law

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Alleging that Appellant Conestoga Title Insurance Company charged more for title insurance than its filed rates permitted, Appellee Nancy A. White asserted three claims against Conestoga in a class action complaint. The Supreme Court granted review to consider whether White was precluded from pursuing all of her claims because Article VII of the Insurance Department Act of 1921 provided her with an exclusive administrative remedy under Section 1504 of the Statutory Construction Act of 1972. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed in part and affirm in part. Specifically, the Court reversed the Superior Court's order reversing the trial court's dismissal of White's common law claims for money had and received and for unjust enrichment, and the Court affirmed (albeit on different grounds) the Superior Court's order reversing the trial court's dismissal of White's statutory claim brought under Pennsylvania's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. View "White v. Conestoga Title Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Appellant Kia Motors America, Inc. unsuccessfully defended a class action lawsuit for breach of express warranty. It appealed a superior court's decision to affirm certification of the class by the trial court, and the amount of damages and litigation costs awarded to the class. Costs included a significant legal fee, entered pursuant to the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act (MMWA). Appellee Shamell Samuel-Bassett, on behalf of herself and others similarly situated filed this class action lawsuit in January 2001, alleging that her Kia had an unsafe manufacturing defect in the braking system. In 2005, a jury rendered a verdict in favor of the class for breach of express warranty, and awarded damages in the amount of $600 per class member. The court molded the verdict to account for the 9,402 class members to which the parties had stipulated and recorded a $5.6 million verdict. Represented by new counsel, Kia filed an unsuccessful post-trial motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or for a new trial. The issues on appeal to the Supreme Court were: (1) whether the class was properly certified; (2) whether evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s verdict and whether the verdict was against the weight of the evidence; (3) whether the jury’s verdict was properly molded to account for the 9,402 members of the class; (4) whether the trial court had authority to award attorneys’ fees after Bassett entered judgment on the class verdict; and (5) whether the risk multiplier was properly applied to an award of counsel fees under the MMWA. The Supreme Court affirmed in part, and reversed in part, the trial court's decision. The Court reversed the trial court to the extent that its order provided for enhancement of the attorneys' fees award beyond the amount permitted in the MMWA. View "Samuel-Bassett v. Kia Motors America, Inc." on Justia Law