Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Consumer Law
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In 2001, Levy, a 37-year-old single mother of two, purchased a 20-year term life insurance policy from West Coast, with a $3 million benefit payable upon her death to her sons. In January 2019, Benita—in deteriorating physical and mental health—missed a payment. Approximately five months later, she died, having never paid the missed premium. West Coast declared the policy forfeited.Levy's sons filed suit, alleging breach of contract and that a late-2018 missed-payment notice failed to comply with the Illinois Insurance Code, which forbids an insurer from canceling a policy within six months of a policyholder’s failure to pay a premium by its due date (calculated to include a 31-day grace period) unless the insurer provided notice stating “that unless such premium or other sums due shall be paid to the company or its agents the policy and all payments thereon will become forfeited and void, except as to the right to a surrender value or paid-up policy as provided for by the policy.” West Coast’s 2018 notice incorporated much of the statutory language. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. The Notice adequately alerted policyholders to the consequences of nonpayment; there was no need for the Notice to mention the company’s agents as alternate payees. View "Levy v. West Coast Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Defendant, a neurosurgeon, chose to use implants distributed by DS Medical, a company wholly owned by his fiancée. Physicians in other practices grew suspicious and filed various claims under the False Claims Act. The jury returned a verdict for the government on two of the three claims. The district court then awarded treble damages and statutory penalties in the amount of $5,495,931.22. Following the verdict, the government moved to dismiss its two remaining claims without prejudice, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(2), on the ground that any recovery would be “smaller and duplicative of what the [c]ourt ha[d] already awarded.”   The Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded for a new trial. The court explained that are several ways to prove that a claim is “false or fraudulent” under the False Claims Act. One of them is to show that it “includes items or services resulting from a violation” of the anti-kickback statute. This case required the court to determine what the words “resulting from” mean. The court concluded that it creates a but-for causal requirement between an anti-kickback violation and the “items or services” included in the claim. Thus, the court reversed and remanded because district court did not instruct the jury along these lines. View "United States v. Midwest Neurosurgeons, LLC, et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff entered into a reverse mortgage agreement with Reverse Mortgage Solutions, Inc. (“RMS”). In violation of the Truth in Lending Act (“TILA”), RMS failed to disclose certain information at closing. Section 1635(b) of TILA imposes certain obligations on a creditor, like RMS, after it receives a notice of rescission, but RMS did not comply with those obligations either. Plaintiff sued RMS for, among other things, rescission and failing to honor her rescission rights under TILA.   A jury returned a verdict for RMS, finding that RMS did not fail to honor Plaintiff’s attempt to rescind the loan. However, the district court issued judgment as a matter of law for Plaintiff holding that RMS violated Section 1635(b)’s requirements. It also held that Plaintiff was not required to tender or return, the loan proceeds to RMS.   The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment as a matter of law and remanded. The court explained that the district court erred in granting judgment as a matter of law to Plaintiff on the Rescission Count. In response to RMS’s failure to voluntarily unwind the loan or otherwise respond to that notice as required by Section 1635(b), Plaintiff had a right to sue RMS to obtain rescission relief under TILA. But neither Section 1635(b) nor any other provision of TILA provides that the failure of a lender to voluntarily unwind a loan or respond to a notice of intent to rescind allows a borrower to avoid tendering the loan proceeds as part of rescission. View "Teresa Lavis v. Reverse Mortgage Solutions Inc" on Justia Law

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American Express National Bank (“AmEx”) filed suit for breach of contract in Mississippi state court to recover $2,855.74 of unpaid credit card debt incurred on Plaintiff's account. Plaintiff contended an unknown person incurred this debt fraudulently. Plaintiff then filed Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) claims against AmEx and other defendants in Mississippi state court. The district court denied AmEx’s motion to compel arbitration.   The Fifth Circuit vacated the decision of the district court and remanded for reconsideration in the first instance in light of Forby v. One Techs., L.P and Morgan v. Sundance, Inc. The court held that these cases were decided on the same day and after the district court’s ruling. Forby clarified the test for waiver by a party of the right to compel arbitration and reiterated that waiver analysis occurs on a claim-by-claim basis. In addition, Morgan addressed this and other sister circuits’ tests for waiver by a party of the right to compel arbitration. The court explained that although it can apply subsequent precedent to cases before it, “[a]s a court for review of errors, we are not to decide facts or make legal conclusions in the first instance." Thus, the court’s task is to review the actions of a trial court for claimed errors. View "Barnett v. American Express National" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals upholding that trial court's determination that the plaintiff homeowner's award of attorneys fees and costs under Tenn. Code Ann. 20-12-119(c) was limited to those incurred after the date the defendant contractor filed an amended countercomplaint, holding that the lower courts erred.Plaintiff and Defendant entered into a contract for the renovation of a residence. Plaintiff later filed a complaint alleging breach of contract and violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. Defendant filed an amended countercomplaint asserting breach of contract. The trial court dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims and then dismissed the countercomplaint. On appeal, Plaintiff challenged the attorney fee and costs award granted by the trial court. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the trial court's award of attorney fees and costs, holding that the fees and costs recoverable by Plaintiff in connection with the dismissal of Defendant’s breach of contract claim are not limited to those incurred after the amended countercomplaint was actually filed. View "Donovan v. Hastings" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed a summary judgment entered in favor of Defendant in her lawsuit for damages against Defendant based on his alter ego liability for a $157,370 judgment against a corporation. Plaintiff claimed that Magnolia Funding, Inc., the subject of a prior lawsuit that provided the original loan, and Magnolia Home Loans, Inc. “were the same company”; and that Defendant was “the sole owner, officer, and director of each.” Magnolia Funding closed when Magnolia Home Loans got up and running.   The Second Appellate district concluded, among other things, that (1) the trial court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of the corporation; there are triable issues of fact concerning Defendant’s alter ego liability, and (2) Plaintiff’s civil action does not violate Defendant’s right to due process.   The court explained that under the alter ego doctrine, the corporate veil may be lifted to show the corporate form is fiction and determine who controls the corporate entity and who is liable for its debts. Courts look to the totality of circumstances to determine who actually owns or controls the corporate entity and who is using it as “a mere shell or conduit” for his or her own personal interests. When Magnolia Funding, Inc. dissolved, Magnolia Home Loans, Inc. received its remaining physical assets. At the end of the fiscal year 2009, Magnolia Home Loans, Inc. held cash and all that money was paid to Defendant. This is a triable issue of fact concerning Escamilla’s alter ego liability. View "Lopez v. Escamilla" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal affirming the judgment of the trial court granting Plaintiff's postural motion seeking attorney's fees in the amount of $169,602 under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, Cal. Civ. Code 1795, subd. (d), after awarding her $21,957.25 in damages on her claim for breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, holding that there was no error.Plaintiff purchased a used vehicle from a dealership pursuant to an installment sales contract that was later assigned to TD Auto Finance (TDAF). Plaintiff filed suit against the dealership and TDAF, alleging misconduct in the sale of the car. A jury found that Defendants breached the implied warranty of merchantability under the Song-Beverly Act and awarded damages and attorney's fees under the Song-Beverly Act. The court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that recovery under the Federal Trade Commission's Holder Rule does not limit the award of attorney's fees where, as a here, a buyer seeks fees from a holder under a state prevailing party statute. View "Pulliam v. HNL Automotive, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the portion of the order of the circuit court applying prejudgment interest to the jury verdict in this lawsuit alleging breach of express and implied warranties and other claims but otherwise affirmed, holding that the circuit court erred in its assessment of prejudgment interest.Plaintiff sued Defendant, a car dealership, alleging breaches of consumer laws and contract principles. During discovery, DCW withheld requested documents even after the circuit court imposed monetary sanctions. When the requested documents appeared as an exhibit in DCW's motion for summary judgment the circuit court denied the motion and sanctioned DCW. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part, holding that the circuit court (1) did not abuse its discretion by issuing the sanction, approving the jury's verdict, and ordering DCW to pay attorney fees and costs; but (2) erred by applying prejudgment interest to the entire verdict. View "Dan's Car World, LLC v. Delaney" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved a challenge to how Geico General Insurance Company (“GEICO”) processed insurance claims under 21 Del. C. 2118. Section 2118 provided that certain motor vehicle owners had to obtain personal injury protection (“PIP”) insurance. Plaintiffs, all of whose claims for medical expense reimbursement under a PIP policy were denied in whole or in part, were either GEICO PIP policyholders who were injured in automobile accidents or their treatment providers. Plaintiffs alleged GEICO used two automated processing rules that arbitrarily denied or reduced payments without consideration of the reasonableness or necessity of submitted claims and without any human involvement. Plaintiffs argued GEICO’s use of the automated rules to deny or reduce payments: (1) breached the applicable insurance contract; (2) amounted to bad faith breach of contract; and (3) violated Section 2118. Having reviewed the parties’ briefs and the record on appeal, and after oral argument, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s ruling that the judiciary had the authority to issue a declaratory judgment that GEICO’s use of the automated rules violated Section 2118. The Supreme Court also affirmed the Superior Court’s judgment as to the breach of contract and bad faith breach of contract claims. The Court concluded, however, that the issuance of the declaratory judgment was improper. View "GEICO General Insurance Company v. Green" on Justia Law

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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) sued Ocwen Financial Corporation (“Ocwen”) and several of its affiliates claiming some of the company's mortgage-servicing practices violated federal law. The CFPB’s suit was resolved by a settlement agreement that was memorialized in a formal consent judgment. The CFPB sued Ocwen a second time, alleging various consumer-protection law violations occurring between January 2014 and February 2017. The district court granted summary judgment to Ocwen on res judicata grounds, reasoning that the 2013 action barred the lawsuit.The CFPB contends that the 2013 action’s res judicata effect should be controlled by that case’s consent judgment, not its complaint and that the underlying settlement agreement shows that the parties didn’t intend to preclude a challenge to any conduct occurring from 2014 onwards. The court reasoned that determining the preclusive effect of a consent judgment requires applying contract law principles. The court found that the res judicata effects of an earlier lawsuit resolved by a consent judgment are measured by reference to the terms of the consent judgment, rather than the complaint. Thus, CFPB may sue Ocwen for alleged violations that occurred between January 2014 and February 2017, if the claims are not covered by the consent judgment’s servicing standard, monitoring, and enforcement regime. View "Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Ocwen Financial Corporation, et al." on Justia Law