In Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds International Corp.,  the U.S. Supreme Court held that “a party may not be compelled” under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) “to submit to class arbitration unless there is a contractual basis for concluding that the party agreed to do so.”  The Stolt-Nielsen Court found that an agreement that is silent on the availability of class arbitration does not provide sufficient evidence that the parties intended to submit to class, as opposed to individual, arbitration.  The Court, however, left open the question of what level of specificity an agreement must contain to demonstrate the parties’ consent to submit a dispute to class arbitration. 
In Dieffenbach v. Barnes & Noble, Inc., the Seventh Circuit allowed a data breach class action to survive the pleadings stage, including a challenge to the plaintiffs’ standing. At the same time, the Court indicated that the plaintiffs may have a tough time proving their claims on the merits or establishing that class certification is warranted. That warning may put the brakes on this action as well as others brought on a similar theory of liability.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently held in Dorrian v. LVNV Funding, LLC, that “passive debt buyers” are not “debt collectors” required to be licensed under the Massachusetts Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“MDCPA”).
Dorrian is a class action lawsuit filed by borrowers in default who alleged that defendant LVNV Funding, LLC (“LVNV”) was operating as a debt collector without being licensed under the MDCPA. Notably, the plaintiffs did not sue the third-party LVNV contracted with to handle all collection and servicing, which was licensed as a debt collector under the MDCPA. The trial court certified the class and granted summary judgment in the borrowers’ favor on their claims that LVNV violated the MDCPA by operating as an unlicensed debt collector.
Every data breach class action in federal court must confront a threshold question: has the plaintiff alleged a sufficient “injury in fact” to establish Article III standing? The inquiry frequently focuses on whether a plaintiff has standing simply by pleading an increased risk of future injury from the theft of personal identifying information (PII). This is because many named plaintiffs do not––because they cannot––allege any present harm. The federal courts of appeals continue to weigh in on the issue of whether allegations of possible future harm suffice for Article III purposes. But far from providing clarity or consensus, recent appellate decisions have reached differing conclusions, which appear highly dependent on the nature of the facts alleged in each case.
Recently, the Ninth Circuit held in Bassett v. ABM Parking Services, Inc. that an allegation that a business violated the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (“FACTA”) by printing a credit card expiration date on a customer’s receipt is, by itself, insufficient to establish Article III standing under Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins. (For more information, read K&L Gates alerts on the Bassett decision and FACTA standing jurisprudence.) Now, in Noble v. Nevada Checker Cab Corp., No. 16-16573 (9th Cir. Mar. 9, 2018), the Ninth Circuit reached the same conclusion with respect to an alleged FACTA violation arising out of the printing of the first digit of the card number in addition to the last four digits. In doing so, the Ninth Circuit appears to be sending a strong signal to potential FACTA plaintiffs that something more than a technical violation is necessary to have standing to pursue statutory damages in federal court under FACTA.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ended a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) lawsuit because the plaintiffs could not show that the allegedly offending letter had caused them actual harm. In Hagy v. Demers & Adams, the Sixth Circuit held that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue a law firm for its technical FDCPA violation, namely failing to identify itself as a debt collector in a letter to the plaintiffs. Debt collectors will likely applaud the practical and sensible approach the Sixth Circuit applied in Hagy. The decision is remarkable, however, for its constitutional rebuke of Congress. Reminding the legislative branch that it lacks general police powers to create statutory remedies where no actual harm exists, the Sixth Circuit’s decision suggests — without specifically stating — that the statutory damage provision of the FDCPA may be unconstitutional. Read More
By David D. Christensen and Matthew N. Lowe
The Ninth Circuit recently clarified in In re Hyundai and Kia Fuel Economy Litigation that district courts must carefully scrutinize class settlements to ensure that they satisfy each of the prerequisites of Rule 23, especially for Rule 23(b)(3) classes, and that courts cannot substitute the fairness of a settlement for the proper certification analysis. Of particular note, the court emphasized the need to analyze whether potential material differences in the applicable states’ laws preclude certification of a nationwide settlement class.
To read the full alert, click here.
Through its recent en banc decision in PHH Corp. v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the D.C. Circuit reinstated the holding of the three-judge panel regarding the safe harbor provision in Section 8(c) of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). Specifically, the court reaffirmed that under Section 8(c), payments made by one settlement service provider to another do not violate Section 8(a), even if made in connection with a captive relationship or a referral, when the payments are reasonably related to the market value of the goods, services, or facilities provided. Although potentially overshadowed by the portion of the en banc court’s holding that the leadership structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is constitutional, the panel court’s reinstated holding regarding RESPA’s Section 8(c) safe harbor is notable and important for the simple confirmation that the safe harbor “is what it is.”
To read the full alert, click here.
By Andrew C. Glass, Robert W. Sparkes, III, Roger L. Smerage, and Elma Delic
In what appears to be a first-of-its-kind ruling, the District Court for the Southern District of New York recently concluded that a federal district court has the authority to vacate an arbitrator’s class certification award based on the due process rights of absent class members. That this potentially ground-breaking decision arose from the long-standing litigation in Jock v. Sterling Jewelers, Inc. is no surprise. Over the course of a decade in Jock, the district court and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals have rendered multiple decisions addressing the proper role of a court in reviewing an arbitrator’s authority to determine whether parties have agreed to class arbitration. In the latest decision, the district court became the first court to apply Justice Alito’s concurrence in Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter to strike down an arbitrator’s ruling. The Jock court determined that, absent an express class arbitration provision in each putative class member’s arbitration agreement, an arbitrator does not have the authority to bind absent class members to a class judgment—even if they signed the same form of arbitration agreement as the named plaintiffs. As discussed below, this novel decision could have significant implications.
To read the full alert, click here.
The Ninth Circuit recently limited the availability of diversity jurisdiction for certain cases with claims involving mortgage loan modifications. Specifically, in Corral v. Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc., the Ninth Circuit held that, where the plaintiff-borrower “seeks only a temporary stay of foreclosure pending review of a loan modification application … the value of the property or amount of indebtedness are not the amounts in controversy.” — F.3d —-, 2017 WL 6601872, at *1 (9th Cir. Dec. 27, 2017). Rather, to satisfy the amount in controversy requirement in such cases, parties must demonstrate that the value of the temporary delay in foreclosure exceeds $75,000, “such as the transactional costs to the lender of delaying foreclosure or a fair rental value of the property during pendency of the injunction” (in addition to any compensatory damages plaintiffs may be seeking). Id. at *5.