Author: Caroline E. Oks

Second Circuit Holds Monetary Compensation for Survey Participation Not an “Unsolicited Advertisement” Under the TCPA; Disagrees with Third Circuit

The Second Circuit recently held, in Bruce Katz, M.D., P.C. v. Focus Forward, LLC, that an unsolicited faxed invitation offering $150 to participate in a market research survey does not constitute an “unsolicited advertisement” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (the “TCPA”). The TCPA defines “unsolicited advertisement” as “any material advertising the commercial availability or quality of any property, goods, or services which is transmitted to any person without that person’s prior express invitation or permission.” The Second Circuit reasoned that the subject fax transmissions “plainly do not advertise the availability of any property, goods, or services” and therefore “cannot reasonably be construed” as unlawful advertisements. The panel did note, however, that its holding may not necessarily extend to all “communications, including faxed surveys, offering the recipient both money and services,” as some such communications could incur liability under the TCPA depending on the specific content of the communication. The Second Circuit’s holding in Katz departed from the reasoning in the Third Circuit’s divided opinion in Fischbein v. Olson Research Group, Inc. The faxes at issue in Fischbein consisted of requests to doctors to participate in market research surveys in exchange for monetary compensation. The Third Circuit held that such faxes are advertisements, reasoning that “an offer of payment in exchange for participation...

Eleventh Circuit Holds That Administrative Feasibility is Not a Precondition for Class Certification

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently analyzed a “hotly contested issue in class action practice” – whether administrative feasibility is a requirement for class certification under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. Breaking from the First, Third, and Fourth Circuits and agreeing with the Second, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Circuits, the Eleventh Circuit held putative class representatives need not prove the existence of an administratively feasible method to identify absent class members as a precondition for certification of a class action.

Following Duguid, South Carolina District Court Limits Reach of TCPA’s Autodialer Definition

In April 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court resolved a circuit split interpreting the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s (TCPA) definition of “automatic telephone dialing system” or (ATDS). In Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid, the Court held that the clause “using a random or sequential number generator” in the statutory definition of ATDS, 47 U.S.C. § 227(a)(1), modifies both “store” and “produce,” thereby “specifying how the equipment must either ‘store’ or ‘produce’ telephone numbers.” Accordingly, “a necessary feature of an autodialer under § 227(a)(1)(A) is the capacity to use a random or sequential number generator to either store or produce phone numbers to be called.” Duguid thus reversed the Ninth Circuit’s interpretation that the clause “using a random or sequential number generator” modifies only “produce,” such that a device could be an autodialer if it has the capacity to store and automatically dial numbers, even if the numbers are not generated by a random or sequential number generator. Under Duguid, equipment that makes calls to “targeted…numbers linked to specific accounts” are excluded from liability under the TCPA. In June, the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina had the opportunity to apply the Supreme Court’s decision. In Timms v. USAA Federal Savings Bank, the plaintiff sought to recover damages from the defendant for alleged violations of the Fair...

Consumer Fraud Class Action Dismissed With Prejudice: Law Enforcement Tows Are Not Covered by the New Jersey Predatory Towing Prevention Act

On June 14, 2021, Judge Thomas J. Walsh of the Superior Court of New Jersey put an end to the long-running putative class action lawsuit in Kiley v. Tumino’s Towing, which sought to exploit regulations promulgated under the Predatory Towing Prevention Act (PTPA) by the Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs (DCA). The action was removed to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act, where the magistrate judge initially denied a motion to remand and permitted jurisdictional discovery, but the district court judge later remanded back to state court. Finally addressing the merits, the Superior Court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint, with prejudice, agreeing with Tumino’s Towing that the PTPA was not applicable to the towing services requested by law enforcement and performed in accordance with a duly-authorized municipal ordinance. As such, the plaintiff’s sole remaining cause of action for alleged violation of the Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) could not stand. In Kiley, the complaint alleged that the plaintiff’s vehicle was towed by Tumino’s Towing, at the request of the Ridgefield Park Police Department, because his vehicle was illegally parked during a snow emergency. After paying his parking ticket at police headquarters, the plaintiff was given a vehicle release authorization, which he brought to Tumino’s Towing to obtain the release...

Third Circuit Affirms That CFA and PLA Claims Can Coexist Independently

We recently blogged about a New Jersey Supreme Court decision in which the court held that claims under New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) may be brought in the same action as claims under the Products Liability Act (PLA). In a follow-up to that case, the Third Circuit in Sun Chemical Corporation v. Fike Corporation and Suppression Systems, Inc. applied the New Jersey Supreme Court’s guidance on the interplay between the CFA and PLA. The Third Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part a District Court judgment, finding that some of the claims were “absorbed by the PLA” and some could be brought independently pursuant to the CFA. Sun sued defendant Fike under the CFA for alleged misrepresentations related to Sun’s purchase of an explosion-suppression system. Sun alleged that Fike “misrepresented various aspects of the suppression system in its pre-purchase conversations” and that Fike was therefore liable for injuries and property damages suffered by Sun from an explosion that occurred at Sun’s facility. The District Court of New Jersey determined that Sun’s CFA claims were precluded and absorbed by the PLA because “Sun was seeking damages because various features of the suppression system failed and that failure caused personal injury to Sun’s employees.” The CFA, the District Court reasoned, could not be used to...

New Jersey Supreme Court Holds That CFA and PLA Claims Can Be Pleaded in the Same Action

In a recent decision answering a question certified to it by the Third Circuit, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that claims brought under New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) may be brought in the same action as claims brought pursuant to the Products Liability Act (PLA), provided each claim is based on distinct conduct. In Sun Chemical Corporation v. Fike Corporation and Suppression Systems, Inc., the Court explained that it is the nature of the actions—not the resulting damages—that determines when claims may be brought under either the CFA or the PLA. The Court clarified that CFA claims may be brought in instances where a party alleges “express misrepresentations — deceptive, fraudulent, misleading, and other unconscionable commercial practices,” while PLA claims are reserved for claims based upon “product manufacturing, warning, or design defects.” The claims in Sun Chemical arose out of the plaintiff’s purchase of an explosion isolation and suppression system from the defendant to be used to “prevent and contain potential explosions” in the plaintiff’s new dust collection system. Plaintiff’s federal court complaint alleged that on the first day it used the suppression system, a fire broke out in the dust collection system and while the alarm in the suppression system was activated, it was inaudible. Plaintiff alleged that, as a result, several...

Eleventh Circuit Eliminates Incentive Awards for Named Plaintiffs in Class Action Settlements

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently upended what has become common practice in class action settlements by ruling that “incentive” awards to named plaintiffs are unlawful. In Johnson v. NPAS Solutions, LLC, the plaintiff filed a class action lawsuit under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) alleging that the defendant used an automatic telephone dialing system to call cell phones without the proper consent. Less than eight months after the complaint was filed, the parties jointly filed a notice of settlement for an award of $1,432,000. The District Court preliminary approved the settlement and certified the class for settlement purposes. In addition, that order permitted the plaintiff to petition the court to receive an amount not to exceed $6,000 “as acknowledgement of this role in prosecuting this case on behalf of class members.” The court also set a date for class members to opt out of the class settlement and a date three weeks later for class counsel to submit their petition for attorneys’ fees and costs. One person objected to the settlement on the grounds that (1) the objection deadline was set before the deadline for class counsel to file their attorneys’ fee petition, which she contended violated Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 and the Due Process Clause; (2) the amount of...

Non-Consensual “Quick Peek” Revisited: FRE 502(d) Cannot Be Used to Compel Production of Potentially Privileged Information Without a Privilege Review

The District Court for the District of Columbia recently confirmed that FRE 502(d) orders cannot be used to force a responding party to produce potentially privileged documents without the opportunity to first review them. In doing so, the court found that such an order would not only violate the producing parties’ right to determine in the first instance how it reviews and produces, but would potentially compel the production of privileged information and thus would constitute “an abuse of discretion.” In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. George Washington University, the EEOC filed a discrimination action on behalf of a former executive assistant against defendant, George Washington University, alleging that defendant’s former athletic director treated the former executive assistant less favorably compared to her male co-worker, a former special assistant. The discovery dispute concerned four requests for production of documents served by plaintiff: three seeking thousands of emails from the work accounts of defendant’s former athletic director and his two assistants; and one seeking information related to workplace complaints against the former athletic director. Defendant argued that plaintiff’s requests were overbroad and unduly burdensome—that is, that compliance with the requests would impose costs that were “not proportional to the needs of the case,” under the proportionality dictates of FRCP 26. By its decision, the court resolved...

Raising the Specter of Discovery Abuse: The Importance of Developing a Discovery Record Before Filing a Motion to Compel

Two recent decisions highlight the importance of establishing a record of discovery abuse before filing a motion to compel based upon the commonly held suspicion that a responding party is withholding information and/or has failed to adequately preserve or search for information. Even in situations where a party is convinced that an adversary has failed to produce discoverable information, a litigant will face an uphill climb in pursuing a motion to compel in the absence of concrete evidence as to an adversary’s discovery shortfalls, including evidence of data deletion, untimely or absent preservation efforts, and/or the failure to produce information produced by other parties or third-parties that clearly should be in the possession of the responding party. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. v. Eastern Mushroom Marketing Cooperative (E.D. Pa.) In a recent decision from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Judge Schiller denied plaintiffs’ motion to compel in a case where plaintiffs insisted that “there simply must be responsive documents,” but plaintiffs were unable to provide any specific evidence to support their speculation. In this antitrust litigation involving allegations that defendants colluded to raise the price of fresh agarics mushrooms, plaintiffs sought all documents from defendants regarding the sale of mushrooms to plaintiffs. In particular, numerous discovery disputes ensued after the court entered an order requiring defendants to...

District of New Jersey Denies Class Certification in Product Defect Case Against BMW

The District of New Jersey recently denied class certification in a putative class action alleging a product defect in BMW engines. Afzal v. BMW of North America, LLC concerned whether BMW defectively designed its car engine so that a component wears out too quickly and failed to disclose that defect to purchasers. Two Plaintiffs, both California residents who allegedly suffered premature rod bearing wear, filed a putative class action raising various causes of action including violations of several California consumer protection statutes, breach of warranty, and fraud. Plaintiffs sought certification of two classes: (1) the Dealership Class and (2) the Warranty Class. The “Dealership Class” was defined as: “All persons who after November 12, 2011, purchased a model year 2008 to 2013 BMW M3 (the “Class Vehicle”) in California from an authorized BMW dealership, and who resided in California at the time of that purchase, and who as of the date of the Court’s Certification Order, either 1. Currently owns a Class Vehicle with 120,000 miles or less; or 2. Currently or formerly owned a Class Vehicle and, when the Class Vehicle had 120,000 miles or less, incurred out-of-pocket costs to replace the connecting rod bearings in the Class Vehicle.” The “Warranty Class” was defined as: “All persons who after November 12, 2011, purchased a...