Tagged: Courts of Appeal – Third Circuit

Third Circuit Reverses Denial of Class Certification: Holds Ascertainability Satisfied Even with Gaps in Records

On September 9, 2020, a split panel of the Third Circuit issued a precedential opinion in Hargrove v. Sleepy’s LLC, reversing the denial of class certification because the district court “misapplied” the Circuit’s ascertainability case law and was “too exacting” when it “essentially demanded” that plaintiffs identify the class members at the certification stage. The circuit court also determined that the district court erroneously applied the motion-for-reconsideration standard to plaintiffs’ renewed motion for class certification, and held that courts should apply “the usual Rule 23 standard.” In Hargrove, the plaintiffs, delivery drivers, brought an employee misclassification suit alleging that defendant misclassified them as independent contractors, rather than employees, and thus violated several New Jersey labor laws. The district court denied class certification, twice, on the ground that the ascertainability requirement was not satisfied. In denying plaintiffs’ renewed motion for certification, the Court held that plaintiffs’ proposed class was “not ascertainable because the records kept by Sleepy’s regarding the identity of the drivers lacked critical information.” The plaintiffs sought leave to appeal pursuant to Rule 23(f), and the Third Circuit granted their request. First, the circuit court addressed the split among the district courts, both in and out of the Third Circuit, on the issue of the standard that applies to renewed motions for class certification....

Third Circuit Affirms Class Certification in In re Suboxone Antirust Litigation

On July 28, 2020, the Third Circuit in In re Suboxone (Buprenorphine Hydrochloride & Nalaxone) Antitrust Litigation, affirmed certification of a direct purchaser class, concluding that common evidence existed to prove the plaintiffs’ antitrust theory and resulting injury and that the proposed class representative, Burlington Drug Company, Inc., was an adequate class representative. The direct-purchaser plaintiffs alleged that the defendant drug manufacturer of the opioid-treatment drug, Suboxone, engaged in anticompetitive conduct that impeded the entry of generic versions of the drug into the market. Specifically, plaintiffs asserted that defendant “shifted the market” from Suboxone tablets to Suboxone film by the time generic tablets entered the market, thereby maintaining a monopoly and suppressing competition. According to plaintiffs, the defendant’s transition from tablets to film was coupled with six tactics to “eliminate demand for Suboxone tablets and to coerce prescribers to prefer film,” including making false statements about the safety of the tablets and withdrawing brand-name Suboxone tablets from the market. The plaintiffs argued that due to defendant’s anticompetitive conduct, they paid more for brand Suboxone products than they would have for generic tablets. The district court certified the class, and the Third Circuit granted the defendant’s petition for leave to appeal under Rule 23(f). First, the Third Circuit addressed defendant’s argument that plaintiffs did not provide...

Third Circuit Holds Solicitations to Purchase Products and for Participation in Surveys can be Advertisements Under the TCPA

On May 15, 2020, the Third Circuit in Fishbein v. Olson Research Group, Inc. held “that solicitations to buy products, goods, or services can be advertisements under the TCPA and that solicitations for participation in . . . surveys in exchange for [money] by the sender were for services within the TCPA” making such solicitations advertisements that fall within the TCPA’s ambit. This opinion comes just one year after the Third Circuit issued its precedential decision in Mauthe v. Optum, Inc., holding that, in order for a fax to be considered an advertisement under the TCPA, “there must be a nexus between the fax and the purchasing decision of an ultimate purchaser whether the recipient of the fax or a third party,” meaning that “the fax must promote goods or services to be bought or sold, and it should have profit as an aim.” The consolidated appeal in Fishbein arose from two District Court decisions, Fishbein v. Olson Research Group, Inc., which involved a fax offering the recipient money in exchange for participating in a medical study, and Mauthe v. ITC, Inc., which involved faxes that offered the recipient money in exchange for completing surveys. After applying the Third Circuit’s precedential opinion in Optum, the District Courts dismissed the plaintiffs’ cases under Federal Rule of...

Third Circuit Establishes Framework for Determining Third-Party Based Liability under the TCPA

In a recent precedential decision, the Third Circuit held that an unsolicited fax seeking information does not constitute an unlawful advertisement under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Now, to “establish third-party based liability under the TCPA, a plaintiff must show that the fax: (1) sought to promote or enhance the quality or quantity of a product or services being sold commercially; (2) was reasonably calculated to increase the profits of the sender; and (3) directly or indirectly encouraged the recipient to influence the purchasing decisions of a third party.” In Robert W. Mauthe, M.D., P.C. v. Optum, Inc., the plaintiff claimed that it received unsolicited faxes from Defendants in violation of the TCPA. Defendants maintain a national database of healthcare providers, containing providers’ contact information, demographics, specialties, education, and related data. Defendants market, sell, and license the database typically to healthcare, insurance, and pharmaceutical companies, who use it to update their provider directories, identify potential providers to fill gaps in their network of providers, and validate information when processing insurance claims. To maintain the accuracy of the database, Defendants send unsolicited faxes to healthcare providers listed in the database, requesting them to respond and correct any outdated or inaccurate information. These faxes also advised recipients that “[t]here is no cost to you to participate...

Third Circuit Clarifies Scope of Liability for Insurance Companies Under the Consumer Fraud Act

In a precedential decision interpreting the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (CFA), the Third Circuit determined that an automobile insurance carrier may be liable under the CFA for deceptively inducing one of its customers into releasing claims against another party represented by the carrier. In Alpizar-Fallas v. Favero, Defendant’s car struck Plaintiff’s vehicle, causing serious injury and damages. Both parties were insured by Defendant’s insurance company, Progressive. A Progressive claims adjuster arrived at Plaintiff’s home and presented her with a document that he claimed required her signature. The adjuster represented that by signing the document Plaintiff would expedite the claim process. Plaintiff signed the document relying on the adjuster’s statements. The document, however, was a “comprehensive general release of any and all claims” against defendant driver, also insured by Progressive. Plaintiff was not advised by the adjuster to seek counsel. Plaintiff subsequently brought a putative class action against Progressive for violation of the CFA. On Progressive’s motion, the district court dismissed Plaintiff’s claims, reasoning that the CFA did not apply to “an insurance company’s refusal to pay benefits” but only to the “sale or marketing” of the policies. On appeal, the Third Circuit reversed, holding that the district court mischaracterized Plaintiff’s claim as one for denial of her benefits. Reaffirming its 2007 decision in Weiss...

Third Circuit Rejects Buyer’s Remorse as a Cognizable Injury Under Article III

In In Re: Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Products Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that buyer’s remorse, without more, does not constitute an economic injury sufficient to establish standing under Article III of the United States Constitution. Plaintiff brought a putative class action against defendant Johnson & Johnson, alleging that perineal use of defendant’s baby powder by women could lead to an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Plaintiff did not allege that she had developed or was at an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. Nor did she allege that the product was defective in performing the functions for which it was advertised. Furthermore, Plaintiff had used all the product and, thus, was not seeking reimbursement for a product she cannot use. Rather, Plaintiff alleged that she would not have bought the baby powder had she known that it could lead to an increased risk of cancer. The District Court of New Jersey dismissed her complaint for lack of Article III standing. The Third Circuit affirmed. It relied on its analyses in Finkelman v. Nat’l Football League and Cottrell v. Alcon Laboratories to determine that Plaintiff’s allegations were too conjectural to establish standing. It explained that, although a plaintiff need not allege the exact...

Third Circuit Affirms Remand of Class Action to State Court Under “Local Controversy” Exception

In a decision that may broaden application of the “local controversy” exception to removal under the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(4), the Third Circuit recently affirmed the remand of a putative class action to New Jersey state court holding a corporate defendant with New Jersey citizenship could be considered a “local defendant” because it did not fully divest itself of liability after previously transferring its potential liabilities to a Delaware entity and, thus, remained a real party in interest. In Walsh v. Defenders, Inc., putative class members filed their complaint in New Jersey Superior Court alleging that the contracts they entered into with Defendants related to the class members’ purchase of home security equipment and monitoring services violated New Jersey’s Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty, and Notice Act (“TCCWNA”) and the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (“NJCFA”). Defendants removed the matter to federal court asserting CAFA jurisdiction, and Plaintiff moved to remand under CAFA’s local controversy exception. After initially denying Plaintiff’s motion to remand, the District Court granted Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration when additional discovery showed that the only defendant with New Jersey citizenship, ADT SSI-Tyco, had contracted with 35.3% of the putative class members. Defendants appealed and argued that ADT SSI-Tyco should have been ignored in the District Court’s diversity of citizenship...

Third Circuit Affirms Narrow Definition of Autodialer Under the TCPA

In a precedential decision, the Third Circuit affirmed a narrow reading of autodialer under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), the first such decision within this Circuit following the D.C. Circuit’s rejection of the FCC’s 2015 definition of autodialer in ACA International. In Dominguez v. Yahoo, Inc., plaintiff purchased a cell phone with a reassigned telephone number, the prior owner of which had subscribed to Yahoo’s Email SMS Service. Because the prior owner of the number never cancelled the subscription, plaintiff received a text message from Yahoo every time the prior owner received an email, which amounted to thousands of text messages. Plaintiff filed a putative class action alleging that Yahoo had violated the TCPA, which requires that plaintiff prove that Yahoo’s Email SMS Service was an “automatic telephone dialing system,” i.e., an autodialer. Following the FCC’s 2015 ruling, plaintiff amended his complaint to allege that the Email SMS Service “ha[d] the potential capacity to place autodialed calls.” Yahoo moved for summary judgment, and both parties submitted expert reports addressing the Email SMS Service’s latent or potential capacity. The District Court granted Yahoo’s motion to exclude plaintiff’s expert reports and granted summary judgment in favor of Yahoo. On appeal, the Third Circuit relied heavily on ACA International and held that it was required to interpret...

Third Circuit Affirms the Dismissal of a Putative Class Action against TD Bank for Failure to Meet Pleading Requirements

Last month, the Third Circuit upheld the dismissal of a putative class action against TD Bank, finding that plaintiffs’ conclusory allegations lacked sufficient evidence and failed to satisfy Rule 9(b)’s heightened pleading standard for claims that sound in fraud. In MZL Capital Holdings, Inc. et al. v. TD Bank, N.A. et al., two account holders with TD Bank filed a proposed class action accusing the Bank of obscuring its exchange rates and improperly charging an embedded fee for converting foreign currency, thereby defrauding its customers in violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. Shortly thereafter, plaintiffs amended their complaint to add claims for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and violation of numerous other state consumer-protection laws. TD Bank moved to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims for failure to state a claim, and the District Court granted TD Bank’s motion, dismissing all of plaintiffs’ claims. On appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, concluding that plaintiffs’ claims were inadequately pled. At the outset, the Court re-affirmed the basic principle that claims brought under the Consumer Fraud Act sound in fraud and therefore must comply with Rule 9(b)’s particularity requirement. The Third Circuit held that plaintiffs’ general allegations, which failed to identify any provision in their agreement...

New Jersey Supreme Court’s “Aggrieved Consumer” Ruling Will Erode TCCWNA Class Actions

The New Jersey Supreme Court’s April 16, 2018 decision in Spade v. Select Comfort (consolidated with Wenger v. Bob’s Discount Furniture, LLC), entirely destroys the viability of “no injury” class actions under the New Jersey Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act (“TCCWNA”) and will also surely erode the viability of TCCWNA class certification more broadly. Via referred questions from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the N.J. Supreme Court held that in order to be an “aggrieved consumer” under the TCCWNA, a plaintiff must demonstrate an adverse consequence caused by an unlawful provision in a consumer contract or other writing. The TCCWNA essentially prohibits businesses from including in any written consumer contract, warranty, or sign any provision that “violates any clearly established legal right of a consumer or responsibility of a seller” or other business. N.J.S.A. § 56:12-15. Although the TCCWNA on its face appears to only allow an “aggrieved consumer” to sue to recover a “civil penalty” of not less than $100 or actual damages, this Statute has been used—some might say abused—with increasing frequency by the plaintiff class action bar to bring “no injury” class actions premised solely upon the existence of a contract containing some unenforceable or illegal provision. Naturally, tens or hundreds of thousands of uniform consumer contracts with allegedly offending...