Justia U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Consumer Law
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Plaintiff’s dog, Clinton, suffered from health problems. The solution, at least according to a veterinarian, was to feed him specialized dog food available only by prescription. It has different ingredients than regular dog food but includes no special medication. Prescription dog food is expensive. The crux of Plaintiff’s complaint is that the “prescription” requirement is misleading because the Food and Drug Administration never actually evaluates the product. And the damages came from its higher sales price. The original complaint, which included only state-law claims, reflected these theories. Brought on behalf of all similarly situated Missouri consumers, it alleged a violation of Missouri’s antitrust laws, claims under Missouri’s Merchandising Practices Act, and unjust enrichment. Plaintiff initially filed her complaint in state court, but Royal Canin and Nestle Purina quickly removed it to federal court. The district court then remanded it.   The Eighth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and send this case back to the district court with directions to remanded it to Missouri state court. The court explained that just on the face of the amended complaint, the answer is clear. Only the carryover claims and their civil-conspiracy counterpart remain, and neither one presents a federal question. It is no longer possible to say that “dependence on federal law permeates the allegations” of Plaintiff’s complaint. Further, the court wrote that the manufacturers hope to keep the case in federal court through supplemental jurisdiction. It is too late, however, to turn back the clock. View "Anastasia Wullschleger v. Royal Canin U.S.A., Inc." on Justia Law

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provides subsidies to encourage telecommunication companies to expand high-speed broadband internet services in rural areas where customer revenues would otherwise be insufficient to justify the cost of doing business. Venture Communications Cooperative (“Venture”) provides broadband services to rural South Dakota customers. James Valley Cooperative Telephone Company and its wholly owned subsidiary, Northern Valley Communications (collectively, “Northern Valley”), is a competing provider. Venture filed this lawsuit against Northern Valley. The primary claim is that Northern Valley violated 47 U.S.C. Section 220(e) by filing a Form 477 that “intentionally, deliberately, fraudulently, and maliciously misrepresented” information “for the sole unlawful purpose of harming [Venture]” by depriving Venture of FCC subsidies in census blocks where Northern Valley was deemed to be an unsubsidized competitor. The district court granted Northern Valley summary judgment, concluding “there is no evidence that Northern Valley willfully overreported its broadband capabilities.”   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Venture’s claim of intent to injure is belied by Northern Valley helping Venture by filing a letter with the FCC clarifying that Northern Valley did not offer voice service in the Overlap Area. The court likewise affirmed the dismissal of Venture’s tortious interference and civil conspiracy claims under South Dakota law. The court agreed with the district court that Venture proffered no evidence of an “intentional and unjustified act of interference” because Northern Valley complied with all FCC reporting requirements. As Northern Valley complied with the Telecommunications Act in filing Form 477 at issue, there is no plausible underlying tort alleged. Summary judgment is warranted on this claim. View "Venture Comm. Co-Op, Inc. v. James Valley Co-Op Telephone Co." on Justia Law

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After the bankruptcy court allowed Chapter 12 debtors – several years in a row – to modify their confirmed plan over the objection of their primary secured creditor, that creditor appealed. The issues are whether the bankruptcy court abused its discretion by confirming the debtors’ fourth modified plan under 11 U.S.C. Section 1229 without requiring the debtors to show an “unanticipated and substantial change in circumstances” and whether, under whatever standard applicable to plan modifications, the court’s factual findings were clearly erroneous.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court held that, at a minimum, a substantial change in circumstances is required to justify modification of a plan under Section 1229. The bankruptcy court’s alternate ruling that the debtors met their burden of showing an unanticipated, substantial change in circumstances is not clearly erroneous, nor is the bankruptcy court’s finding that the fourth modified plan was feasible and confirmable. View "Farm Credit Services v. Steven L. Swackhammer" on Justia Law

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Minnesota sued a litany of fossil fuel producers1 (together, the Energy Companies) in state court for common law fraud and violations of Minnesota’s consumer protection statutes. In doing so, it joined the growing list of states and municipalities trying to hold fossil fuel producers responsible for alleged misrepresentations about the effects fossil fuels have had on the environment. The Energy Companies removed to federal court. The district court granted Minnesota’s motion to remand, and the Energy Companies appealed.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court held that Congress has not acted to displace the state-law claims, and federal common law does not supply a substitute cause of action, the state-law claims are not completely preempted. The court reasoned that because the “necessarily raised” element is not satisfied, the Grable exception to the well-pleaded complaint rule does not apply to Minnesota’s claims. Further, the court wrote that the connection between the Energy Companies’ marketing activities and their OCS operations is even more attenuated. Thus, neither requirement is met, there is no federal jurisdiction under Section 1349. View "State of Minnesota v. American Petroleum Institute" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued Credit Bureau Services, Inc. and C.J. Tighe (collectively, the “collectors”) for unfair debt-collection practices. The district court granted judgment as a matter of law to Plaintiff and the plaintiff class. The collectors appealed, alleging amongst various issues, (i) Plaintiff does not have Article III standing, (ii) the district court erred in allowing her to introduce an issue at trial without notice, (iii) the district court erred in determining that the NCPA requires a judgment before collecting prejudgment interest, (iv) the district court abused its discretion in finding Plaintiff an adequate class representative, and (v) the district court abused its discretion in certifying the FDCPA class.   The Eighth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment. The court held that Plaintiff did not suffer a concrete injury in fact as a result of the alleged statutory violations, thus, she lacks Article III standing. The court explained that Plaintiff contends that she suffered an injury in fact when the collectors demanded interest on her debts without a judgment. However, the court reasoned that Plaintiff only received the letter and never paid any part of the interest or principal. Without suffering a tangible harm, Plaintiff must point to an injury that “has a ‘close relationship’ to a harm ‘traditionally’ recognized as providing a basis for a lawsuit in American courts.” Here, Plaintiff has not shown any harm that bears a “close relationship” to the type of injury that results from reliance on a misrepresentation or wrongful interference with property rights. View "Kelly Bassett v. Credit Bureau Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff brought a putative class action against Cash Advance Centers, Inc., alleging a violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. Section 227. Counsel purporting to represent Cash Advance Centers, Inc., moved to compel arbitration based on arbitration provisions contained in loan agreements between Plaintiff and non-party Advance America, Cash Advance Centers of Missouri, Inc. The district court denied the motion to compel. Counsel also moved to substitute Advance America, Cash Advance Centers of Missouri, Inc., for Cash Advance Centers, Inc., as the party defendant, but the district court denied that motion as well.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained only parties to a lawsuit may appeal an adverse judgment. Because Advance America, Cash Advance Centers of Missouri, Inc., is not a party to the lawsuit, its notice of appeal is insufficient to confer jurisdiction on the Court. The non-party Advance America, Cash Advance Centers of Missouri, Inc., made no appearance in connection with the motion, and the court’s order addressed only a motion advanced by the party Defendant. The notice of appeal also names Cash Advance Centers, Inc., the party Defendant, as an appellant. But while attorneys purporting to represent Cash Advance Centers, Inc., filed a notice of appeal, counsel acknowledged at oral argument that she represented only non-party Advance America, Cash Advance Centers of Missouri, Inc., and not Cash Advance Centers, Inc. View "Kamisha Stanton v. Cash Advance Centers, Inc" on Justia Law

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DirecTV and Dish Network (“Defendants”) provide video services in part through the Internet. The City of Creve Coeur filed this class action in Missouri state court on behalf of local government authorities, seeking a declaratory judgment that Defendants are liable under the Video Services Providers Act (“VSPA”) and implementing local ordinances, plus injunctive relief, an accounting of unpaid fees, and damages. Defendants removed the action based on diversity jurisdiction and the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). After the state court entered an interlocutory order declaring that VSPA payments are fees, rather than taxes, DirecTV filed a second notice of removal, arguing this order established the required federal jurisdiction. The district court granted Creve Coeur’s motion to remand.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed on different grounds. The court explained that the district court’s remand order plainly stated that the remand was based on comity principles as articulated in Levin, not on “state-tax based comity concerns.” Comity as a basis to remand was raised and fully argued in the first remand proceeding. Federal courts have long precluded two bites at this apple. Second, the Supreme Court in Levin emphatically stated that the century-old comity doctrine is not limited to the state-tax-interference concerns that later led Congress to enact the TIA. Third, the state court’s December 2020 Order addressed, preliminarily, only the VSPA fee-or-tax issue under state law. It did not address the broader considerations comity addresses. The state court order in no way overruled or undermined the basis for the district court’s first remand order. Therefore, DirecTV failed to establish the essential basis for a second removal. View "City of Creve Coeur v. DirecTV LLC" on Justia Law

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General Motors (“GM”) installed Generation IV 5.3 Liter V8 Vortec 5300 LC9 engines (“Gen IV engine”) in seven different GMC and Chevrolet trucks and SUVs in model years 2010 to 2014 (the “affected vehicles”). In 2016, representatives from various States filed a putative class action alleging that the affected vehicles contain a defect that causes excess oil consumption and other engine damage (the “oil consumption defect”). Plaintiffs appealed only the dismissal of their Missouri Merchandising Practice Act (MMPA) claim, stating that “the sole issue presented on appeal is whether the district court improperly applied the concept of puffery to  their deceptive omissions claims under the MMPA.”   The Eighth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the MMPA claims. The court concluded that advertising “puffery” does not affect an MMPA claim based on omission of a material fact, at least in this case, and the court agreed that Plaintiffs’ Class Action Complaint alleges sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state an omissions claim to relief that is plausible on its face. View "Michael Tucker v. General Motors LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a home-delivery subscriber to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch daily newspaper (the “Post-Dispatch”), filed a putative class action for damages against the owner and publisher of the Post-Dispatch in state court alleging that Defendants “double-billed” him for “overlapping days.” Defendants removed the case to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act, alleging that Plaintiff is seeking aggregate class-wide damages for the applicable five-year statute of limitations period that exceed $5,000,000. Plaintiff filed a First Amended Class Action Complaint alleging six claims for relief under Missouri law. The district court granted summary judgment dismissing all claims.   On appeal, Plaintiff argued the district court erred in granting summary judgment dismissing his breach of contract and MMPA claims because there are genuine issues of material fact “whether overlaps cost subscribers money” and whether Defendants’ billing practices violate the MMPA because “overlaps are incorrect and wrong.”   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that it might be evidence that Defendants made minor billing errors in Plaintiff’s individual subscriber account, but that claim was not pleaded. The district court did not err in granting Defendants summary judgment dismissing the claims Plaintiff asserted despite his belated raising of this unpleaded contract claim. Further, the court explained that Plaintiff failed to controvert Defendants’ evidence showing that DISCUS properly deducts from a subscriber’s payment-in-advance the applicable rate charged as each newspaper is delivered. Thus, because Plaintiff cannot establish the ascertainable loss element of an MMPA claim, the court held that it need not address his additional argument that the Post-Dispatch’s billing practices are unfair or unethical. View "Steven Goldsmith v. Lee Enterprises" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff bought a laptop with a manufacturer’s warranty from Target. He filed a class action on behalf of “all citizens of Arkansas who purchased one or more products from Target that cost over $15 and that were subject to a written warranty.” His theory was that Target violated the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act’s Pre-Sale Availability Rule by refusing to make the written warranties reasonably available, either by posting them in “close proximity to” products or placing signs nearby informing customers that they could access them upon request. Target filed a notice of removal based on the jurisdictional thresholds in the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005. The district court the class action against Target Corporation to Arkansas state court.   The Eighth Circuit vacated the remand order and return the case to the district court for further consideration. The court explained that the district court applied the wrong legal standard. The district court refused to acknowledge the possibility that Target’s sales figures for laptops, televisions and other accessories might have been enough to “plausibly allege” that the case is worth more than $5 million. The district court then compounded its error by focusing exclusively on the two declarations that accompanied Target’s notice of removal. The court wrote that the district court’s failure to consider Target’s lead compliance consultant’s declaration, Target’s central piece of evidence in opposing remand, “effectively denied” the company “the opportunity . . . to establish [its] claim of federal jurisdiction.” View "Robert Leflar v. Target Corporation" on Justia Law