Articles Posted in Consumer Law

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Drummond Financial Services, LLC and TMX Finance Holdings, Inc. were competitors in the automobile title loan business. Both companies were based in Georgia, with TMX doing business as “TitleMax.” In 2014, Drummond and several of its affiliated companies filed a lawsuit against TitleMax and several of its affiliated companies, alleging that TitleMax was “engaged in a nationwide campaign to systematically and illegally steal [Drummond’s] customers.” Based on these allegations, Drummond asserted claims against TitleMax under the laws of Georgia and various other states for trespass, misappropriation of trade secrets, tortious interference with contracts, and unfair competition. Drummond filed a motion for a nationwide interlocutory injunction to prevent TitleMax from continuing to engage in practices that Drummond alleged were tortious and illegal. Following a hearing, the trial court granted a nationwide interlocutory injunction that prohibited TitleMax from “[e]ntering any of [Drummond’s] [s]tores or the parking lots [or certain portions of the parking lots] of [Drummond’s] [s]tores” to solicit Drummond customers or to record their license plate numbers or vehicle identification numbers (other than for purposes permitted by the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act). In addition, the injunction prohibited TitleMax from offering compensation to Drummond employees to refer Drummond customers to TitleMax. TitleMax appealed. Those aspects of the injunction appeared to the Georgia Supreme Court to have been based on the claims for trespass and misappropriation of trade secrets, but the laws of trespass and trade secrets (at least in Georgia) did not support the scope of the injunction. Accordingly, the Court vacated the injunction in those respects, and remanded for the trial court to reconsider the scope of its injunction. To the extent that the parties on remand might rely on law that varies significantly from state to state, the Court reminded them that activities in one state are not due to be enjoined simply because they might be unlawful if done in another state. View "TMX Financial Holdings, Inc. v. Drummond Financial Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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In cases consolidated for review, the issues presented for the Supreme Court involved the scope of the State’s authority to regulate so-called “payday loans” pursuant to OCGA 16-17-1, et seq., known as the Payday Lending Act. Pursuant to the statute, the State filed suit alleging that CashCall, Inc. (“CashCall”), Delbert Services Corporation (“Delbert Services”), Western Sky Financial, LLC (“Western Sky”), and Martin A. Webb (collectively “Defendants”) violated OCGA 16-17-2 (a) by engaging in a small-dollar lending enterprise that collected illegal usurious interest from Georgia borrowers. Defendants operated outside the State of Georgia and their dealings with Georgia borrowers occurred telephonically or over the Internet, and when a loan is funded, the funds are transferred to the borrower via electronic transfer to the borrower’s bank account. The State sought civil penalties and injunctive and other equitable relief. Defendants filed motions to compel arbitration and to dismiss the action. The trial court referred the case to a special master who recommended the case be dismissed, but the trial court rejected the special master’s recommendation and denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss, finding that the State’s claim was not barred by the language of OCGA 16-17-1 (d). Because the trial court found a substantial likelihood that the State would prevail on the merits of the claim at trial, and found a substantial threat existed that the State would suffer irreparable injury in that there might not be sufficient funds available to satisfy a judgment should the State prevail at trial, the trial court ordered Defendants to deposit a $15 million sum into the court’s registry and to make quarterly deposits of any additional amounts that could be collected from Georgia borrowers in the future. The trial court, however, agreed to stay the granted relief during an appeal, upon the Defendants’ deposit of an additional $1 million into the escrow account created following entry of the consent order requiring the deposit of $200,000. In a separate order, the trial court denied the State’s motion to add as defendants J. Paul Reddam and WS Funding, LLC (“WS Funding”). Defendants filed a notice of appeal and the State filed a notice of cross-appeal. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the order denying Defendants’ motion to dismiss, affirmed the modification of the injunction order, and reversed the order denying the State’s motion to add defendants. View "Western Sky Financial, LLC v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review arose from a deficiency action brought by appellant SunTrust Bank (“SunTrust”) as the assignee under a motor vehicle conditional sales contract following its repossession and sale of a motor vehicle purchased by appellee Mattie Venable. Specifically, the issue was which statute of limitations applied here: the four-year statute of limitation set forth in OCGA 11-2-725 (1) applicable to actions on contracts for the sale of goods, or the six-year statute of limitation found in OCGA 9-3-24, generally applicable to actions on simple written contracts. After review, the Court concluded that this action was subject to the four-year statute of limitation found in 11-2-725 (1). View "SunTrust Bank v. Venable" on Justia Law

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A mandatory arbitration clause is contained in each deposit agreement for customers of appellee SunTrust Bank. The clause permits an individual depositor to reject the agreement’s mandatory arbitration clause by giving written notice by a certain deadline. SunTrust claimed it drafted the arbitration clause in such a way that only an individual depositor may exercise this right to reject arbitration on his or her own behalf, thereby permitting that individual to file only an individual lawsuit against the bank. But SunTrust asserted that even if, as it has been determined here, the filing of a lawsuit prior to the expiration of the rejection of arbitration deadline operated to give notice of the individual plaintiff’s rejection of arbitration, the complaint could not be brought as a class action because the filing of a class action could not serve to reject the arbitration clause on behalf of class members who have not individually given notice. Jeff Bickerstaff, Jr., who was a SunTrust Bank depositor, filed a complaint against SunTrust on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated alleging the bank’s overdraft fee constitutes the charging of usurious interest. At the time Bickerstaff opened his account (thereby agreeing to the terms of SunTrust’s deposit agreement), that agreement included a mandatory arbitration provision. In response to the ruling of a federal court in an unrelated action finding the arbitration clause in SunTrust’s deposit agreement was unconscionable at Georgia law, and after Bickerstaff’s complaint had been filed, SunTrust amended the arbitration clause to permit a window of time in which a depositor could reject arbitration by sending SunTrust written notification that complied with certain requirements. SunTrust had not notified Bickerstaff or its other customers of this change in the arbitration clause of the deposit agreement at the time Bickerstaff filed his complaint, but the complaint, as well as the first amendment to the complaint, was filed prior to the amendment’s deadline for giving SunTrust written notice of an election to reject arbitration. It was only after Bickerstaff’s complaint was filed that SunTrust notified Bickerstaff and its other existing depositors, by language printed in monthly account statements distributed on August 24, 2010, that an updated version of the deposit agreement had been adopted, that a copy of the new agreement could be obtained at any branch office or on-line, and that all future transactions would be governed by the updated agreement. SunTrust appealed the order denying its motion to compel Bickerstaff to arbitrate his claim, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, finding that the information contained in the complaint filed by Bickerstaff’s attorney substantially satisfied the notice required to reject arbitration. Bickerstaff appealed the order denying his motion for class certification, and in the same opinion the Court of Appeals affirmed that decision, holding in essence, that the contractual language in this case requiring individual notification of the decision to reject arbitration did not permit Bickerstaff to reject the deposit agreement’s arbitration clause on behalf of other putative class members by virtue of the filing of his class action complaint. The Georgia Supreme Court reversed that decision, holding that the terms of the arbitration rejection provision of SunTrust’s deposit agreement did not prevent Bickerstaff’s class action complaint from tolling the contractual limitation for rejecting that provision on behalf of all putative class members until such time as the class may be certified and each member makes the election to opt out or remain in the class. Accordingly, the numerosity requirement of OCGA 9-11-23 (a) (1) for pursuing a class complaint was not defeated on this ground. View "Bickerstaff v. SunTrust Bank" on Justia Law

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In this case, Subodh Raysoni raised consumer fraud claims under the Fair Business Practices Act of 1975 against Payless Auto Deals, LLC, alleging that Payless gave false assurances that a used minivan never had been in a collision or otherwise damaged - assurances upon which he relied - when he purchased the minivan from Payless. Contending that the terms of their written contract rendered any such reliance unreasonable as a matter of law, Payless moved for judgment on the pleadings. The trial court granted that motion, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Payless relied on several provisions of the contract disclaiming warranties, but the Supreme Court held that its reliance was misplaced because these disclaimers were not absolute and unequivocal enough to warrant judgment on the pleadings: "We cannot say as a matter of law that the contractual disclaimers of warranties - which are, at least arguably, equivocal and limited - preclude any reasonable reliance in this case on a written Carfax report furnished by Payless. We do not mean to suggest that the provisions of the contract upon which Payless relies would not have been most reasonably understood by a customer just as Payless argues. On these pleadings, we cannot say as a matter of law that Raysoni will be unable to show that his reliance on representations that the minivan was undamaged and never had been in a wreck - particularly the written Carfax report - was reasonable." Judgment on the pleadings ought not have been awarded to Payless. The case was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Raysoni v. Payless Auto Deals, LLC" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia certified three questions regarding the operation of the State's law governing non-judicial foreclosure to the Georgia Supreme Court. After careful analysis, the Georgia Court concluded that current law did not require a party seeking to exercise a power of sale in a deed to secure debt to hold, in addition to the deed, the promissory note evidencing the underlying debt. The Court also concluded that the plain language of the State statute governing notice to the debtor (OCGA 44-14-162.2), required only that the notice identify "the individual or entity [with] full authority to negotiate, amend, and modify all terms of the mortgage with the debtor." This construction of OCGA 44-14-162.2 rendered moot the third and final certified question. View "You v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from appellee Bank of America, N.A.'s attempts to enforce the terms of the promissory note and deed to secure debt executed in its favor by appellant Johnta M. Austin ("Borrower"). The Bank sued to collect the debt it claimed the Borrower owed as a result of default, including attorney fees, and the trial court awarded the Bank summary judgment. The issue came on appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court because the constitutionality of the statute at issue was called into question. The Court has long held that "all presumptions are in favor of the constitutionality of an act of the legislature and that before an [a]ct of the legislature can be declared unconstitutional, the conflict between it and the fundamental law must be clear and palpable and [the] Court must be clearly satisfied of its unconstitutionality." The Court found that the statute in this case bore a rational relation to the purpose for which the statute was intended, namely to provide debtors with the opportunity to avoid the contractual obligation to pay the creditor’s attorney fees by allowing the debtor a last chance to pay the balance of the debt and avoid litigation. Further, the Court concluded that the application of OCGA 13-1-11 to arrive at the amount of the award of attorney fees in this case was neither punitive nor violative of Borrowers’ due process rights, nor was the award contrary to the intent of the statute. View "Austin v. Bank of America N.A." on Justia Law

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Purchasers sued Developers and Brokers, alleging that at the time of their purchases in a 26-story condominium, Developers had already undertaken plans to develop a 46-story building directly across the street. Developers advertised "spectacular city views" from the 26-story condominium and Brokers advised that any future developments to the south of the building would be low to mid-rise office buildings. Purchasers alleged that they paid substantial premiums for their views of the city which was now blocked by the 46-story building. At issue was whether the Court of Appeals erred when it reversed the trial court's grant of judgment on the pleadings on Purchasers' claims for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, negligent supervision and violation of the Georgia's fair business practices statute. The court held that the trial court was correct in finding that Purchasers did not properly elect rescission as a remedy, and the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the decision; the Court of Appeals erred in holding that Purchasers were not bound by the agreements they signed; because there can be no justifiable reliance where Purchasers were bound by their agreements, the Court of Appeals erred in holding that Purchasers' fraud-based claims could proceed; and the trial court correctly found that Purchasers did not sufficiently plead a cause of action against Developers for negligent supervision and the Court of Appeals erred when it reversed the trial court's decision on that count.