Articles Posted in Consumer Law

by
Plaintiff Lamar Williams worked and owned a car in Alaska. In February 2010, he arranged through his employer to have the car shipped to New Jersey by defendant American Auto Logistics. After the car arrived, Williams visited the American Auto Logistics facility in New Jersey to pick it up. Williams inspected the car, found no apparent damage, and drove away. On leaving the facility, however, he heard swishing noises in the back of the car. He found water in the trunk and returned to the facility, where defendant's employees removed the accumulated water and offered a small amount of money for water damage. Williams rejected the offer. Williams sought out a mechanic who estimated the repairs would cost more than $10,000. He called American Auto Logistics and offered to settle for less than that amount, but the company rejected the offer and refused to pay anything for the damage. American Auto Logistics followed up by sending Williams a letter that disclaimed any responsibility and claimed the car was not damaged during shipping. Williams was twice denied his right to a jury trial by a trial court in the Special Civil Part. On both occasions, the trial court relied on Rule 4:25-7, prescribing certain pre-trial procedures, and sanctioned Williams for failure to comply by denying his right to a jury. In this appeal, the issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether a litigant could lose his constitutionally protected right to a jury trial as a sanction for failure to comply with procedural rules. The case also presented a question about the court rules applicable to the Superior Court's Law Division, Special Civil Part. The Court held trial courts could not deprive civil litigants of their constitutionally protected right to a jury trial as a sanction for failure to comply with a procedural rule. The Court further instructed that Rule 4:25-7 did not apply to proceedings in the Special Civil Part. View "Williams v. American Auto Logistics" on Justia Law

by
In May 2013, plaintiffs Annemarie Morgan and Tiffany Dever filed suit against defendants Sanford Brown Institute, its parent company, Career Education Corporation, and Sanford Brown's chief executive officer, admission and financial aid officers, and clinical director. Sanford Brown was a private, for-profit educational institution with a campus in Trevose, Pennsylvania, that offered medical-related training programs. In the complaint, plaintiffs claimed that defendants misrepresented the value of the school's ultrasound technician program and the quality of its instructors, instructed students on outdated equipment and with inadequate teaching materials, provided insufficient career-service counseling, and conveyed inaccurate information about Sanford Brown's accreditation status. The complaint further alleged that Sanford Brown employed high-pressure and deceptive business tactics that resulted in plaintiffs financing their education with high-interest loans, passing up the study of ultrasound at a reputable college, and losing career advancement opportunities. The Sanford Brown enrollment agreement included payment terms for tuition and fees, disclaimers, and an arbitration provision. Without answering the complaint, defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration and to dismiss plaintiffs' claims. The Appellate Division found the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed an arbitrator would determine issues of arbitrability and that plaintiffs failed to specifically attack the delegation clause. The panel therefore determined that arbitrability [was] for the arbitrator to decide. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the Appellate Division and trial court did not have the benefit of "Atalese v. U.S. Legal Servs. Grp.," (219 N.J. 430, 436 (2014), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 135 S. Ct. 2804, 192 L. Ed.2d 847 (2015)) at the time they rendered their decisions. The New Jersey Court held in "Atalese" that an arbitration provision in a consumer contract that fails to explain in some minimal way that arbitration is a substitute for a consumer s right to pursue relief in a court of law was unenforceable. This case was therefore remanded for further proceedings in light of Atalese. View "Morgan v. Sanford Brown Institute" on Justia Law

by
The issue this appeal presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's review centered on an agreement for the sale of a residential property and a subsequent lease and repurchase agreement, specifically whether the transactions collectively gave rise to an equitable mortgage, violated consumer protection statutes, or contravened its decision in "In re Opinion No. 26 of the Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law," (139 N.J. 323 (1995)). In 2007, defendant Barbara Felton faced foreclosure proceedings with respect to her unfinished, uninhabitable home and the land on which it was situated. Felton and plaintiff Tahir Zaman, a licensed real estate agent, entered into a written contract for the sale of the property. A week later, at a closing in which neither party was represented by counsel, Felton and Zaman entered into two separate agreements: a lease agreement under which Felton became the lessee of the property, and an agreement that gave her the option to repurchase the property from Zaman at a substantially higher price than the price for which she sold it. For more than a year, Felton remained on the property, paying no rent. She did not exercise her right to repurchase. Zaman filed suit, claiming that he was the purchaser in an enforceable land sale agreement, and that he therefore was entitled to exclusive possession of the property and to damages. Felton asserted numerous counterclaims, alleging fraud, slander of title, violations of the Consumer Fraud Act (CFA), and violations of other federal and state consumer protection statutes. She claimed that the parties’ transactions collectively comprised an equitable mortgage and constituted a foreclosure scam, entitling her to relief under several theories. She further contended that the transactions were voidable by virtue of an alleged violation of "In re Opinion No. 26." A jury rendered a verdict in Zaman’s favor with respect to the question of whether Felton knowingly sold her property to him. The trial court subsequently conducted a bench trial and rejected Felton’s remaining claims, including her contention that the transactions gave rise to an equitable mortgage and her allegation premised upon In re Opinion No. 26. An Appellate Division panel affirmed the trial court’s judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the Appellate Division’s determination. The Court affirmed the jury’s determination that Felton knowingly sold her property to Zaman. Furthermore, the Court affirmed the trial court and Appellate Division's decisions that Felton had no claim under the CFA, that this case did not implicate "In re Opinion No. 26," and that Felton’s remaining claims were properly dismissed. The Court reversed, however, the portion of the Appellate Division’s opinion that affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of Felton’s claim that the parties’ agreements constituted a single transaction that gave rise to an equitable mortgage, adopting an eight-factor standard for the determination of an equitable mortgage set forth by the United States Bankruptcy Court in "O’Brien v. Cleveland," (423 B.R. 477 (Bankr. D.N.J. 2010)). The case was remanded to the trial court for application of that standard to this case, and, in the event that the trial court concludes that an equitable mortgage was created by the parties, for the adjudication of two of Felton’s statutory claims based on alleged violations of consumer lending laws, as well as several other claims not adjudicated by the trial court. View "Zaman v. Felton" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court consolidated this case with "Walker v. Guiffre" because it implicated the state's fee-shifting statutes. The Appellate Division found that the trial court's analysis of the reasonableness of Plaintiff's attorneys' hourly rate in "Walker" did not satisfy the analysis found in "Rendine v. Pantzer" (141 N.J. 292 (1995)). The Supreme Court considered whether the "Rendine" framework had been altered by the United States Supreme Court's decision in "Perdue v. Kenny A." (130 S.Ct. 1662 (2010)). The Court concluded that the mechanism for awarding attorneys' fees (including contingency enhancements) as adopted in "Rendine" remain in full force and effect as the governing principles for awards made pursuant to New Jersey fee-shifting statutes. View "Humphries v. Powder Mill Shopping Plaza" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff May Walker alleged that Defendant Carmelo Guiffre violated the Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) and the Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act (TCCWNA). After finding that Defendant violated the CFA and TCCWNA, the trial court concluded that Plaintiff was entitled to a fee award. The trial court fixed the lodestar amount and applied a forty-five percent contingency enhancement. The Appellate Division found that the trial court's analysis of the reasonableness of Plaintiff's attorneys' hourly rate, based only on the judge's personal experience, did not satisfy the analysis found in "Rendine v. Pantzer" (141 N.J. 292 (1995)). In this appeal, the Supreme Court considered whether the "Rendine" framework had been altered by the United States Supreme Court's decision in "Perdue v. Kenny A. (130 S.Ct. 1662 (2010)). The Court concluded that the mechanism for awarding attorneys' fees (including contingency enhancements) as adopted in "Rendine" remain in full force and effect as the governing principles for awards made pursuant to New Jersey fee-shifting statutes. View "Walker v. Guiffre" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Blanca Gonzalez, and Monserate Diaz purchased a home as tenants in common. Diaz borrowed the downpayment from Cityscape Mortgage Corporation (Cityscape) and executed a note. Plaintiff did not sign the note. Plaintiff and Diaz secured that loan by mortgaging their home to Cityscape. Over time, Plaintiff fell behind on the payments and U.S. Bank obtained a foreclosure judgment. The trial court ordered that the home be sold to satisfy the judgment. Before the sheriff’s sale, Plaintiff entered into a written agreement with Defendant Wilshire Credit Corporation (Wilshire), U.S. Bank’s servicing agent. Plaintiff was represented by a Legal Services attorney who helped negotiate the agreement. Plaintiff missed four payments to Wilshire. A scheduled sheriff’s sale was cancelled when the parties entered into a second agreement. Plaintiff was contacted and dealt with directly; neither Wilshire nor U.S. Bank notified the Legal Services attorney. Although Plaintiff had not missed a single payment required by the second agreement, instead of dismissing the foreclosure action as promised, Wilshire sent a letter to Plaintiff noting that the second agreement was about to expire and that a new agreement needed to be negotiated to avoid foreclosure. Plaintiff contacted the Legal Services attorney. When the attorney questioned Wilshire, it could not explain how it had come to the arrears amount set in the second agreement, or why Plaintiff was not deemed current on the loan. Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that Wilshire and U.S. Bank engaged in deceptive and unconscionable practices in violation of the CFA. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Wilshire and U.S. Bank, finding that the CFA did not apply to post-judgment settlement agreements entered into to stave off a foreclosure sale. The Appellate Division reversed and reinstated plaintiff’s CFA claim. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the post-foreclosure-judgment agreements in this case constituted stand-alone extensions of credit. In fashioning and collecting on such a loan, a lender or its servicing agent cannot use unconscionable practices in violation of the CFA. View "Gonzalez v. Wilshire Credit Corp." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs William and Vivian Allen contracted defendant V and A Brothers, Inc. (V&A) to landscape their property and build a retaining wall to enable the installation of a pool. At the time, V&A was wholly owned by two brothers, Defendants Vincent DiMeglio, who subsequently passed away, and Angelo DiMeglio. The corporation also had one full-time employee, Defendant Thomas Taylor. After V&A completed the work, Plaintiffs filed a two-count complaint naming both corporate and individual defendants. The first count was directed solely to V&A and alleged that the corporation breached its contract with Plaintiffs by improperly constructing the retaining wall and using inferior backfill material. The second count was directed to the corporation and Vincent's estate, Angelo, and Taylor individually, alleging three "Home Improvement Practices" violations of the state Consumer Fraud Act (CFA). Before trial, the trial court granted the individual defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint against them, holding that the CFA did not create a direct cause of action against the individuals. Plaintiffs' remaining claims were tried and the jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiffs on all counts, awarding damages totaling $490,000. The Appellate Division reversed the trial court's order dismissing the claims against the individual defendants under the CFA. The panel remanded the matter to determine whether any of the individual defendants had personally participated in the regulatory violations that formed the basis for Plaintiffs' CFA complaint. The panel precluded relitigation of the overall quantum of damages found by the jury in the trial against the corporate defendant. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that employees and officers of a corporation might be individually liable under the CFA for acts they undertake through the corporate entity. Furthermore, individual defendants are not collaterally estopped from relitigating the quantum of damages attributable to the CFA violations. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Allen v. V & A Bros., Inc." on Justia Law