Supreme Court poised to make some decisions on consumer protection issues
The year before us looks interesting when it comes to several consumer protection matters such as FTC penalties, automatic telephone dialing systems, COVID-19-related class-action lawsuits and other consumer protection issues. Let's take a closer look at the consumer protection-related trends and cases we're keeping an eye on in 2021.
Consumer protection issues at the forefront in 2021
COVID-19 and the possibility of class-action lawsuits
From masks to hand sanitizer and other PPE meant to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer goods and services have gone under the microscope. We're watching for a potential spike in complaints and allegations about these items and potential class-action lawsuits.
This comes in the wake of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration easing regulation regarding PPE and related products during the pandemic. As manufacturers attempt to rise to the top, claims of these products' effectiveness could prompt legal action if they don't perform as promised, don't protect consumers as advertised or, in some cases, actually lead to consumer harm.
We're keeping our eyes on several cases, including Archer et al. v. Carnival Corp. et al., as well as Juishan Hsu et al. v. Princess Cruise Lines Ltd., suits that aim to hold luxury cruise providers accountable for passenger exposure to COVID-19 and resulting harm.
Monetary FTC penalties considered by the Supreme Court
Under Section 13(b) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, the FTC can seek the return of what are known as ill-gotten funds through disgorgement. At issue is whether payday loan companies engaged in predatory practices in the case of AMG Capital Management LLC et al. v. FTC. Critics say Section 13(b) is too expansive, leading companies to settle instead of paying steep penalties. If the FTC should lose the case, they could be significantly limited in their efforts to seek monetary remedies via Section 13(b) as an enforcement tool.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act
Another case before the Supreme Court in 2021 could impact protections under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which restricts automated telephone dialing systems. In the case of Facebook v. Duguid, Supreme Court justices are considering whether equipment that dials consumer telephone numbers from a preexisting list is legal under the act. If Facebook comes out on top, the number of cases considered under the TCPA would be reduced by the newly-limited scope of protections.
Harm standard for class actions under consideration
The Supreme Court is examining a class action suit that could narrow the scope of consumer classes that can sue for damages. The suit, TransUnion LLC v. Sergio L. Ramirez, dating back to 2012, stems from a claim against TransUnion, a credit reporting agency. Class representative Sergio L. Ramirez claimed TransUnion told lenders he may have matched entries in the national database of criminals and terrorists, and as a result, he was not able to purchase a car. TransUnion maintains there is no proof other class members were injured as Ramirez was, and there is no proof a third party ever saw the inaccurate credit reports on them.
Automatic renewal laws
Automatic renewal laws are also in the spotlight in 2021; these regulations control subscription renewal terms to eliminate unwanted charges. New York state is considering a strict ARL, following California's enactment of similar regulations ten years ago. The change would require affirmative consent from a customer before an automatic renewal is in place for products such as recurring shipments of goods, printed publications and weight loss programs. If New York does enact the regulation, other states may follow suit.
2021: The year in consumer law and trends
In short, 2021 is poised to be an interesting year for consumer laws and trends. The legal implications of the decisions related to these issues can impact the lives of many consumers, regardless of whether they find themselves involved in individual or class action lawsuits of their own. It's worthwhile to stay informed to know where your rights as a consumer begin and end and when it's time to pursue justice with a trusted attorney for consumer issues you encounter.
By Joe Veenstra, Consumer Law Attorney, Johns, Flaherty & Collins, SC. For a consumer protection lawyer, call Joe at 608-784-5678.