Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Consumer Law
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This case is part of the battle between telecommunications providers that are attempting to expand next-generation wireless services (commonly called 5G) and municipalities that are resisting that expansion. The City of Pasadena used another method: aesthetic design standards incorporating spacing and undergrounding requirements The city invoked those requirements to block Crown Castle’s ability to develop a 5G network in the region, and Crown Castle sued for relief. Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) anticipated those strategies and previously had passed the Federal Telecommunications Act (“FTA”) and responsive regulations. As a result, the district court decided in favor of Crown Castle, primarily basing its decision on the expansive language of the FTA and an FCC ruling interpreting the Act in light of 5G technology and associated challenges.The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that the FTA preempts the city’s spacing and undergrounding requirements, and the city forfeited its arguments relating to the safe-harbor provision in the FTA. Nor did the district court abuse its discretion in ordering a permanent injunction. The court explained that, as the court found, the regulations affect only small cell nodes that would permit T-Mobile to offer extensive 5G service in Pasadena. Moreover, the court wrote that a party seeking a permanent injunction must establish (1) actual success on the merits; (2) that it is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of injunctive relief; (3) that the balance of equities tips in that party’s favor; and (4) that an injunction is in the public interest. All those factors weigh in Crown Castle’s favor. View "Crown Castle Fiber v. City of Pasadena" on Justia Law

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The PredictIt Market is an online marketplace that lets people trade on the predicted outcomes of political events. Essentially, it is a futures market for politics. In 2014, a division within the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) issued PredictIt a “no-action letter,” effectively allowing it to operate without registering under federal law. But, in 2022, the division rescinded the no-action letter, accusing PredictIt of violating the letter’s terms but without explaining how. It also ordered all outstanding PredictIt contracts to be closed in fewer than six months. Various parties who participate in PredictIt (collectively, “Appellants”) challenged the no-action letter’s rescission in federal district court and moved for a preliminary injunction. The district court has not ruled on that motion, though, despite PredictIt’s looming shutdown. Appellants sought review, treating the district court’s inaction as effectively denying a preliminary injunction.   The Fifth Circuit concluded that a preliminary injunction was warranted because the CFTC’s rescission of the no-action letter was likely arbitrary and capricious. So, the court remanded for the district court to enter a preliminary injunction while it considers Appellants’ challenge to the CFTC’s actions. The court explained that the DMO’s withdrawal of no-action relief constitutes final agency action. Further, the decision to rescind a no-action letter is not “committed to agency discretion by law.” The court concluded that the revocation of the no-action letter was likely arbitrary and capricious because the agency gave no reasons for it. And the agency’s attempts to retroactively justify the revocation after oral argument—and in the face of our injunction—only underscore why Appellants are likely to prevail. View "Clarke v. CFTR" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs' son, who was allergic to dairy, tree nuts and fish, suffered an allergic reaction after eating a "vegan cupcake from Whole Foods. Plaintiffs filed negligence and strict liability claims against Whole Foods, based in part on Mother leaving her job to provide full-time care for her son. In response, Whole Foods argued that Plaintiffs' claims were preempted by the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The district court granted Whole Foods' motion and plaintiffs appealed.On appeal, the Fifth Circuit reversed, finding that Plainitffs' claims were not impliedly preempted because each of their tort claims is “a recognized state tort claim” rather than “a freestanding federal cause of action based on violation of FDA regulations. View "Spano v. Whole Foods, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) approved mifepristone to be marketed with the brand name Mifeprex under Subpart H (the “2000 Approval”). In January 2023, FDA approved a modified REMS for mifepristone, lifting the in-person dispensing requirement.  Plaintiffs (physicians and physician organizations) filed a suit against FDA, HHS, and a several agency heads in the official capacities. Plaintiffs challenged FDA’s 2000 Approval of the drug and also requested multiple grounds of alternative relief for FDA’s subsequent actions. Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction ordering FDA to withdraw or suspend (1) FDA’s 2000 Approval and 2019 Generic Approval, (2) FDA’s 2016 Major REMS Changes, and (3) FDA’s 2021 Mail-Order Decision and its 2021 Petition Denial of the 2019 Citizen Petition. The district court entered an order staying the effective date of the 2000 Approval and each of the subsequent challenged actions.   The Fifth Circuit granted Defendants’ motions for a stay pending appeal. The court wrote that at this preliminary stage, and based on the court’s necessarily abbreviated review, it appears that the statute of limitations bars Plaintiffs’ challenges to the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone in 2000. However, Plaintiffs brought a series of alternative arguments regarding FDA’s actions in 2016 and subsequent years. And the district court emphasized that its order separately applied to prohibit FDA’s actions in and after 2016 in accordance with Plaintiffs’ alternative arguments. As to those alternative arguments, Plaintiffs’ claims are timely. Defendants have not shown that Plaintiffs are unlikely to succeed on the merits of their timely challenges. For that reason, Defendants’ motions for a stay pending appeal are denied in part. View "Alliance Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA" on Justia Law

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Louisiana passed the Truth in Labeling of Food Products Act (the “Act”) to “protect consumers from misleading and false labeling of food products that are edible by humans.” The Act bars, among other things, the intentional “misbranding or misrepresenting of any food product as an agricultural product” through several different labeling practices. Turtle Island Foods, S.P.C. (d/b/a Tofurky), markets and sells its products in Louisiana. Tofurky believes it operates under a constant threat of enforcement. Tofurky sued Louisiana’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the district court sided with Tofurky. It held that Tofurky had standing to challenge the Act and that the statute was an unconstitutional restriction on Tofurky’s right to free speech. The State appealed.   The Fifth Circuit reversed. The court explained that nothing in the statute’s language requires the State to enforce its punitive provisions on a company that sells its products in a way that just so happens to confuse a consumer. The State’s construction limits the Act’s scope to representations by companies that actually intend consumers to be misled about whether a product is an “agricultural product” when it is not. This interpretation is not contradictory to the Act, and the court thus accepted it for the present purposes of evaluating Tofurky’s facial challenge. The district court erred in ignoring the State’s limiting construction and in implementing its own interpretation of the Act. View "Turtle Island Foods v. Strain" on Justia Law

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A major data breach compromised sensitive consumer information on thousands of credit cards. In this appeal, we address who must pay for the cleanup. Beginning in 2014, hackers compromised credit card data at multiple businesses owned by Landry’s Inc. (“Landry’s”). Many of those cards belonged to Visa and Mastercard. In response, Visa and Mastercard imposed over twenty million dollars in assessments on JPMorgan Chase and its subsidiary Paymentech (collectively, “Chase”), who were responsible for securely processing card purchases at Landry’s properties. Chase then sued Landry’s for indemnification, and Landry’s impleaded Visa and Mastercard. The district court dismissed Landry’s third-party complaints against Visa and Mastercard and granted summary judgment for Chase, finding that Landry’s had a contractual obligation to indemnify Chase. Landry’s argued that it should not have to indemnify Chase because the assessments are not an enforceable form of liquidated damages.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that since Landry’s indemnification obligation stems from its own acts or omissions under the Merchant Agreement, the debt is its own. Further, the court wrote that Landry’s alleged for its deceptive business practices claims that the assessments were “invalid” under the Payment Brand Rules and “applicable law” and, therefore, the Payment Brands’ “imposition and collection of the [assessments] was an unlawful business practice.” Because these claims turn on the assessments’ enforceability under Chase’s contracts with the Payment Brands, they are functionally the same as the subrogated claims. Since Landry’s cannot challenge the Payment Brands over those contracts as Chase’s subrogee, it cannot do so through a change in labeling. View "Paymentech v. Landry's" on Justia Law

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Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Inc. (“ERCOT”) determines market-clearing prices unless otherwise directed by the Public Utility Commission of Texas (“PUCT”). ERCOT is the sole buyer and seller of all energy in Texas. According to the operative complaint, during winter storm Uri ERCOT and the PUCT allegedly “intervened in the market for wholesale electricity by setting prices [that were] orders of magnitude higher than what market forces would ordinarily produce.”   Just Energy, a retail energy provider, purports that after the storm, ERCOT “floored” it with invoices totaling approximately $335 million. Just Energy commenced bankruptcy proceedings in Canada and filed this Chapter 15 case in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division. Just Energy challenges its invoice obligations. At the hearing on ERCOT’s motion to dismiss, the bankruptcy court stated that it would strike various language like, “subject to reduction only after a finding by the Court concerning a legally appropriate energy price per megawatt hour as proven by expert testimony, if appropriate, but in no event greater than the price per megawatt hour in effect after market forces took effect.” By striking this and similar language sprinkled throughout the complaint, the court concluded that “this change solves the abstention problem.”    The Fifth Circuit disagreed and vacated the bankruptcy court’s order and remanded with instructions to determine the appropriate trajectory of this case after abstention. The court explained that abstention under Burford6\ is proper because: (1) the doctrine applies in the bankruptcy context; and (2) four of the five Burford factors counsel in favor of abstention. View "Electric Reliability v. Just Energy" on Justia Law

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The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) is a federal law that nationalizes governance of the thoroughbred horseracing industry. To formulate detailed rules on an array of topics, HISA empowers a private entity called the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (the “Authority”), which operates under Federal Trade Commission oversight. Soon after its passage, HISA was challenged by various horsemen’s associations, which were later joined by Texas and the state’s racing commission. Plaintiffs argued HISA is facially unconstitutional because it delegates government power to a private entity without sufficient agency supervision. The district court acknowledged that the plaintiffs’ “concerns are legitimate,” that HISA has “unique features,” and that its structure “pushes the boundaries of public-private collaboration.” Nonetheless, the court rejected the private non-delegation challenge.   The Fifth Circuit declared that the HISA is unconstitutional because it violates the private non-delegation doctrine. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court’s decision and remanded. The court explained that while acknowledging the Authority’s “sweeping” power, the district court thought it was balanced by the FTC’s “equally” sweeping oversight. Not so. HISA restricts FTC review of the Authority’s proposed rules. If those rules are “consistent” with HISA’s broad principles, the FTC must approve them. And even if it finds an inconsistency, the FTC can only suggest changes. What’s more, the FTC concedes it cannot review the Authority’s policy choices. The Authority’s power outstrips any private delegation the Supreme Court or the Fifth Circuit has allowed. Thus the court declared HISA facially unconstitutional. View "National Horsemen's Benevolent v. Black" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed from the dismissal of his claims challenging tax penalties assessed against him, as well as the revocation of his passport pursuant to those penalties. He also appealed the denial of an award of attorneys’ fees under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Plaintiff sought to overturn the penalties, restrain collection of them, or otherwise cast doubt on the validity of the assessment. The government has not waived its sovereign immunity for those challenges, and so the district court was correct to dismiss them for lack of jurisdiction. Further, the court explained that Congress was within its rights to provide the IRS another arrow in its quiver to support its efforts to recoup seriously delinquent tax debts. Under even intermediate scrutiny, the passport-revocation scheme is constitutional. Thus, the district court was correct to dismiss Plaintiff’s challenge.   Finally, the court explained that when considering FOIA attorneys’ fees, the court has generally looked with disfavor on cases with no public benefit. Here, the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to award fees. Plaintiff’s lawsuit is far afield from the purposes for which FOIA, and its attorneys’ fees provision, were designed. There is no public value in the information and no value for anyone other than Plaintiff. Instead, Plaintiff only sought the information to aid him in his personal fight with the IRS regarding his tax penalties. View "Franklin v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff recieved a debt-collection letter from Defendant, a law firm that specializes in collecting debt on behalf of the Texas government. However, the limitations period for the debt mentioned in the letter had run. Plaintiff filed a claim against the law firm under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Plaintiff also sought, and obtained, class certification. The law firm appealed the district court's certification.On appeal, the Fifth Circuit sua sponte found that Plaintiff lacked standing to bring a claim against a debt-collection law firm under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The court held that Plaintiff failed to establish that the law firm's debt-collection letter inflicted an injury with a “close relationship to a harm traditionally recognized as providing a basis for a lawsuit in American courts." Without this showing, Plaintiff could not establish the first element of standing: that she suffered a concrete harm. View "Perez v. McCreary, Veselka, Bragg" on Justia Law