Articles Posted in Motions to Dismiss

A television reenactment of a bombing, in which a man suffered severe injury and his friend lost his life, did not give rise to claims for false light invasion of privacy or defamation, according to an Illinois federal court. Butler v. Discovery Communications, LLC, No. 12 cv 6719, mem. op. (N.D. Ill., May 9, 2013). The court found that the reenactment’s portrayal of the plaintiff, while different from the plaintiff’s account of the incident, did not portray the plaintiff in an offensive or damaging fashion, nor did it harm the plaintiff’s reputation in a manner constituting defamation.

The defendant, Discovery Communications, broadcast an episode of its show “Wicked Attraction” on June 15 and July 7, 2012, about an incident involving the plaintiff, Alphonso Butler, that occurred on February 15, 2000. Butler was with his “best friend,” Marcus Toney, that night, when Toney received a package from his estranged wife. Id. at 1. According to Butler, Toney asked him to open the package, but then stepped between Butler and the package and opened it himself. The package contained a pipe bomb that exploded when Toney opened the box. The blast killed Toney and injured Butler. Toney’s wife and her boyfriend are in prison for his murder.

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An appellate court in Illinois reversed a lower court ruling dismissing a defamation lawsuit brought by an associate professor at Northwestern University. Mauvais-Jarvis v. Wong, et al, Nos. 1-12-0070, 1-12-0237 cons., slip op. (Ill. App. 1st Dist., Mar. 28, 2013). The plaintiff claimed that the defendants committed libel against him in emails and other correspondence exchanged in the course of an internal investigation into data presented by the plaintiff for publication. The trial court dismissed all defamation claims, holding that the statements in question were subject to an absolute privilege because the defendants were investigating “suspected research misconduct.” Id. at 2. The appellate court accepted the plaintiff’s argument that the statements are only protected by a qualified privilege, and that the defendants had not established in their motion to dismiss that the privilege should apply.

The plaintiff, Franck Mauvais-Jarvis, is an associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University and the research director of the school’s Comprehensive Center on Obesity. Part of his research is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The court gives a comprehensive overview of HHS’ policies on “research misconduct,” which includes fabrication, falsification, or manipulation of data and research materials, as well as plagiarism. Id. at 4. Northwestern maintains an Office of Research Integrity (ORI) based on HHS regulations, which conducts reviews of alleged research misconduct.

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An Illinois court dismissed a lawsuit against a bank alleging deceptive fees for debit card transactions, ruling that a prior settlement in a class action lawsuit, of which the plaintiff was a class member, barred the suit. Schulte v. Fifth Third Bank (“Schulte 2”), No. 09 C 6655, statement (N.D. Ill., Jun. 15, 2012). The plaintiff acknowledged being part of the class, and by accepting the terms of the settlement agreement, the court held, the plaintiff had released the bank from any further claims related to ATM fees.

The original lawsuit alleged that the defendant “resequenced” debit card transactions during a posting period in an order from highest to lowest, rather than in chronological order. Schulte v. Fifth Third Bank (“Schulte 1”), 805 F.Supp.2d 560, 565 (N.D. Ill. 2011). This meant that the balance of the customer’s account drew down faster, leading to more overdrafts and associated fees. A class action lawsuit commenced in November 2009, and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois approved a class settlement agreement in July 2011.

The Schulte 1 settlement applied to customers of the defendant from October 21, 2004 to July 1, 2010. The court applied a five-part test established by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals for determining if a class action settlement is fair:

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A federal judge denied most of a motion to dismiss brought by multiple banks in a consolidated case alleging overdraft fee fraud. In re Checking Account Overdraft Litigation, 694 F.Supp.2d 1302 (S.D. Fla. 2010). The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) consolidated multiple claims into a single matter in the Southern District of Florida in order to deal efficiently with common pretrial matters. The plaintiffs asserted causes of action for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing (“GFFD covenant”), and many individual causes asserted common law breach of contract claims and state law consumer protection claims. The defendants filed an omnibus motion to dismiss, which the trial court granted in part and denied in larger part. The court dismissed claims under certain state consumer statutes, as well as claims based on the laws of states in which no plaintiffs lived.

The central issue of the litigation was the ordering of ATM transactions from highest to lowest, regardless of the order in which the account holder performed the transaction. This allegedly reduced the account holder’s total account balance more quickly, garnering more overdraft fees for the defendants. At the time the court rendered its order on the omnibus motion to dismiss, the litigation consisted of fifteen separate complaints, each brought against an individual bank. All of the fifteen complaints pending at the time of the court’s order involved breach of GFFD covenant claims. Five complaints were filed in California as putative class actions on behalf of California customers. Eight complaints were filed outside California, putatively on behalf of nationwide classes excluding California. One complaint was filed by a California resident and sought to represent a nationwide class. The final complaint was filed by a Washington resident on behalf of a class of Washington customers. According to the JPML, the consolidated litigation has involved one hundred separate complaints since 2009, with forty-four still involved as of March 5, 2013.

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An Illinois federal court granted a motion to dismiss in a putative shareholder derivative class action, having already denied the plaintiff’s application for a temporary restraining order (TRO). Noble v. AAR Corp., et al, No. 12 C 7973, memorandum and order (E.D. Ill., Apr. 3, 2013). The plaintiff asserted causes of action for various alleged breaches of fiduciary duty on behalf of the corporation, but the court found that the lawsuit was a direct action, primarily for the plaintiff’s benefit as a shareholder, rather than a derivative one.

The dispute related to a recommendation by the Board of Directors to the shareholders of AAR Corporation, a publicly-traded company, regarding an executive compensation plan. The Board made a unanimous proposal regarding the corporation’s “say on pay” plan, which allowed the shareholders to vote on executive pay as required by Section 951 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank Act), 15 U.S.C. § 78n-1. In a seventy-page proxy statement, the Board asked the shareholders to approve an advisory resolution regarding executive compensation at the corporation’s annual shareholder meeting, which was scheduled for October 10, 2012.

The plaintiff filed suit against the corporation and individual Board members, alleging that the Proxy Statement failed to disclose various details about what the Board considered before making its proposal. Noble, memorandum at 5. He claimed that the individual defendants breached their fiduciary duties of good faith, care, and loyalty to the shareholders, and that the corporation aided and abetted these breaches. Id. at 5-6. The defendants removed the case to federal court on October 4, 2012. The following day, the plaintiff filed a motion for a TRO, asking the court to stop the shareholder vote. The court held a hearing on October 9 and denied the motion. On October 10, the shareholders approved the Board’s proposal, with seventy-seven percent of the shares voting in favor. Id. at 1-2.

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A federal court allowed most causes to proceed in a putative class action against a bank for allegedly fraudulent overdraft fees. White, et al v. Wachovia Bank, N.A., No. 1:08-cv-1007, order (N.D. Ga., Jul. 2, 2008). The plaintiffs, who alleged that the bank had recorded transactions out of chronological order to maximize overdraft fee liability, claimed violations of state deceptive trade practice laws and several claims related to breach of contract. The court denied the defendant bank’s motion to dismiss as to all but two of the plaintiffs’ claims.

The two lead plaintiffs opened a joint checking account with Wachovia Bank in 2007. They signed a Deposit Agreement that stated that the bank could pay checks and other items in any order it chose, even if it resulted in an overdraft. It also stated that the bank could impose overdraft charges if payment of any single item exceeded the balance in the account. The plaintiffs alleged in their lawsuit that Wachovia ordered its posting of transactions in a way that would cause their account to incur overdraft fees, even when they had sufficient funds to pay the items. They also alleged that the bank imposed overdraft fees when no overdraft had occurred.

The lawsuit, originally filed in a Georgia state court in February 2008, asserted violations of the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act (FBPA), O.C.G.A. §§ 10-1-390 et seq., and breach of the duty of good faith. The plaintiffs also claimed that the clause of the Agreement related to the ordering of transaction was unconscionable, that the bank had engaged in trover and conversion, and that it had been unjustly enriched. The defendant removed the case to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2), which allows defendants to remove certain class actions to federal court. It then moved to dismiss all claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), which allows a court to dismiss a lawsuit that “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” To defeat such a motion, a plaintiff must show a plausible factual basis for their claims.

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A putative class action alleging violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq. (FCRA), must be submitted to binding arbitration, according to the court in Collier v. Real Time Staffing Services, Inc., No. 11 C 6209, memorandum opinion and order (N.D. Ill., Apr. 11, 2012). The court found that a clause in the contract between the plaintiff and defendant required both parties to submit any disputes between them to arbitration. On the question of whether the class claims asserted by the plaintiff were subject to mandatory arbitration, the court left it for the arbitrators to decide.

The plaintiff, Darion Collier, submitted an electronic job application to the defendant, Real Time Staffing Services, which did business as SelectRemedy. According to the court’s order, the plaintiff signed an acknowledgment that said his employment with SelectRemedy would begin once he started an assignment for one of its clients, and that it would be on an “at-will” basis. The acknowledgment further said that SelectRemedy could at any time modify the terms and conditions of his employment. Order at 2. SelectRemedy did not hire the plaintiff after reviewing his application, allegedly based on information in his consumer credit report.

The plaintiff filed suit on September 7, 2011, alleging violations of the FCRA on behalf of himself and a proposed class. SelectRemedy filed a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, asserting that an arbitration agreement signed by the plaintiff with his application precluded the lawsuit. The agreement stated that the plaintiff agreed to submit any disputes to binding arbitration in accordance with the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq. (FAA). In opposing the motion to dismiss, the plaintiff argued that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable for lack of consideration, that SelectRemedy’s ability to change the terms of employment rendered the contract illusory, and that the arbitration agreement should not cover class claims.

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A business sued two individuals in a New Jersey federal district court in Inventory Recovery Corp. v. Gabriel, alleging that the defendants materially misrepresented the details of a sale of several hundred internet domain names. The plaintiff asserted multiple causes of action, including fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of contract. The court dismissed all but two of the causes of action on the defendants’ motion.

The plaintiff, Illinois-based Inventory Recovery Corporation (IRC), sought to purchase 324 internet domain names from the defendants, Richard Gabriel and Ashley Gabriel. The defendants used the domain names in the business of selling nutraceutical food, which the court describes as food with health benefits. IRC’s president met with the defendants in January 2010 to discuss the purchase of the domain names and the associated business, and negotiations continued into February. Richard Gabriel provided IRC with financial documents related to business income and expenses. This included expenses for Google advertising, the business’ main marketing activity. He allegedly described robust sales and a positive relationships with the merchant banks that serviced customer payments for the business.

The parties entered into a series of contracts on February 26, 2010 for the sale of the domain names. They closed the same day, and the plaintiff paid the $5.6 million purchase price with a real estate parcel in the Bahamas, an airplane, and a sum of cash. According to testimony presented in the case, the plaintiff allegedly later discovered that the business did not have good relationships with its merchant banks, its Google advertising account was suspended, and the defendants had allegedly artificially inflated the business’ revenues.

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The United States District Court for the Central District of California dismissed a class action claim brought by a financial advisor employed by a major financial services company. In Park v. Morgan Stanley & Co., Inc., the plaintiff claimed breach of contract and violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL), based on allegations that the defendant failed to pay commissions owed to plaintiff and other employees. The court ruled that the plaintiff failed to plead sufficient facts to support his claim for breach of contract, and that the UCL claim lacked support as a result.

The plaintiff was employed by the defendant as a financial advisor by Morgan Stanley & Co., Inc. Part of his job involved the sale of financial products to investors. He received commission payments from the defendant as compensation for sales, in amounts based on an “applicable commission grid.” This grid was allegedly contained in a “written agreement” between the plaintiff and the defendant that the court described in its order as “unspecified.” According to the plaintiff, the defendant said that it would base commissions on the full amount of revenue received for the financial products sold. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant took a portion of the revenue received before applying the commission grid, thus reducing the total amount of the commissions paid to the plaintiff and other employees.

The plaintiff filed a federal class action lawsuit on November 15, 2011, claiming breach of contract and violations of the UCL. The lawsuit alleged that the defendant’s policies knowingly denied earned compensation to certain employees, resulting in breach of contract and unjust enrichment to the defendant. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, asserting that the plaintiff had not stated a cause of action on which the court could grant relief. The court cited precedents from the U.S. Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to establish that, in order to defeat the defendant’s motion, the plaintiff needed to demonstrate enough allegations of fact to make his claims facially plausible. The court found that the plaintiff did not meet this standard, and it granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss.

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A U.S. District judge in Pennsylvania dismissed a woman’s products liability claim due to a lack of sufficient facts in her pleadings to support her claims. In Osness v. Lasko Products, Inc., an Illinois woman brought a putative class action against a company for several consumer rights causes of action. The plaintiff alleged that the company knew about certain defects in a line of box fans it manufactured, but failed to warn consumers. The company’s motion to dismiss argued that the plaintiff failed to allege facts that supported any of her claims.

Lasko Products (“Lasko”), a Pennsylvania-based company, manufactures box fans for home use. In 2006, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced a recall of about 5.6 million Lasko fans. The recalled fans would have been sold to the public from September 2000 until February 2004. The CPSC announced the recall after receiving reports of fires caused by electrical problems with the fan’s motor.

The plaintiff, Deborah Osness, alleged that Lasko continued to produce fans with the same defect. This led to a second recall of fans by the CPSC in March 2011, covering fans sold to consumers from July 2002 until December 2005. Both recalls occurred after the fans’ two-year warranties expired, according to the plaintiff, so Lasko did not offer a refund. Instead, it offered a “cord adapter” that eliminated the risk of fire but, according to the plaintiff, did not fix the underlying electrical problem. The electrical defect could cause the fan to blow a fuse, allegedly making it unusable.

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