Articles Posted in Seventh Circuit


Our Illinois class action attorneys recently noted a Seventh Circuit decision ending a class-action case in the difficult realm of securities fraud. In Re Guidant Corporation, No. 08-2429 (7th Cir. Oct. 21, 2009), is a securities class action stemming from allegedly misleading statements Guidant Corp. made about its implanted defibrillators. A design flaw with certain lines of defibrillators was discovered in February of 2002, and by April, Guidant had corrected the problem in all of the new devices it made. However, the problem remained in machines already made, and Guidant failed to recall them or warn the public. All in all, Guidant knew in 2002 of at least 25 reports of short-circuiting from the older defibrillators. More reports emerged later.

Two years after this redesign, Guidant entered into merger talks with Johnson & Johnson. As part of these negotiations, it issued a press release expressing confidence about its growth prospects in the implanted defibrillator market. In their claim, plaintiffs said this was false and misleading because Guidant knew it still had liability for the Ventak defibrillators. Subsequent press releases on the merger also omitted this information, as were three merger-related forms Guidant filed with the SEC. However, in March of 2005, a young man died after his Guidant defibrillator short-circuited. Guidant issued several other SEC filings and press releases without disclosing this before it finally sent a letter to doctors in May of 2005 disclosing reported problems, an act prompted by an article about to be published in the New York Times.

The FDA recalled the defibrillators the next month, and Guidant’s stock dropped immediately. It dropped further when Johnson & Johnson announced that it was reconsidering the merger. All in all, the stock fluctuated between $63 a share and $80 a share until Guidant was purchased by Boston Scientific. The instant case is a consolidated class action filed against Guidant and eleven officers and directors as a result of these drops. In addition to alleging that all defendants made false and misleading statements about the company and omitted material information from their statements, it alleged that the individual defendants used insider knowledge and the approval of the Johnson & Johnson merger to sell stock during the period at issue.

Over the course of pre-trial motions, the plaintiffs attempted to amend their complaint at least three times, twice because of new information revealed in related product liability cases. At some point, Guidant moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. The claims were brought under the Securities Exchange Act, which requires heightened pleading standards for plaintiffs alleging securities fraud. Specifically, the court found that the plaintiffs’ pleadings were not particular enough and failed to include facts showing that defendants knowingly and with malice misled investors. It dismissed the case with prejudice. It also declined to reconsider based on new evidence from a products liability case, and declined a motion to amend their complaint based on the same evidence. The plaintiffs appealed all three decisions.

In its analysis, the Seventh started by noting that plaintiffs had ample time to make changes to their complaint. In addition to the consolidated complaint from individual claims, it allowed an amendment at the start to change the class period. Plaintiffs notified the court twice of new evidence from other cases, but failed to amend their complaint with that evidence. The Seventh found that this was ample time for plaintiffs to amend their complaint to meet the admittedly strict standards provided for securities cases by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act.

It then moved to the trial court’s denial of reconsideration of the dismissal. The plaintiffs claimed that it should have been reconsidered because they had new evidence from product liability cases, a standard ground for reconsideration. They acknowledged that those facts were older, but said the trial court stymied them by refusing to lift a stay of discovery. The Seventh found this unpersuasive, saying the trial court could have ruled either way without abusing its discretion. The trial court must have assessed the new evidence, it wrote, and decided that a new amended complaint would still have lacked the necessary specific facts and evidence of scienter. And the plaintiffs could have entered the new evidence into the record earlier. Thus, the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying reconsideration. For the same reasons, it was also not an abuse of discretion to deny the motion to amend, the Seventh said. Thus, all of the district court’s rulings were affirmed.

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The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made a ruling this year that will be important to the work of our Chicago consumer class action attorneys. In Cunningham Charter Corp. v. Learjet Inc., 592 F.3d 805 (7th Cir. 2010), the court decided that federal courts retain jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act, even when they decline to certify any class in the case at bar.

Cunningham bought one or more jets from Learjet and was dissatisfied. It filed a proposed class action against Learjet in Illinois state court for breach of warranty and product liability. Learjet removed it to federal court under CAFA, and Cunningham moved for class certification. That motion was denied, and without a class, the district judge thought it was appropriate to move the case back to state court. Learjet then petitioned for leave to appeal the remand order, and the Seventh agreed to hear it to resolve the issue of whether denial of class certification eliminates subject matter jurisdiction under CAFA.

The Seventh based its opinion almost entirely on the language of the Act. Crucially, the law says it applies to “any class action [within the Act’s scope] before or after the entry of a class certification order.” The majority wrote that this language was probably intended to give defendants the option of removing the case either before or after class certification. But they seized on the use of the indefinite article — a class certification order rather than the class certification order. This word choice shows that the law is not limited to cases in which a class certification order is eventually issued, the court wrote. In addition the law’s definition of a class action is any civil action filed under rules authorizing a class action — not as an action with a certified class. “As actually worded, (d)(8)… implies at most an expectation that a class will or at least may be certified eventually,” the court wrote.

Another part of the Act says a class certification order is “an order issued by a court approving the treatment of some or all aspects of a civil action as a class action.” This could imply that a class certification order is required for the claim to be a class action — if read in isolation. But again, the definition of a class action in this Act is a claim that is filed as a class action, not necessarily certified as one, the majority wrote. The court interpreted this language to mean that a class-action suit cannot be maintained as a class-action suit without the eventual certification of a class.

The Seventh then reviewed previous federal appellate decisions in agreement with this interpretation, including Vega v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., 564 F.3d 1256, 1268 n. 12 (11th Cir. 2009) as well as its own previous assumption in Bullard v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Ry., 535 F.3d 759, 762 (7th Cir. 2008). If a state has different standards for class certification than Rule 23, the federal standard, the case could be denied class certification at the federal level, remanded, then continue as a class action at the state level. That would be contrary to the purpose of the Act, the court said. Finally, the Seventh cited the general principle that proper diversity jurisdiction is not revoked by changes that take place after the suit is filed. If diversity jurisdiction is proper before a class is certified, the majority wrote, it’s proper after a class is not certified.

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A recent decision by the Seventh Circuit caught the notice of our Illinois trademark infringement litigators. Schering-Plough Healthcare Products Inc. v. Schwarz Pharma, Inc. et al, Nos. 09-1438, 09-1462, 09-1601 (7th Cir. Oct. 29, 2009) is a dispute between the original maker of a laxative whose patent has expired and the companies that now manufacture a generic version. Schering, the original patent holder, sued four companies for claiming that the drug’s active ingredient is not available over the counter, when Schering does manufacture an over-the-counter version. The trial court in the case dismissed Schering’s complaint, a decision the Seventh Circuit upholds here.

The laxative in question was originally sold as the prescription drug MiraLAX. After its patent expired, the four defendants were authorized to sell generic prescription versions, either as GlycoLax or under the chemical name polyethylene glycol 3350. All four defendants’ drugs have labels stating that the active ingredients in their drugs are sold only by prescription. This is a requirement of the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, but it is no longer entirely true. After the generic versions were approved, Schering won approval for an over-the-counter version of MiraLAX. It brought a trademark lawsuit against the defendants, claiming their labeling makes false and misleading statements that misrepresent the nature of their own and Schering’s products, and constitute misbranding under the FD&C Act.

Importantly, the FDA is conducting its own investigation into whether the generic drugs are now misbranded. Simultaneous sales of the same active ingredient in generic and over-the-counter versions violates federal law, which the FDA is also trying to resolve. The Seventh Circuit noted that the FDA may resolve Schering’s lawsuit by finding that the generic drugs may no longer be sold, or that their labels are not false and misleading under the FD&C Act. In either case, the court wrote, it would rather defer that decision to the FDA. This was also the decision of the trial court in the case, which dismissed Schering’s case without prejudice, suggesting that the company re-file after the FDA’s decision, if necessary. Schering appealed, asking for a judgment in its favor rather than a trial. The defendants cross-appealed, arguing that the case should have been dismissed with prejudice.

The Seventh started by noting that a dismissal without prejudice is appealable unless the defect leading to it is immediately curable. It then turned to the merits of Schering’s claim. Letters from FDA regulators the company cited are irrelevant, the court said, because they did not determine the final outcome of the agency’s review. It also dismissed Schering’s argument that the generic drugs were misbranded under the FD&C Act because their labels say “prescription only,” noting that prescription drugs are required to carry this warning. And it noted that federal courts have previously resolved conflicts between FDA labeling requirements and intellectual property law, including in SmithKline Beecham Consumer Healthcare, L.P. v. Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 211 F.3d 21 (2d Cir. 2000).

Schering has been “coy” about what kind of labeling it would find sufficient on the generic drugs, the court wrote, leaving suggested wording out of its briefs entirely and agreeing with suggested wording only under pressure at oral arguments. That reticence, the court wrote, made it believe this is not a matter that “can be resolved intelligently without a decision by the FDA.” Because it has more experience with how consumers interact with drug labeling, the court said, the FDA should decide on proper labeling before a Lanham Act claim is filed. Thus, the Seventh Circuit upheld the trial court’s decision to dismiss Schering’s claim in anticipation of the FDA’s ruling. For the same reason, however, it also upheld the district court’s decision to dismiss without prejudice — so Schering can re-file its claim, if necessary, in the future.

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As Chicago class-action attorneys, we were pleased to see that the Seventh Circuit upheld a decision in favor of retired UPS employees protesting a change in their employee contributions to health benefits. In Green v. UPS Health & Welfare Package for Retired Employees, No. 09-2445 (7th Cir. Feb. 10, 2010), a class of participants in the UPS retiree health plan (the Plan) belonging to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 705 challenged a decision by UPS to raise the amount of health insurance contributions required of them, but not of other plan participants.

UPS employs Teamsters and negotiates its collective bargaining agreements with the international office of the IBT as well as with a few locals, including Local 705. Local 705’s agreement at issue here was negotiated in 2002 and expired on July 31, 2008. That agreement said UPS would provide the same health plan to Local 705 retirees that it provides to all retirees. The Plan said UPS may raise participants’ contributions once a certain threshold average annual cost per participant is reached, but that each employee shall share equally in the cost. If an additional contribution is retired, the Plan said additional contributions would not be required until after the collective bargaining agreement ended.

The average annual cost of health care rose above the threshold in 2006. In October of 2007, UPS sent out a notice that retirees’ monthly contributions would increase from $50 to $114 as of January 1, 2008. The international union complained that the increase was being implemented too early, before the July 31 end of the original collective bargaining agreement. However, it was also negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with UPS at the time and eventually won an agreement from UPS not to implement the new fee until after the new agreement expired. This was not the case for Local 705, which complained that it wouldn’t even start a new bargaining process until July 31. UPS responded by delaying the extra payment until after the agreement expired.

After the July 31, 2008 expiration date, Local 705 negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement incorporating the Plan with no changes. In January of 2009, UPS sent out another letter saying that effective in February, it would increase retirees’ monthly contributions from $50 to $157.58 to $472.75, depending on how many family members were covered. This was not applied to the international Teamsters, who were under a separate agreement. The Local 705 retirees filed this lawsuit, arguing that their monthly contribution, higher than the international union’s, violated the Plan’s provision that all retirees would share equally in a rate hike. They also argued that the Plan barred UPS from making the rate hike effective before the end of their collective bargaining agreement. They asked for an injunction against the rate hike and agreed to a bench trial. The court found for the retirees on the “shared equally” issue and for UPS on the timing of the rate hike. Both appealed.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit agreed with the trial court that the “shared equally” language applied to payments. UPS had argued that this language applies to how it calculates contributions, but the Seventh and the district court both found this was contradicted by the plain language of the Plan and thus “arbitrary and capricious” under Hess v. Hartford Life & Accident Ins. Co., 274 F.3d 456, 461 (7th Cir. 2001).

However, the appeals court also upheld the district court’s ruling that UPS could collect the additional contributions before the end of the current collective bargaining agreement. UPS interpreted “current” to refer to the 2002 agreement, when the Plan’s language was written; Local 705 interpreted it to refer to the 2008 agreement. The Seventh found that the interpretation by UPS was reasonable, in part because it had incorporated the Plan into the collective bargaining agreement without changes. It also said the December 2007 notice that rates would go up was further evidence that UPS was using the 2002 agreement as “current.” Thus, its interpretation was not arbitrary and capricious. The judgment of the district court was affirmed on both counts.

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As Chicago employment contract litigation attorneys, we noted a favorable decision for employees from the Seventh Circuit in October. Lewitton v. ITA Software, Inc., No. 08-3725 (7th Cir. Oct. 28, 2009) upheld a former employee’s right to buy stock options that had vested during his employment, even though he tried to make the purchase after leaving. Derek Lewitton was hired in April of 2005 as vice-president of sales at ITA Software, which makes a software program that compares the prices of airplane flights. His contract said some of his stock options would be forfeited if ITA didn’t meet certain revenue goals, subject to a time delay to account for delays in the development of a new program called 1U.

Unfortunately, 1U was never widely adopted among ITA’s clients, and ITA scaled it back considerably. Lewitton left ITA in May of 2007. In August of the same year, he tried to buy 138,900 shares of ITA stock. ITA let him buy only 34,722, arguing that the remaining 104,178 were forfeited under his contract. Lewitton sued ITA for breach of his employment contract. ITA removed the case to federal court under diversity jurisdiction, after which Lewitton moved for summary judgment, arguing that his employment contract was clear on his right to purchase stock options. The judge granted summary judgment, agreeing that the contract “unambiguously” granted 5,660 options for each month he was at ITA, and that no forfeiting events had taken place. ITA appealed.

The Seventh Circuit started by examining whether the language of Lewitton’s employment contract was ambiguous under Illinois law, which both parties agreed applies. The principal question, the court wrote, is whether the contract unambiguously allows Lewitton to buy the 5,660 shares per month he claims. The contract specifies that those shares are forfeited if ITA didn’t meet certain goals in by the end of an assessment period, but that assessment period would be deferred it the development schedule for 1U was “materially deferred.” In trial court, both sides agreed that 1U’s development didn’t go the way it was expected to go. On that basis, the trial court found that the assessment period was never triggered, and thus the stock options were not forfeited. On appeal, ITA argued that “materially deferred” was ambiguous and not intended to apply when ITA put the program on indefinite hold.

The Seventh disagreed, finding the term unambiguous. The ordinary dictionary definitions of the words are clear, the court wrote. And in fact, the contract includes parts that explain a material deferral by using the words “defer” and “delay” interchangeably. That example clearly shows that the parties agreed to delay the assessment period until after 1U was launched. Because 1U was never launched, the assessment period was never started, the court wrote, and thus the stock option forfeiture provision does not apply. The court dismissed ITA’s argument that the contract was never intended to give Lewitton more shares than other ITA executives. That argument was supported by negotiations and internal ITA communications, the court wrote, and caselaw requires it to consider none of that extrinsic evidence. Furthermore, the contract had a clause specifying that it supersedes all prior “agreements, understandings or negotiations.”
ITA also argued that even if the contract is unambiguous, the case presented an issue of material fact inappropriate for summary judgment. The issue in question, ITA said, is whether ITA really did delay the 1U program rather than ending it altogether. However, the court found that this was “just another attempt to create ambiguity where none exists.” At the district court, the Seventh Circuit noted, ITA made several statements through affidavits and discovery conceding that work was still being done, although resources devoted to it were significantly reduced or nonexistent. Nothing in the record points to a genuine issue of material fact on this question, the court wrote, so the trial court was upheld in its summary judgment order. Finally, the Seventh dismissed ITA’s contention that the district court should determine whether the options are valid under Delaware law (it’s a Delaware corporation), because it had explicitly waived that argument in an agreed order. Thus, the Seventh upheld the district court on all issues.

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Our Chicago business law lawyers were very interested in a recent Supreme Court decision upholding an established standard for determining when a mutual fund’s investment advisor has breached his or her fiduciary duty to shareholders. In Jones et al. v. Harris Associates L.P., No. 08-586 (March 30, 2010), three shareholders in the Oakmark family of mutual funds sued the funds’ investment manager, Harris Associates. They alleged that Harris charged the Oakmark funds twice as much as it did other funds, but did the same work. The situation was not challenged by the funds’ board members because they were all appointed by Harris Associates, the shareholders claimed. As a result, they said, the Oakmark funds paid $37 million to $58 million more than other funds for the services of Harris Associates in just one year.

Mutual funds typically use outside investment advisors to manage all of their affairs, including picking board members. Because this creates the potential for abuse, Congress enacted the Investment Company Act of 1940 to protect mutual fund shareholders. Among other things, that act creates a fiduciary duty for investment advisors with respect to their compensation, and allows shareholders to sue if that duty was breached. The plaintiff shareholders in this case sued Harris Associates in Chicago federal court for a breach of that fiduciary duty, alleging that it charged fees disproportionate to the services rendered and that were not equivalent to fees negotiated at arm’s length. Harris Associates successfully moved for summary judgment. The trial court, applying the standard laid down in Gartenberg v. Merrill Lynch Asset Management, Inc., 694 F. 2d 923 (CA2 1982), held that there was no evidence that the fees were outside a range that could have been produced by arm’s length negotiations.

Plaintiffs appealed to the Seventh Circuit, where their claim still failed, but for different reasons. The Seventh rejected the Gartenberg standard, saying it relied too little on markets. Instead, the panel applied a standard from trust law, saying a trustee is free to negotiate any compensation that the trust is willing to pay. Similarly, a fiduciary’s compensation need not be limited by an arbitrary cap, the panel wrote. It suggested that market forces would help keep fees reasonable and noted that comparing fees for other Harris Associates clients is unfair because different clients require different amounts of work. An investment advisor’s compensation would only be subject to interference, the Seventh wrote, if the amount was so out of the ordinary that observers might think “that deceit must have occurred, or that the persons responsible for decision have abdicated.”
After the Seventh denied an en banc rehearing, with a dissent by Judge Posner, the Supreme Court took up the case to resolve a split in the circuits over the standards used to judge breaches of the Investment Company Act. In its unanimous opinion, the court found that Gartenberg was indeed the correct standard, reversing the Seventh Circuit. That standard has been adopted by other federal appeals courts, the high court noted, as well as by the SEC. The opinion, authored by Justice Alito, quoted at length from the Second Circuit’s decision in Gartenberg, which among other things said that “[t]o be guilty of a violation of [the Act], … the adviser-manager must charge a fee that is so disproportionately large that it bears no reasonable relationship to the services rendered and could not have been the product of arm’s-length bargaining.” This approach is consistent with other protections in the Act and the Act’s role in federal regulations.

The Seventh Circuit erred by focusing almost entirely on full disclosure to determine a breach of fiduciary duty, the Supreme Court wrote. Courts should take a more nuanced look, giving deference to well-informed, independent board decisions and avoiding over-reliance on market comparisons. Thus, the court vacated the Seventh Circuit’s decision and sent the case back to trial court.

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As Illinois and Chicago business law attorneys, we were interested to see a recent Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion in an antitrust and trade libel lawsuit filed here in the Northern District of Illinois. In Tamburo v. Dworkin, 2010 WL 1387299 (C.A.7 April 8, 2010), John Tamburo and his software business filed suit against multiple defendants in the United States, Canada and Australia. Tamburo sought to pursue federal and state antitrust claims, as well as state tort claims for defamation, tortious interference with his business and civil conspiracy. He also wanted a declaratory judgment that he did not violate any federal laws. The district court dismissed all of the claims, but the Seventh reinstated some of the tort claims, reinforcing the rules for personal jurisdiction over foreign defendants, but applied to Internet-related claims.

Tamburo and his business make dog-breeding software, including an online database full of dog pedigree information. To get data for this database, he used publicly available information found on the websites of four of the defendants, dog pedigree enthusiasts in Ohio, Colorado, Michigan and Canada. These defendants reacted critically, launching a campaign of email “blasts” and website postings accusing Tamburo of theft, hacking and selling stolen goods. They urged readers to boycott his products. The Australian defendant, a software company with a similar pedigree software company, received some of these messages and reposted them to a private mailing list of dog breeders who had bought its software. Tamburo sued all of them in Chicago federal court, where the defendants moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The trial court granted this motion as to all claims and Tamburo appealed.

The Seventh Circuit only partially agreed. Right away, it upheld the dismissal of the antitrust claims, which it said were “woefully inadequate” under Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 2007), which heightened the requirements for stating a claim in a Sherman Act case. Under that decision, plaintiffs must plead believable antitrust injuries that show an anticompetitive effect, which the court said Tamburo failed to do. Tamburo’s federal pleadings are conclusory, the court wrote, failing to give any evidence of a specific antitrust injury or even what kind of violation he alleges. The state law claims have the same failings, the majority said, so both should be dismissed, but for failure to state a claim rather than lack of personal jurisdiction.

This removed the only federal claim in the case, which meant personal jurisdiction must be decided under Illinois’ long-arm statute. None of the defendants had enough contact with Illinois to create general personal jurisdiction, the majority said; in fact, the Canadian and Australian defendants had never been there. However, the court did find evidence of personal jurisdiction specific to this case. The court applied Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984), in which the Supreme Court said actress Shirley Jones could assert personal jurisdiction in California over a Florida-based magazine and its writers, whom Jones accused of libel. That case gave a test to find personal jurisdiction: intentional and allegedly tortious conduct, expressly aimed at the foreign state, with the defendant’s knowledge that the plaintiff would be injured there.

The bulk of the Seventh’s analysis was aimed at the second prong — “expressly aimed.”
The court said personal jurisdiction was appropriate for the U.S. and Canadian defendants because they were accused of disseminating information about Tamburo widely through websites and emails. In fact, the majority wrote, some of the messages gave Tamburo’s address and urged readers to harass him and boycott his product. This is enough for personal jurisdiction under the “express aiming” test. This wasn’t true of the Australian defendant, however, because the owner of the company was alleged only to have sent the information to a private mailing list — not enough to show “express aiming” at Tamburo in Illinois.

Finally, the court examined whether jurisdiction over the individuals would “offend traditional notions of fair play and substantive justice.” It found that hearing the case in Illinois would not be unfair. The defendants have diverse citizenship, the court noted, and it would be unreasonable to ask Tamburo to sue them all separately. Illinois has a strong interest in providing a forum for residents like Tamburo to settle disputes, whereas other states have no substantial interest in the case. Thus, jurisdiction in Illinois is fair. For all of these reasons, the Seventh Circuit upheld the dismissal of the antitrust claims, upheld the dismissal of the claims against the Australian defendant and reversed the dismissal of the tort-law claims against the U.S. and Canadian defendants.

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Our Illinois overtime rights lawyers were interested to see a recent ruling on unpaid overtime from the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In Musch v. Domtar Industries, No. 08-4305 (7th Cir. Nov. 25, 2009), Alan Musch and his colleagues were maintenance workers at two Wisconsin paper mills owned by Domtar Industries. In their lawsuit, they say their job routinely exposes them to dangerous chemicals, requiring them to put on special protective gear before shifts and to shower and change after. They are not paid for the time it takes to do those things, however. They sued for unpaid overtime pay for the showering and changing time, as well as for time spent shaving, a requirement under Domtar company policy.

After the case was filed, Domtar moved for summary judgment dismissing the case. It argued that company policy says workers should shower and change immediately after exposure to a hazardous chemical, even if that means the employee goes into overtime. Because it has that policy, the company argued, overtime compensation was inappropriate. The district court agreed and granted summary judgment for Domtar. After the court declined to reconsider, the plaintiffs appealed both rulings. They argued that the district court missed or ignored evidence showing that chemicals actually were on workers’ skin; that is, they do not shower because they merely think they might have the chemicals. Thus, changing and showering time is appropriate for overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

In its analysis, the Seventh Circuit started by noting that the FLSA and Wisconsin law both require employers to pay for all of the work employees do. However, federal law makes a distinction between work and preliminary or postliminary activities. Changing and washing is ordinarily considered preliminary or postliminary, the court wrote, but may sometimes be considered part of the job if it’s “integral” and “indispensable” to the job. The plaintiffs argued evidence showed that they didn’t always realize there were chemicals on their skin until the end of shifts, meaning showering after shifts would be following the company’s stated policy.

The Seventh Circuit disagreed. The plaintiffs’ evidence showed that showers were sometimes necessary, it wrote, but not that the Domtar policy of showering after any exposure was insufficient. Furthermore, the court said, employees admitted to bringing work clothes home to wash them, suggesting that they don’t believe the chemical exposure is that serious. Finally, employees are free to seek overtime under the existing company policy when they are required to shower and change, the Seventh said. Because these are all “normal conditions” under the meaning of the FLSA, the post-shift changing and showering is postliminary activity, not an essential job requirement, the court wrote. Thus, it upheld the trial court’s orders.

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In a case based on the federal Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, the Seventh Circuit has ruled that a victim of a bait-and-switch scheme for title insurance may sue his lender. Doss v. Clearwater Title Co., No. 07-2400 (7th Cir. Dec. 24, 2008). Charles Doss refinanced his mortgage in 2004, using a company called The Loan Arranger that did indeed arrange a loan for Doss with Franklin Financial Company. Franklin asked Doss to get title insurance, which he did through Clearwater Title Company.

Clearwater turned out to be an unlicensed company with a secret affiliation with The Loan Arranger. Doss was told via closing documents that the title insurance cost was $500, but was actually charged $1,470. In late 2006, Doss sued all three companies plus JP Morgan Chase, which held his mortgage, and Saxon Mortgage Services, Inc., which serviced it. However, Chase and Saxon had filed for foreclosure against Doss earlier in that year, and in response to the lawsuit, filed papers claiming that Doss had no claim because he had already sold his home. Doss replied that their quitclaim deed was a forgery and that indeed, he had filed documents showing he was still the owner. The trial court sided with Chase and Saxon and dismissed the homeowner’s claims.

Doss appealed; while the appeal was pending, an Illinois trial court found that the property had not changed hands. The Seventh Circuit first examined the claim by Chase and Saxon that the trial court had no jurisdiction under the TILA because Doss had sold the property. That was irrelevant, the court said, because the question was whether Doss had actually sold the property. On the dismissal itself, the Seventh found that the trial court should have treated the sale allegations by Chase and Saxon as a motion for summary judgment, which would have given Doss a chance to present and support his own assertions. This would have led the trial court to conclude that there was indeed a genuine issue of material fact in the case and continued the litigation, the opinion said.

In a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act class action, the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a bill collector’s failure to correctly break down a bill into principal and interest does not violate that Act. Wahl v. Midland Credit Management, No. 08-1517 (7th Cir. Feb. 23, 2009) was a class action lawsuit alleging that debt collectors violate the FDCPA when they send out bills that state the correct total amount but break down the charges incorrectly.

Plaintiff Barbara Wahl had just $66.98 on a credit card when she sustained a stroke and racked up much larger medical bills during a time when she couldn’t work. The credit card went unpaid and eventually, the balance was $1,149.09, mostly in interest and late fees. Midland purchased the debt in January of 2005 and started sending demand letters to Wahl. The letter at issue arrived April 15, 2005, listing both the “current balance” and “amount due” at $1,160.57. On the back side, it listed the “principal” as $1,149.09 and the “accrued interest” as $11.48. This was followed by a similar letter listing a higher interest. The letters construed the “principal” as the total value of the debt Midland had bought, including interest accrued with the original creditor.

Wahl filed a proposed class-action lawsuit in federal court for the Northern District of Illinois. One of her two claims was that Midland had violated the FDCPA by incorrectly stating that the principal on her account was $1,149.09 rather than breaking down the original principal, the original interest and the new interest. Debt collectors are not required by law to break down charges, it said — but when they do, the law requires that the breakdown not contain false or misleading information. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court ruled in favor of Midland. Wahl appealed.

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