449 F.2d 235 (5th Cir. 1971), 71-1150, Mourning v. Family Publications Service, Inc.

Docket Nº:71-1150.
Citation:449 F.2d 235
Party Name:Leila MOURNING et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. FAMILY PUBLICATIONS SERVICE, INC., Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:September 27, 1971
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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Page 235

449 F.2d 235 (5th Cir. 1971)

Leila MOURNING et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

FAMILY PUBLICATIONS SERVICE, INC., Defendant-Appellant.

No. 71-1150.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.

Sept. 27, 1971

Page 236

L. Edward McClellan, Larry S. Stewart, Miami, Fla., Robert S. Rifkind, New York City, William S. Frates, Frates, Floyd, Pearson & Stewart, P.A., Miami, Fla., for defendant-appellant; John W. Barnum, Robert D. Joffe, Richard de Saint Phalle, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, New York City, of counsel.

Philip Coller, Miami Beach, Fla., M. Donald Drescher, South Miami, Fla., Leonard Helfand, Legal Service Senior Citizens, Inc., Miami Beach, Fla., for plaintiffs-appellees.

Alan S. Rosenthal, Michael C. Farrar, Attys., L. Patrick Gray, III, Asst. Atty. Gen., Morton Hollander, Atty., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D. C., for amicus curiae.

Before COLEMAN, SIMPSON and RONEY, Circuit Judges.

COLEMAN, Circuit Judge:

The validity of Regulation Z, 1 promulgated by the Federal Reserve Board under the Truth-In-Lending Act, 2 is the material issue in this appeal. The District Court held for validity. We reverse.

I

The Facts

Appellant, Family Publications Service, Inc., is a Delaware Corporation engaged in the interstate business of soliciting subscriptions and offering contracts for the sale and delivery of a large number of well known periodicals.

The appellee Leila Mourning, is a seventy-three year old widow having her domicile in Dade County, Florida.

Under appellant's method of conducting its business for the sale and delivery of well known periodicals, the customer under a standard form contract agrees to receive his particular magazine selections for 48 (or 60) months and to pay for them over the first 24 (or 30) months. Under normal operating circumstances, the appellant expects to receive a prepayment for magazines to be delivered to the customer in the future. The only circumstances in which magazines are occasionally delivered prior to appellant's receipt of payment for them is when a customer defaults in making the prepayment. According to the appellant, these transactions, contractual in nature, for the sale and delivery of magazines do not involve the extension of credit as defined by the Truth-In-Lending Act or the imposition of a finance charge, either directly or indirectly, requiring the disclosures specified in the Truth-In-Lending Act.

On August 19, 1969, appellee entered into a written contract with the appellant for the purchase of the Ladies Home Journal, Holiday, Life, and Travel and Camera. As usual, the standard form contract required the appellee to make thirty monthly payments of $3.95 each, in return for which she would receive magazines for sixty months. The contract provided that it was non-cancellable and that failure to make the monthly payments would result in the entire balance becoming due. Said contract is the only instrument executed and existing between the parties and it does not contain a disclosure as to the total purchase price, finance charges, service charges, or the amount to be financed.

Although Leila Mourning, the appellee, received the magazines ordered, she defaulted on her contract and never made any payments beyond the initial $3.95. Consequently, her contract was cancelled by Family Publications Service, Inc., on April 15, 1970. Appellant admits contacting the named appellee on several occasions seeking to enforce the contract. In those letters, appellant explained that it had already entered her subscriptions for the entire period; that it was a financier which had fully invested in her contract and would not receive a refund from the publishers; that Mrs. Mourning would have had to pay in advance had she dealt directly with the publishers; that she had an obligation to repay appellant on her "credit" account, much the same as if

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she had purchased any other type of merchandise; and that the entire balance of $118.50 was due.

On April 23, 1970, Mrs. Mourning filed her civil suit asserting that the appellant, Family Publications Service, Inc., had failed to make the disclosures required by the Truth-In-Lending Act and, on that basis seeking the civil penalty, including the attorney's fees, prescribed by the Act.

II

The Decision of the District Court

Both Mrs. Mourning and Family Publications, Inc. moved for summary judgment. The judgment went to the plaintiff, in the following language:

"THIS CAUSE having come on before me upon Motions for Summary Judgment filed by the parties, Philip L. Coller, Esq. of the Legal Services Senior Citizens Center, and M. Donald Drescher, Esq., appearing for the Plaintiff, and Peter Fay, Esq. of Frates Fay Floyd & Pearson, P.A., appearing for the Defendant, and the Court having heard argument of counsel and being otherwise fully advised in the premises, makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

FINDINGS OF FACT

"This action is founded on the Consumer Credit Protection Act (Title I, Truth in Lending Act) 15 U.S.C. § 1601 et seq., and the Regulations duly promulgated thereunder by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Regulation Z, 12 CFR §§ 226.1-226.12). The relief sought is recovery of a civil penalty imposed by the Act for failure to make disclosures required by the Act and its Regulations.

"There is no issue as to any material fact. Defendant admits (1) that it entered into a written standard form contract with the named Plaintiff and other members of this class; and (2) that the standard form contract did not contain the disclosures specified by the Truth in Lending Act. Further, Defendant admits contacting the named Plaintiff on several occasions subsequent to the filing of this suit to enforce collection of a debt asserted by Defendant against the Plaintiff. Defendant is engaged in the interstate business of soliciting subscriptions to magazines and offering contracts therefor. The contract on its face provides that the customer agrees to pay a stated sum over a period of 24 or 30 months, that it is non-cancellable and that 'Payments due monthly, otherwise entire balance due'.

"Plaintiff Leila Mourning entered into a standard form contract with the Defendant on August 19, 1969. Subsequent to July 1, 1969, the date the Act went into effect, a number of other individuals in Dade County entered into identical or similar contracts with the Defendant.

"The sole question presented is: 'Does the transaction here sued upon come within the scope of the Truth in Lending Act and the Regulations duly promulgated thereunder?'

CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

"A. The Truth in Lending Act and the Regulations must be interpreted so as to be consistent with each other and with the declared Congressional purpose of the Act-'to assure meaningful disclosure of credit terms.'

"B. The uncontroverted evidence before the Court plainly demonstrates that it is the intent of the Regulation and the interpretation of the Federal Reserve Board and of the staff of the Federal Trade Commission that the transaction here in question falls squarely within the scope of the Act and its Regulations by virtue of the 'more than four installments' rule, 12 CFR § 226.2(k); F.R.B. Letter, July 24, 1969, 1 CCH, Consumer Credit Guide, §§ 30,113, 30,114; FTC Letter, September 3, 1970 (in Court file); CLE, TRUTH IN LENDING IN FLORIDA, Chapter 2.2(D); Tanner, Truth in Lending and Regulation Z-A Primer, 6 Ga.S.B.J. 1 (Aug. 1969).

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"C. The uncontroverted facts show that Consumer credit was extended by the Defendant to the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff received a present contract right-a subscription, in exchange for a promise to pay a certain sum in more than four installments. The promise to pay is unconditional and non-cancellable, and, further, the written agreement provides that 'Payments due monthly, otherwise entire balance due'. The evidence before the Court regarding the named Plaintiff reveals that the Defendant, itself, considered the transaction to be a credit transaction, and that it was owed a debt by the Plaintiff.

"D. No constitutional question is presented by the case at bar.

"E. The answer to the question presented to the Court must be 'yes', and since the Defendant has extended 'Consumer credit' within the meaning of the Truth in Lending Act and its Regulations and has failed to make the material disclosures required by 15 U.S.C. § 1631 and 12 CFR § 226.8, the Defendant is liable to the Plaintiff for the penalties imposed by 15 U.S.C. § 1640(a).

"Accordingly, it is ORDERED AND ADJUDICATED:

"1. That the motion of Plaintiff, LEILA MOURNING, for summary judgment be and the same is granted and the Defendant's motion for summary judgment is denied.

"2. That as a penalty for its failure to provide the disclosures required by the Act and its Regulations, the Defendant shall pay to the Plaintiff, LEILA MOURNING, the sum of One Hundred Dollars ($100.00).

"3. That the Clerk of this Court shall enter final judgment in favor of Plaintiff, LEILA MOURNING, against the Defendant, FAMILY PUBLICATIONS SERVICE, INC., in the amount of One Hundred Dollars ($100.00), plus 1500.00 on behalf of Plaintiff, LEILA MOURNING, as a reasonable attorneys' fee and the costs of this action."

We have included the Findings and Conclusions because they reveal the absence of any finding that a finance charge was involved in this transaction. The defendant's answer denied the existence of such a charge, and the plaintiff did not traverse it. The long and the short of it is that the plaintiff and the court stood on the Regulation.

III

The Truth-In-Lending Act, Its Statutory Scheme, and...

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