Florida Appeals Affirms Class Action Certification, FDUTPA Violations in Claim Involing Vague “Environment Fee”
On September 18th, 2019, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal affirmed a lower court’s ruling in class action FDUTPA claim. In the case of Waste Pro USA and Waste Pro of Florida, Inc. vs Vision Construction ENT, Inc., the court ruled that an “environmental fee” that was charged to customers violated the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA) because it bore no direct relation to any of the waste management company’s expenses. Here, our Miami commercial litigation attorneys offer a more detailed explanation of the case and explain the standards under the FDUTPA.
Case Analysis: Waste Pro USA and Waste Pro of Florida, Inc. vs Vision Construction ENT, Inc.
The Background and Facts
In 2009, Waste Pro — a residential and commercial trash collection company that operates throughout South Florida — began charging many of its customers an “environmental fee”. Previously, the company had not listed any such surcharge on bills. Further, the company did not incur any specific additional environmental expenses beginning in 2009, nor did it pay that environmental fee to a government agency or to any other third party.
According to court records, many customers contacted sales representatives and account representatives at Waste Pro after the environmental surcharge was added to their bills. Vision Construction ENT was one of these companies. In questioning the validity of the charge, Vision was given a similar response to the one that was given to many other clients — the fee was added to help Waste Pro recover some of the costs for increased environment compliance expenses.
The Legal Issues
Eventually, a class action FDUTPA claim was filed against Waste Pro USA and Waste Pro of Florida. In filing the claim, the plaintiffs alleged that the environmental fee was deceptive because it was not actually tied to anything specific. The money collected simply went into Waste Pro’s general revenue. In response, Waste Pro claimed that it did indeed have substantial environment compliance costs. Thus, the fee was legally permissible.
In reviewing the ruling by a lower court, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal affirmed that Waste Pro’s environmental surcharge violated Florida’s deceptive trade practices statute. Notably, the court found that Vision and other similarly affected companies had the right to pursue a class action claim against Waste Pro.
The court assessed that a reasonable consumer would have likely been misled by Waste Pro’s “environmental fee”. Based on the manner in which it was presented and explained, the court found that an ordinary customer would conclude that such a fee was used directly to compensate the company for the costs of “environmental compliance regulations” — not that it was merely to cover the more general costs of waste management.
Contact Our Florida Commercial Litigation Attorneys Today
At Pike & Lustig, LLP, our Florida business lawyers have the skills and experience needed to handle the full range of cases under the state’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. To get immediate assistance, please call us at our Miami law office or West Palm Beach law office today. We represent individuals and business throughout Southeastern Florida.