December 12, 2017

Tenth Circuit: Judgment Against Individual for Participation in Telemarketing Scheme Affirmed

The Tenth Circuit published its opinion in Federal Trade Commission v. Chapman on Tuesday, May 7, 2013.

This consumer protection action was brought by the Federal Trade Commission and four states against several individual and corporate defendants who marketed and sold to consumers grant-related goods and services with false representations that the consumers were guaranteed or likely to receive grants. After the claims against the other defendants were settled or adjudicated, the district court held a bench trial on the remaining claim against Meggie Chapman. Following the trial, the court found that Ms. Chapman violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule by providing substantial assistance to the telemarketing defendants while knowing or consciously avoiding knowing of their deceptive telemarketing practices. The court ordered a permanent injunction and $1,682,950 in monetary damages against Ms. Chapman. The court also denied Ms. Chapman’s post-judgment motion to alter or amend the judgment or, alternatively, for remittitur. Ms. Chapman appealed.

It is undisputed the Kansas defendants violated § 310.3(a)(2) by misrepresenting material aspects of the grant-related goods or services they sold. Thus, the only disputed issues are (a) whether Ms. Chapman provided substantial assistance to the Kansas defendants and (b) whether Ms. Chapman knew or consciously avoided knowing of their misrepresentations.

Regardless of the standard of review, the Tenth Circuit concluded Ms. Chapman played an integral part in the Kansas defendants’ telemarketing scheme. The Court found no error in the district court’s determination that Ms. Chapman provided substantial assistance to the Kansas defendants. Additionally, the Tenth Circuit concluded that district court’s finding that Ms. Chapman knew or consciously avoided knowing of the Kansas defendants’ misrepresentations was supported by the record and was not clearly erroneous.

Ms. Chapman argued in the alternative that the district court erred in denying her post-judgment motion to alter or amend the judgment or for remittitur. She argued that if she knew or consciously avoided knowing of the Kansas defendants’ misrepresentations, this did not occur until some time during the course of their business relationship, and thus the damages award should not have included the entire amount she billed to the Kansas defendants from the start of their relationship.

In denying the post-judgment motion, the district court first noted that a motion to alter or amend judgment under Rule 59(e) may only be granted under certain limited circumstances, such as when there is a need to correct clear error or prevent manifest injustice. Similarly, remittitur is only appropriate if the award is so excessive that it shocks the judicial conscience and raises an irresistible inference that passion, prejudice, corruption, or other improper cause invaded the trial. The Tenth Circuit was not persuaded the district court abused its discretion by denying Ms. Chapman’s postjudgment motion to reduce the amount of damages. Accordingly, under this deferential standard of review, the Court AFFIRMED the district court’s denial of post-judgment relief.

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