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  • Writer's pictureVinicius Adam

Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act: An Overview

Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA) was designed to protect consumers in the state of Florida from deceptive, unfair, or unconscionable acts and practices conducted by businesses. It is an indispensable piece of legislation that gives Florida residents a legal avenue for redress when they believe they've been victims of such practices.

FDUTPA: Objectives and Scope


The primary objective of the FDUTPA is to protect consumers and legitimate business enterprises from those who engage in unfair methods of competition, or deceptive, unfair, or fraudulent acts or practices. The scope of this legislation is broad, covering a range of business practices, which may potentially affect consumers or other businesses. It is a civil statute that allows both individuals and businesses to bring lawsuits against companies or individuals that they believe have violated the Act.


While the Act is intended to protect consumers, it also creates an even playing field for businesses. It discourages businesses from gaining an unfair advantage over their competitors through deceptive practices. It is worth noting that the FDUTPA applies not only to Florida-based businesses but also to any business conducting operations within the state, regardless of where they are headquartered.


Enforcement and Legal Remedies


Enforcement of the FDUTPA is shared between the State's Office of the Attorney General and private individuals or businesses who file civil lawsuits. The Attorney General has broad powers to investigate potential violations, subpoena witnesses and documents, and initiate legal action.


For private individuals or businesses, they have the right to sue under the FDUTPA. If successful, they can recover actual damages, or $1,000, whichever is greater. If the court finds that the violation was willful or knowing, it may award three times the actual damages, or $5,000, whichever is greater. In addition to damages, courts can also issue injunctions to stop deceptive practices and can require the defendant to pay the plaintiff's attorney's fees.


What Constitutes a Violation?


A violation of the FDUTPA can occur if a business employs deceptive practices, acts unfairly, or makes false or misleading representations. A deceptive practice refers to a representation, omission, or practice that is likely to mislead consumers. Unfair practices involve conduct that offends established public policy and is immoral, unethical, or unscrupulous. The FDUTPA also explicitly includes "unconscionable" acts or practices in its coverage.


While there is not a comprehensive list of all actions that might constitute a violation, some common examples include false advertising, pyramid schemes, bait-and-switch techniques, failing to disclose all terms of a contract, and price gouging.


Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA): Understanding The Scope Through Court Cases


The Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA) exists to protect consumers from unfair, deceptive, or unconscionable acts in trade or commerce.


The court cases below represent a small fraction of the numerous instances where FDUTPA has been applied, revealing the broad scope of the act in protecting consumers from a variety of deceptive practices. It's essential for consumers to know their rights under FDUTPA, and for businesses to understand their obligations, to ensure fair trade practices in the marketplace.


Timeshare Cases


Wyndham Vacation Ownership, Inc. v. Clapp Business Law, LLC, No. 6:20-cv-00914-Orl-41GJK (M.D. Fla. Sept. 22, 2021): The court found deceptive practices in the actions of law firms and lawyers that promised to help consumers exit their timeshare agreements.


Westgate Resorts, Ltd. v. Sussman, No. 6:16-cv-01566-CEM-DCI (M.D. Fla. Dec. 21, 2018): This case focused on a lawyer who, without properly disclosing potential legal and financial consequences, promised to release clients from their timeshare agreements.


Misrepresentation in Advertising


Diamond Resorts International, Inc. v. Aaronson, No. 6:19-cv-01693-PGB-LRH (M.D. Fla. Apr. 20, 2020): This case examined the damages caused by an attorney who solicited timeshare members with the promise of freeing them from their financial obligations.


Telemarketing Violations


Federal Trade Commission v. Life Management Services of Orange County, LLC, No. 6:16-cv-982-Orl-41KRS (M.D. Fla. Jun. 12, 2018): The telemarketing company misrepresented that customers could use a third-party fund to pay off their debt, violating both FDUTPA and the Federal Trade Commission Act.


Franchise Agreements


Cluck-U Chicken, Inc. v. Cluck-U Corp., No. 1:18-cv-20205-UU (S.D. Fla. Aug. 23, 2019): The courts examined franchisor's disclosure requirements and prohibitions associated with franchising.


Consumer Goods Misrepresentation


Yonan v. Walmart, Inc., No. 1:20-cv-21640-JEM (S.D. Fla. Aug. 18, 2020): The court addressed allegations that a coffee product contained fewer servings than advertised.


Car Dealerships and Manufacturers


Lewis v. Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC, No. 0:19-cv-61722-RKA (S.D. Fla. Dec. 27, 2019): The court dealt with the car manufacturer and distributor accused of falsely representing safety features of their vehicles.


Cox v. Porsche Financial Services, Inc., No. 0:19-cv-62151-RKA (S.D. Fla. Dec. 16, 2019): The courts examined the dealership's practices around applying sales tax.


Healthcare Fraud


State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company v. Performance Orthapaedics & Neurosurgery, LLC, No. 0:19-cv-62073-RKA (S.D. Fla. Nov. 18, 2019): The court applied FDUTPA in a case of healthcare fraud where violations of the Health Care Clinic Act were found.


FDUTPA and Social Media Platforms


A significant expansion to FDUTPA came into effect on July 1, 2021, as represented by § 501.2041, Fla. Stat. This statute highlights that a social media platform failing to comply with specified requirements commits an unfair or deceptive act or practice.


It requires a notification given by a social media platform for censoring content or deplatforming a user to contain specific information, with certain exceptions to the notification requirements. This provision empowers the Department of Legal Affairs to investigate suspected violations of § 501.2041, either initiated by its own inquiry or as a result of a complaint. The department can investigate the suspected violation and based on its findings, bring a civil or administrative action. Crucially, this provision does not allow for a private cause of action, as §§ 501.211 and 501.212, Fla. Stat. do not apply to violations of § 501.2041.


501.2041 also provides explicit authority to the Department of Legal Affairs to investigate suspected violations under the FDUTPA, specifying circumstances under which a private cause of action may be brought, and how damages are to be calculated. This allows for broad oversight and robust enforcement of FDUTPA regulations pertaining to social media platforms.


Conclusion


The Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act serves as a robust tool to safeguard consumers and maintain healthy competition among businesses. By deterring businesses from adopting deceitful or unfair strategies, it strives to create a more equitable marketplace. It further empowers consumers and businesses alike to take action against those who engage in deceptive or unfair practices, offering both a preventative and remedial solution.


It is important for consumers and businesses to familiarize themselves with the provisions of the FDUTPA to protect their interests. If you believe you've been a victim of a violation, it's advisable to consult with a legal professional who specializes in this area of law to understand your rights and the remedies available to you. The legal experts at VAdam Law can provide personalized advice based on specific circumstances, ensure compliance with the requirements, and help guide you during any FDUTPA-related issues you may encounter.


If you would like to learn more about VAdam Law and schedule a free consultation, visit our online scheduling portal or call 24 hours a day at (954) 451-0792.



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