Florida Opens Doors (Slightly) for Businesses to Sue Under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practice Act
Up until this past week, consumers were the only parties in Florida to have access to the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA). However, in a recent decision by the Fourth District Court of Appeals (DCA), the court held that non-consumers (e.g. business entities) could file suit under FDUPTA, broadening the field for causes of action considerably. Further, given that the scope of FDUPTA is very broad, covering “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or business,” commercial litigants may come flocking into the court system. However, the court put in place one item that may stem the floodgates from opening: while a claimant does not have to be a consumer to file a FDUPTA complaint, the claimant must still prove an injury or detriment to consumers to establish liability.
The case the 4th DCA heard involved a cruise line and the Better Business Bureau, in which the BBB had given the cruise line an “F” rating, published on the BBB website. The line raised the FDUPTA claim stating that “the BBB is deceptive in their practices, including its representation that it has an unbiased rating system and conducts an adequate investigation into the businesses for which it rates, when, in fact, it does not.”
The lower courts had dismissed the suit based on BBB’s defense that the cruise line did not have standing to raise an FDUPTA claim; however, the 4th DCA disagreed and held that the statute was intended to protect not only consumers, but other entities as well. But, the court also said that any unscrupulous or deceptive practices need to be harmful to consumers as well. Thus, while businesses may file lawsuits against other businesses in Florida under the FDUPTA, they must also show that the practices of the businesses, while harmful to their own, are also detrimental to consumers too.
This decision raises some very interesting possibilities in the state. Prior to now, claims like these could be viewed as anti-competitive and dismissed outright. This softening of the hard line once taken against business versus business may bring considerably change the dynamics between businesses (at least in the state of Florida) down the road.
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