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Beck v. Test Masters Educational Services Inc.

United States District Court, District Circuit

December 18, 2013

JARROD BECK, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
TEST MASTERS EDUCATIONAL SERVICES INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ROYCE C. LAMBERTH, District Judge.

Before the Court are the plaintiffs' motion ([154] and [158]) for summary judgment and the defendant's cross-motion ([157] and [159]) for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment will be GRANTED, and defendant's motion for summary judgment will be DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

The relevant facts are as follows: hoping to attend law school beginning in the fall of 2004, plaintiffs Jarrod Beck, Keerthi Reddy, and Erin Galloway signed up for an LSAT prep course with defendant, Test Masters Educational Services, Inc. ("TES"). Plaintiffs claim that they believed they were signing up with TestMasters, a company known as Robin Singh Educational Services, Inc. ("Singh"). Both companies offer test preparation classes for standardized tests such as the LSAT. Plaintiffs brought claims of common law fraud and negligent misrepresentation, as well as claims under the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act ("CPPA"), 28 D.C. Code § 28-3904(e), (f), (s), arising out of plaintiffs' purported confusion between the LSAT preparation courses offered by Singh and those offered by TES. Docket No. 30, Exh. 21, pp. 10-12.

This case comes before the Court after a tortured history, having been before two other judges before ending up here, on remand from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and on transfer from Judge John Bates of this Court. Even before that, there is a documented history of Singh filing lawsuits against TES alleging trademark violations in order to prevent TES from doing business under that name. Singh's previous suits have been unsuccessful. TES claims that this losing history is driving the current, allegedly meritless suit brought by plaintiffs, which is why TES moved for sanctions based on alleged impropriety.

This action began in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia, and was removed to this Court based on diversity jurisdiction. After being transferred to Judge Vanessa Gilmore in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, for Multi District Litigation proceedings, this case came back to this Court where Judge Robertson granted summary judgment in TES's favor on all counts brought by the plaintiffs. Further, Judge Robertson denied TES's sanctions motions-one based on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 and one based on 28 U.S.C. § 1927 and the court's inherent power-"without prejudice." Plaintiffs appealed the ruling granting summary judgment against them, and TES appealed the rulings denying without prejudice their motions for sanctions against plaintiffs and their counsel.

On the appeal of Judge Robertson's summary judgment decisions, the D.C. Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment on the common law fraud and negligence claims, but reversed as to the D.C. CPPA claims for statutory damages. Beck v. Test Masters Educ. Servs., Inc., 407 Fed.Appx. 491, 2011 WL 318403 (D.C. Cir. Jan. 31, 2011). The D.C. Circuit stated that plaintiffs' statutory claims could continue and granted limited discovery as to those claims. Now, both plaintiffs and defendant have filed motions for summary judgment as to the D.C. CPPA claims.

II. PLAINTIFFS' ALLEGATIONS

The thrust of plaintiffs' allegations is that when plaintiffs called to sign up for the TES class, TES failed to correct their alleged misunderstanding that the TES LSAT preparation course in which they enrolled was not the LSAT course run by Singh. Plaintiffs allege that when they talked to a TES representative, they mentioned that they were looking for the course recommended by a friend who had taken the course in a certain location-a location that both parties admit TES had never held an LSAT course-and the TES representative failed to say that TES had never conducted a course there.

III. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. LEGAL STANDARD FOR VIOLATIONS OF THE D.C. CPPA

The relevant alleged unlawful practices in this case are set forth in D.C. Code § 28-3904(e) and (f):

It shall be a violation of this chapter, whether or not any consumer is in fact misled, deceived or damaged ...

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