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Consumer Protection — voluntary payment doctrine

Wisconsin Court of Appeals

Civil

Consumer Protection — voluntary payment doctrine

The voluntary payment doctrine does not bar statutory misrepresentation claims or racketeering claims.

“[W]e conclude that the voluntary payment doctrine does not bar MBS’s WIS. STAT. § 100.18 claim. Because MBS has properly stated a claim under the statute, we must now analyze whether the voluntary payment rule is at odds with the manifest purpose of the statute. See MBS II, 338 Wis. 2d 647, ¶¶78, 80 (‘If the court of appeals concludes that MBS has stated a claim under WIS. STAT. § 100.18(1), then it will need to address whether the voluntary payment doctrine is a viable defense to a claim under that statute.’). As noted above, it is evident from the language of § 100.18, as well as relevant case law, that the statute applies to a broad range of false statements and misrepresentations. See Novell I, 309 Wis. 2d 132, ¶¶ 14, 18-20, 59, 62; Novell II, 325 Wis. 2d 230, ¶¶10-13; Dorr, 228 Wis. 2d at 445-46. It is also evident from the statutory language that the purpose of the statute is to prohibit certain activities—in this case, representations made in a commercial setting—without placing the heightened pleading requirements that fraud requires. Cf. Butcher v. Ameritech Corp., 2007 WI App 5, ¶15, 298 Wis. 2d 468, 727 N.W.2d 546 (fraud a defense to the voluntary payment doctrine). If a party violating § 100.18 can defend its actions using the voluntary payment rule, then the broad, remedial purpose of § 100.18 would be undermined. See MBS II, 338 Wis. 2d 647, ¶¶54-55 (voluntary payment doctrine did not apply to WIS. STAT. § 100.207 claim because legislative purpose would be severely undermined). Consequently, we conclude that the voluntary payment doctrine does not apply to claims under § 100.18, and consequently does not bar MBS’s § 100.18 claim against defendants. Thus by alleging that defendants represented to MBS that it owed money for services that it did not authorize—whether directly or indirectly—the complaint properly alleges a claim under § 100.18.”

Affirmed in part, and Reversed in part.

Recommended for publication in the official reports.

2008AP1830 MBS-Certified Public Accountants, LLC, v. Wisconsin Bell, Inc.

Dist. I, Milwaukee County, Sankovitz, J., Curley, J.

Attorneys: For Appellant: Dehler, Douglas P., Milwaukee; Miller, James E., Chester, Conn.; Shah, James C., Media, PA; For Respondent: Friebert, Robert H., Milwaukee; Meuler, Christopher M., Milwaukee; Harley, Gregory F., Atlanta, GA


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