Tag Archives: Consumer Protection

Experian Petitions Fourth Circuit to Review Certification of 88,000-Member Class

View Stuart Pratt’s Complete Bio at RBH.comExperian recently petitioned the Fourth Circuit to immediately review a district court’s order certifying an 88,000-member, nationwide class of consumers who requested Experian credit reports that listed accounts with the now-defunct Advanta Bank. In this case, Dreher v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc., No. 14-325 (4th Cir. July 3, 2014), Experian requested an interlocutory appeal under Rule 23(f), contending that, among other things, the district court’s order that certified a class with members that had suffered no injury and found Rule 23’s predominance requirement to be satisfied was “manifestly erroneous.”

In January 2012, the plaintiff filed a class-action complaint in the Eastern District of Virginia, alleging Experian had committed multiple violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) by failing to provide notice and accurate information about accounts with the defunct Advanta Bank listed on his and other consumers’ credit reports. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that Experian erroneously reported that Advanta had supplied the credit-report information, when, in fact, Cardworks, a newly appointed servicer of the Advanta accounts, had given Experian this information. For these violations, the plaintiff sought statutory damages and attorneys’ fees and costs.

Upon the plaintiff’s motion, the district court, in June 2014, issued an order and opinion finding that the plaintiff had satisfied the class-action requirements of Rule 23 and certifying a class of individuals who had received a credit report from Experian after August 1, 2010, that identified Advanta as the sole source of information for an account entry. The district court rejected Experian’s arguments that issues of individual statutory damages would predominate over common issues of liability, concluding that the damages calculation for each class member would simply be based on the number of discrete statutory violations, and not, as Experian contended, based on each member’s individualized actual harm. The district court did not address Experian’s argument that most of the potential class members lacked Article III standing because they had not suffered an injury-in-fact.

Experian’s petition to the Fourth Circuit for interlocutory review focused on these two issues: Article III standing and predominance. Experian first argued that interlocutory review was appropriate because the district court—despite recognizing that “it is unlikely that anyone suffered actual injury”— ignored Experian’s Article III standing argument. The Fourth Circuit, Experian said, recently held that “deprivation of [a] statutory right” was not “sufficient to constitute injury-in-fact for Article III standing.” David v. Alphin, 704 F.3d 327, 338 (4th Cir. 2013). Thus, Experian contended that the district court’s admission about the lack of actual injury meant the class members did not have Article III standing and the class should not have been certified.

Second, Experian claimed that the certification order erroneously found that common issues predominated over individual members’ issues. Experian said the district court justified this conclusion by improperly adopting a “Trial by Formula” approach—using a mathematical calculation based on the FCRA’s statutory-damages limits to determine the class’s total damages. Again, Experian argued that the district court’s decision conflicted with a previous Fourth Circuit decision, this time Soutter v. Equifax Information Services, LLC, 498 F. App’x 267 (4th Cir. 2010). Instead of using a math formula to determine a class’s statutory damages under FCRA, Experian asserted that Soutter requires a court to typically do an “individualized inquiry” to determine damages. Further, Experian said the district court’s “Trial by Formula” approach was improper under Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S. Ct. 2541 (2011), because the Dukes Court had rejected using such formulas to adjudicate class actions.

The plaintiff’s response to Experian’s petition is due in August. Then, it will be up to the Fourth Circuit to decide whether to allow an interlocutory appeal. We’ll continue to monitor and report on this case as it progresses in the courts.

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Can an offer of judgment to the named plaintiff moot a class action lawsuit? District of South Carolina says “No”

View David Wright's Complete Bio at RBH.comIt is often expedient for a defendant to make an offer of judgment in order to avoid the expense of lengthy proceedings, particularly when the plaintiff’s damages claim is small. But what happens when the offer of judgment is made to a class representative? Does that mean that the individual no longer has standing? And does it make any difference if the offer is made before or after the class certification motion is filed? Judge Currie grappled with these issues last week in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case, Chatham v. GC Services, LP, No. 3:14-cv-00526 (D.S.C. July 16, 2014), lamenting that “neither party [had] cite[d] to any Fourth Circuit or United States Supreme Court authority on this precise issue,” namely: “Do the presence of class allegations in the Complaint and the pendency of a motion for class certification . . . preclude the offer of judgment from rendering the Plaintiff’s class action moot?”

Although most circuits have rebuffed this defense tactic, there appears to be a bit of light in the Supreme Court’s decision in Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, 133 S. Ct. 1523 (2013). But that was a Fair Labor Standards Act case, and rules for collective actions are different. In the end, Judge Currie aligned herself with the majority rule, finding that “an offer of judgment will not moot a named plaintiff’s claim if the offer is made while a motion to certify the class is pending.”

It remains to be seen whether or not the filing of the class certification motion is dispositive in this line of cases. If it is, you can expect to see in consumer class actions simultaneous filings of class certification motions with the complaint.

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If at First You Don’t Succeed…

View Adam Doerr's Complete Bio at RBH.comUnlike many pretrial rulings, “[a] district court’s order denying or granting class status is inherently tentative.” Coopers & Lybrand v. Livesay, 437 U.S. 463, 469 n. 11 (1978). Rule 23 expressly provides that “[a]n order that grants or denies class certification may be altered or amended before final judgment.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(c)(1)(C). Indeed, as the Fourth Circuit observed, in a case our firm handled, “an order certifying a class must be reversed if it becomes apparent, at any time during the pendency of the proceeding, that class treatment of the action is inappropriate.” Stott v. Haworth, 916 F.2d 134, 139 (4th Cir. 1990) (emphasis added).

In Foster v. CEVA Freight, LLC, No. 3:10-cv-00095 (W.D.N.C.), Judge Whitney granted certification to a class of persons seeking injunctive relief for alleged Truth In Leasing Act violations. But the case evolved, and – as it approached trial – had changed into one alleging damages for breach of contract totaling $100 million. After initially declining to revisit class certification, Judge Whitney granted CEVA’s motion to decertify the damages claims, concluding that the prevalence of individually negotiated contracts destroyed commonality. Citing Wal-Mart, the Court held that there was “no longer proof of any ‘glue holding the alleged reasons for [Defendant’s 1.5 million payment] decisions together,’ much less a ‘common contention’ ‘of such a nature that it is capable of classwide resolution.”

In general, the Fourth Circuit hasn’t been fond of “glomming together” contract actions. See Broussard v. Meineke Disc. Muffler Shops, Inc., 155 F.3d 331, 340 (4th Cir. 1998) (“[P]laintiffs cannot amalgamate multiple contract actions into one”).

John Wester, David Wright, Stephen Cox and Adam Doerr of our firm were retained to serve as counsel for CEVA following the initial certification of the class.

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Court Denies Certification of Settlement Class Where Settlement Only Benefited Named Plaintiff

View Rich Worf’s Complete Bio at RBH.comThe Second Circuit has observed that “[t]he [trial] judge [in a class action] should not regard himself as an umpire in typical adversary litigation. He sits also as a guardian for class members who have not received a notice or who lack the intellectual or financial resources to press objections.” Weinberger v. Kendrick, 698 F.2d 61, 69 n.10 (2d Cir. 1982). And this role is transparently on display when it comes to approving settlements, which is the court’s responsibility under Rule 23(e). Recent decisions in other circuits emphasize, particularly after Wal-Mart, that a court must still engage in a rigorous Rule 23 review even in the context of a settlement. See Rodriguez v. National City Bank, No. 11-8079 (3d Cir. Aug. 12, 2013) (declining to approve settlement class because it failed to meet newly articulated standards of commonality).

In Supler v. FKAACS, Inc., No. 5-11-CV-229 (E.D.N.C. Nov. 6, 2012), Judge Flanagan refused to approve a consent settlement in a Fair Debt Collection Practices case involving a company that allegedly left pre-recorded messages for a debtor without identifying it was a debt collector. She found four different barriers to class certification and settlement approval: (1) it was not administratively feasible to determine who was in the class because the defendant used multiple autodialing machines, only one of which allegedly transmitted illegal messages, and there were no records to show whom it called; (2) the injunctive remedy agreed to wasn’t meaningful or beneficial to the class because defendant wasn’t in the business anymore of collecting past-due accounts; (3) the damages remedy agreed to was not meaningful as it consisted of a $2,500 payment to the named plaintiff and a $17,500 cy pres payment to Legal Aid of North Carolina; and (4) the scope of the class was improperly confined to dates relevant chiefly to the named plaintiff’s interests.

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