Judge Denies Certification in FDCPA Suit

A District Court judge in Ohio has denied a motion to certify a class in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case because the plaintiff’s father is a partner at the firm representing the class and because “extremely extensive individualized fact-finding” would be required to adequately identify the members of the class.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Thompson v. General Revenue Corp., can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff incurred a debt that was owed to a community college in Ohio. The plaintiff received letters from the Ohio Attorney General seeking to collect on the debt, letters that she showed to her father, who is a partner at a law firm. The father sent a letter to the Attorney General’s office disputing the debt and requesting all further contact be made through him. The Attorney General’s office never responded to the father, instead placing the account with the defendant for collections. The defendant sent a collection letter, which included the original amount owed as well as a collection fee. The plaintiff, after learning of her legal options from her father, decided to sue, at which point her father recused himself from the case. Two weeks after filing the suit, the plaintiff, with her father’s help, paid off the debt in full.

In the suit, the plaintiff alleged the defendant’s assertion that it had a legal right to collect the debt constituted a false or misleading representation, that the defendant’s claim for the collection fee and the principal balance was a false representation of the amount owed and a false representation of the services rendered or compensation which may lawfully be received.

The plaintiff proposed two classes, one which dealt with the issues of FDCPA liability and statutory damages, and one which dealt with the issue of payment reapplication of collection costs.

In going through the test to determine if the class met all four requirements, Judge George Smith of the District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, ruled that the plaintiff’s case failed both the typicality and the adequacy prongs of the test.

On the typicality test, trying to determine which class members “may be barred from bringing their claims due to issue preclusion or the collateral attack doctrine” could only be done by the Attorney General’s office manually reviewing each file.

On the adequacy test, the fact that the plaintiff’s father is a partner in the firm representing the class created a conflict of interest that Judge Smith could not ignore.

“Plaintiff’s father, as a partner in the firm serving as class counsel, stands to gain substantial monetary benefits at the conclusion of litigation if this class were to be certified,” Judge Smith wrote. “It is very plausible that Plaintiff would personally benefit more from class counsel receiving a large reward in reasonable attorney’s fees than she would if she vigorously prosecuted the interests of the class.”

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