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Spiegel v. Ashwood Financial, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

February 2, 2017

MIKE SPIEGEL individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
ASHWOOD FINANCIAL, INC., an Indiana corporation, Defendant.

          ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S AMENDED MOTION TO CERTIFY CLASS

          LARRY J. McKINNEY, JUDGE United States District Court

         This action comes before the Court on Plaintiffs, Mike Spiegel, individually and on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated ("Spiegel's"), Amended Motion to Certify Class (the "Motion"). Dkt. No. 32. Spiegel seeks to demonstrate that all of the prerequisites for class certification pursuant to Rules 23(a) and (b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Rule 23(a)" and "Rule (b)(3), " respectively) are satisfied. Defendant Ashwood Financial, Inc. ("Ashwood") opposes Spiegel's Motion, asserting that (1) Spiegel's claims are not typical of the class because his debts have been discharged through Chapter 7 bankruptcy; and (2) a class action is not a superior method of adjudicating the claims at issue in light of the fee shifting provision of 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3) and the anticipated de minimus recovery available to the putative class members. Dkt. No. 39.

         For the reasons stated herein, the Court GRANTS the Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND & ARGUMENTS

         On March 16, 2016, Spiegel received an initial form letter from Ashwood, demanding payment of a delinquent consumer debt (the "Letter"). Dkt. No. 1, ¶ 7. The Letter stated, in part,

Unless within (30) days after receipt of the first communication from this office you dispute the validity of the debt or any portion thereof, it will be assumed to be valid. If you notify this office information [sic] within the thirty (30) day period after receipt of the first communication from this office that you dispute the debt or any portion thereof, this office will obtain verification of the debt and a copy of such verification, along with the creditor's name and address, will be mailed to you by this office. If you request information, within the thirty (30) day period, the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor, this office will provide you with the requested information. This is required under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Id.

         Spiegel alleges that the Letter failed to state that any dispute of the debt at issue or any request for the name and address of the original creditor must be made in writing, in violation of Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA") under 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692g(a)(4) & (5). Id. at ¶ 13. Spiegel further argues that Ashwood's failure to notify Spiegel that such disputes or requests must be in writing constituted unfair and unconscionable collection actions in violation of the FDCPA because whether a dispute could be made orally or in writing could determine whether a consumer wishes to dispute the debt. Id. at¶¶8, 17.

         Spiegel requests that the Court allow him to represent a class with the following definition:

All persons similarly situated in the State of Indiana from whom Ashwood attempted to collect a delinquent consumer debt, via the same form collection letter that Ashwood sent to Spiegel from one year before the date of the initial Complaint to the present.

Dkt. No. 33 at 3. Plaintiff asserts that all the pre-requisites for class certification pursuant to Rules 23(a) and (b)(3) are met.

         Specifically, as to numerosity, the parties agreed that the proposed class would exceed 600 people. Id. at 4-5; David J. Phillips Deck, ¶ 13; Dkt. No. 39 at 4-5. With respect to commonality, Spiegel asserts that there are at least two issues common to each class member: (1) whether the Letter violates the FDCPA; and (2) the appropriate relief that should be awarded. Dkt. No. 33 at 5-6. Similarly, Spiegel states that his claims are typical of the class "because they are brought pursuant to the FDCPA, relate to the identical form debt collection letter, and involve the same course of conduct by [Ashwood]." Id. at 6. In regard to adequacy of representation, Spiegel asserts that his claims are identical, rather than antagonistic, to those of the class, and avers that he has sufficient interest in the outcome to ensure vigorous advocacy. Id. at 7. Spiegel's counsel is also highly experienced in bringing class claims pursuant to the FDCPA. Id.; David J. Phillips Decl. Spiegel asserts that questions of law or fact common to the members of the class predominate over any questions affecting individual class members because "liability to each class member is based on the form debt collection letter all members of the proposed class received." Dkt. No. 33 at 8. Spiegel further argues that a class action is superior to any alternative adjudication methods because: (1) a class action ensures that the rights of all class members are protected, even if they are unaware of their rights; (2) the interests each class member has in individually prosecuting their claims is small in light of the relatively small amount of damages any party can receive under the FDCPA; (3) no other litigation is currently pending concerning the Letter by or against any members of the proposed class; (4) principles of judicial economy favor determining the legality of Ashwood's practices in one action, rather than requiring every member of the potential class to litigate these issues individually; and (5) this case does not present any significant management problems if the class was certified. Id. at 8-9.

         Ashwood argues that because Spiegel's debt was discharged through Chapter 7 bankruptcy and he has no personal interest in offsetting other putative class members' debts, Spiegel's claims are not typical of the proposed class, and Spiegel would not be willing to pursue set offs for other class members' debts. Dkt. No. 39 at 6-12. Furthermore, Ashwood argues that a class action is not a superior method of adjudication in this instance because (1) the fee-shifting provision of the FDCPA sufficiently incentivizes members of the potential class to litigate their claims individually; and (2) the potential class members would be entitled to only de minimus recovery for their FDCPA claims due to Ashwood's poor financial state. Id. at 12-15.

         II. ...


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