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Spice v. Blatt, Hasenmiller, Leibsker & Moore LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

January 24, 2018

GLORIA SPICE, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
BLATT, HASENMILLER, LIEBSKER & MOORE LLC, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Plaintiff Gloria Spice, on behalf of herself and others similarly situated, has brought this class action against Blatt, Hasenmiller, Liebsker & Moore LLC, asserting a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. This matter is before the Court on the Plaintiff's Motion for Class Certification [ECF No. 28]. For reasons stated herein, the Court grants class certification.

         BACKGROUND

         The Plaintiff seeks to certify the following class:

All individuals in the State of Indiana to whom Defendant sent, within one year before the date of the original complaint[1] and in connection with the collection of a debt, a letter based upon the Template. The Template is defined as the form debt collection letter upon which the April 20, 2016 and April 21, 2016 letters that the Defendant sent to the Plaintiff are based, containing the language: “As of the date of this letter, you owe [dollar amount].”

(Pl. Mot. for Class Cert. 1.) The crux of the Plaintiff's argument is that the Defendant used this language (“As of the date of this letter, you owe [dollar amount].”) for both consumer debts subject to the accrual of interest and those not subject to the interest accrual. The language in the Template, therefore, can be reasonably interpreted in multiple ways and thus violates the FDCPA.

         The Defendant is an entity that, in some instances and for some purposes, uses the mail and telephone to collect debts. (Class Action Compl. ¶¶ 20-21, ECF No. 1; Def. Answer ¶¶ 20- 21, ECF No. 12.) The Plaintiff allegedly owed consumer debts to two creditors, neither of which are the Defendant. (Class Action Compl. ¶¶ 22, 23.) The Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant mailed three letters to her in an attempt to collect the debts, and these three letters form the basis of the Plaintiff's suit. (Id. at ¶¶ 25, 33, 42.)

         The first letter involved a debt allegedly owed to a Midland Funding, LLC account number ending -0557 (MF-0557 Debt). (Id. at ¶ 25.) The Defendant sent the Plaintiff a letter, dated April 20, 2016, which states: “As of the date of this letter, you owe $14, 599.73.” (Id. at ¶¶ 26, 28; id., Ex. A.) The April 20, 2016, letter was the initial communication between the Defendant and the Plaintiff in connection with the collection of the MF-0557 Debt. (Id. at ¶ 27; Pl. Mot. for Class Cert., Ex. B ¶ 5.) As well, the MF-0557 Debt is reduced to judgment, which provides that the debt will accrue interest at 8% per annum. (Class Action Compl., ¶¶ 29-31; id., Ex. B.)

         The second letter involved a debt allegedly owed to Bank of America, with an account number ending -3344 (BoA-3344 Debt). (Id. at ¶ 33.) The Defendant sent the Plaintiff a letter, dated April 21, 2016, which states: “As of the date of this letter, you owe $33, 230.90.” (Id. at ¶¶ 34, 36; id., Ex. C.) The April 21, 2016, letter was the initial communication between the Defendant and the Plaintiff in connection with the collection of the BoA-3344 Debt. (Id. at ¶ 35; Pl. Mot. for Class Cert., Ex. B ¶ 5.) Additionally, the BoA-3344 Debt is reduced to judgment, which provides that the debt will not accrue any interest. (Class Action Compl., ¶¶ 37-39; id., Ex. D.)

         The third letter involved another debt allegedly owed to Bank of America, with an account number ending -6122 (BoA-6122 Debt). (Id. at ¶ 42.) The Defendant sent the Plaintiff a letter, also dated April 21, 2016, which states: “As of the date of this letter, you owe $4, 735.80.” (Id. at ¶¶ 34, 36; id., Ex. E.) This April 21, 2016, letter was the initial communication between the Defendant and the Plaintiff in connection with the collection of the BoA-6122 Debt. (Id. at ¶ 44; Pl. Mot. for Class Cert., Ex. B ¶ 5.) The BoA-6122 Debt is reduced to judgment, which provides that interest on the debt will accrue “as provided by law until paid in full.” (Class Action Compl., ¶¶ 46-48; id., Ex. F.)

         The Plaintiff was not the only person to receive this type of letter from the Defendant. During the proposed class period-October 18, 2015, through October 18, 2016-the Defendant estimates that it mailed a letter based on the same template or form as the April 2016 letters to approximately 86, 106 individuals[2] within the proposed class definition. (Def. Opp'n to Mot. for Class Cert. 14.) The Defendant possesses the names, addresses, and phone numbers of each potential member of the class as defined, and has agreed to preserve such information. (Pl. Mot. for Class Cert., Ex. A ¶ 18.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Class Certification

         If a proposed class meets all of the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) and one of the requirements of Rule 23(b), then class certification is proper. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23; Rosario v. Livaditis, 963 F.2d 1013, 1017 (7th Cir. 1992). Rule 23(a) is satisfied if:

(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable;
(2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class;
(3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and
(4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)(1)-(4); Kress v. CCA of Tenn., LLC, 694 F.3d 890, 892-93 (7th Cir. 2012). If all of these prerequisites are met, the Court must also find that at least one of the subsections of Rule 23(b) is satisfied. As relevant here, Rule 23(b)(3) is satisfied if:

(3) the court finds that the questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy. The matters pertinent to these findings include:
(A) the class members' interests in individually controlling the prosecution or defense of separate actions;
(B) the extent and nature of any litigation concerning the controversy already begun by or against class members;
(C) the desirability or undesirability of concentrating the litigation of the claims in the particular forum; and
(D) the likely difficulties in managing a class action.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3); Harper v. Sheriff of Cook Cty., 581 F.3d 511, 513 (7th Cir. 2009).

         A plaintiff who fulfills both conditions of Rule 23 is entitled to class certification. See Shady Grove Orthopedic Assocs., P.A. v. Allstate Ins. Co., 559 U.S. 393, 398 (2010) (“[Rule 23] creates a categorical rule entitling a plaintiff whose suit meets the specified criteria to pursue his claim as a class action.”). However, Rule 23 “does not set forth a mere pleading standard”; rather, a plaintiff “must affirmatively demonstrate his compliance with the Rule [and] be prepared to prove” its requirements. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338, 350 (2011). In deciding whether Rule 23 has been satisfied, the district court undertakes “a rigorous analysis” by making the necessary factual and legal ...


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