United States District Court, E.D. New York
ALTAGRACIA DIAZ, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
RESIDENTIAL CREDIT SOLUTIONS, INC., Defendant.
Kleinman LLC Abraham Kleinman, Esq., Of Counsel Uniondale, NY, Attorney for the Plaintiff.
Edelman, Combs, Latturner & Goodwin, LLC Cathleen M. Combs, Esq., & Tiffany N. Hardy, Esq., of Counsel Chicago, IL, Attorneys for the Plaintiff.
Lowenstein Sandler PC Jason E. Halper, Esq., of Counsel. New York, NY, Attorneys for the Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER
ARTHUR D. SPATT, District Judge.
On July 31, 2012, the Plaintiff Altagracia Diaz ("the Plaintiff"), on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, commenced this action against the Defendant Residential Credit Solutions, Inc. ("the Defendant" or "RCS") for alleged unlawful credit and collection practices engaged in by the Defendant in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. ("FDCPA"). Presently before the Court is the Plaintiff's motion for class certification pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Fed. R. Civ. P.") 23. In this regard, the Plaintiff seeks to certify a class defined as (a) all individuals in New York (b) who were sent a letter in the form of the form letter attached to the Plaintiff's motion papers as Exhibit A, which was not returned as undeliverable, (c) on or after July 31, 2011, and on or before August 20, 2012.
For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the Plaintiff's motion without prejudice with leave to renew upon the submission of evidence concerning the Plaintiff's adequacy as the class representative in this action.
The Defendant is a servicing company that manages performing and nonperforming residential mortgage loans. According to the Plaintiff, the Defendant is a "special servicer, " which means that it services distressed mortgages and attempts to collect on consumer mortgages that are in default when the Defendant first becomes involved. (Amend. Compl., ¶ 6.)
On or about May 5, 2012, the Defendant sent a validation notice to the Plaintiff, an individual, seeking to collect an alleged consumer debt. In this regard, the validation notice claimed that the Plaintiff owed a sum to JP Morgan Mortgage Acquisition Corporation ("JP Morgan") in connection with a mortgage loan. The total debt was for $370, 430.91.
According to the Plaintiff, the validation notice "is a form letter (designated OL0315) which [the] [D]efendant uses for the purpose of attempting to comply with 15 U.S.C. § 1692g." (Amend. Compl., ¶ 9.) In addition, it is alleged that the "Plaintiff did not receive any other document from [the] [D]efendant purporting to contain the initial disclosures required by 15 U.S.C. § 1692g." (Amend. Compl., ¶ 10.)
The Defendant's May 5, 2012 letter advised the Plaintiff as follows:
You may notify RCS in writing within thirty days of receipt of this letter that the debt or any portion of the debt is disputed. If no notice is received by RCS within the 30 day period, it will be assumed that the above information is accurate and the debt is valid. If/once written notice is received within the 30 day period, RCS will obtain verification of the debt or a copy of a judgment against you, the consumer. A copy of the verification of debt or judgment will be mailed to the mailing address on record for you along, with, if requested in writing, a statement that provides the
name and address of the original creditor. (Amend. Compl., Exh. A.)
The Plaintiff asserts that this passage violates the FCPA, specifically 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692g(a), 1692e, 1692e(2) and 1692e(10). In this regard, the Plaintiff alleges that the letter (1) "[s]tates that any dispute that the debtor elects to send is to be in writing, when a writing is only necessary to obtain verification of the debt or the identification of the original creditor"; (2) indicates that the Defendant needs to receive notice that the debt is being disputed within the 30 day period, when the Plaintiff is only required to send her notice within that period and is not required to guarantee receipt; (3) "[s]tates that [i]f no notice is received by RCS within the 30 day period, it will be assumed that... the debt it is valid, " without limitation, when only RCS and its principal may assume that it is valid"; (4) "[s]tates that all information set forth in the letter concerning the debt will be assumed to be valid, including information which the debtor knows nothing about and can know nothing about, such as whether RCS is holding any unapplied funds' and whether there is a negative escrow balance, '" even though there is no authorization for this found in 15 U.S.C. § 1692g; and (5) fails to notify the debtor that he has the right to dispute a portion of the debt. (Amend. Compl, ¶ 12; Pl. Mem., pg. 2-4.)
A. Legal Standard for Class Certification
Before certifying a putative class, the Court must determine (1) whether the class meets the four Rule 23(a) requirements of numerosity, commonality, typicality and adequacy; and if so, (2) whether the class satisfies one of the three categories listed in Rule 23(b). See Brown v. Kelly, 609 F.3d 467, 476 (2d Cir. 2010); Teamsters Local 445 Freight Div. Pension Fund v. Bombardier, Inc., 546 F.3d 196, 202 (2d Cir. 2008); City of Livonia Employees' Ret. Sys. v. Wyeth, 284 F.R.D. 17, 176-77 (S.D.N.Y. 2012). "The party seeking class certification bears the burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that each of Rule 23's requirements has been met." Myers v. Hertz Corp., 624 F.3d 537, 547 (2d Cir. 2010).
As the Supreme Court recently observed:
Rule 23 does not set forth a mere pleading standard. A party seeking class certification must affirmatively demonstrate his compliance with the Rule - that is, he must be prepared to prove that there are in fact sufficiently numerous parties, common questions of law or fact, etc... [S]ometimes it may be necessary for the court to probe behind the pleadings before coming to rest on the certification question, and  certification is proper only if the trial court is satisfied, after a rigorous analysis, that the prerequisites of Rule 23(a) have been satisfied. Frequently that rigorous analysis will entail some overlap with the merits of the plaintiff's underlying claim. That cannot be helped.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, ___ U.S. ___, ___, 131 S.Ct. 2541, 2551, 180 L.Ed.2d 374, 390 (2011) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Secs. Litig. v. Gen. Reinsurance Corp. (In re Am. Int'l Group Inc.), 689 F.3d 229, 237 (2d Cir. 2012); Oakley v. Verizon Comm'ns., Inc., No. 09 Civ. 9175(CM), 2012 WL 335657, at *12 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 1, 2012) (holding that while "[t]he certifying court should not make any factual findings or merits determinations that are not necessary to the Rule 23 analysis, ... where merits issues cannot be avoided they must be addressed"). Thus, "the United States Supreme Court has made it clear that courts cannot certify classes where Rule 23 requirements are not met, and should not contort the requirements in order to certify." Oakley, 2012 WL 335657, at *12.
However, in deciding certification, courts must still take a liberal rather than a restrictive approach in determining whether the plaintiff satisfies Rule 23's requirements and may exercise broad discretion when determining whether to certify a class. See Flores v. Anjost Corp., 284 F.R.D. 112, 122 (S.D.N.Y. 2012); Pecere v. Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield, 194 F.R.D. 66, 69 (E.D.N.Y. 2000). Further, "[t]he dispositive question is not whether the plaintiff has stated a cause of action or will prevail on the merits, but rather whether the requirements of Rule 23 are met." Kowalski v. YellowPages.com, LLC, 10 Civ. 7318 (PGG), 2012 WL 1097350, at *12 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2012) (quoting Lewis Tree Service, Inc. v. Lucent Technologies, 211 F.R.D. 228, 231 (S.D.N.Y. 2002).
B. Legal Standard Under the FDCPA
"The FDCPA creates a general prohibition against the use of false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt.'" Miller v. Wolpoff & Abramson, L.L.P., 321 F.3d 292, 300 (2d Cir. 2003) (citing 15 U.S.C. § 1692e). In this regard, 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(2), in relevant part, prohibits a debt collector from falsely representing "the character, amount, or legal status of any debt[.]" 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(2)(A). Also, § 1692e(10) proscribes a debt collector from "[t]he use of any false representation or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect any debt or to obtain information concerning a consumer."
In addition, pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1692g, debt collectors must "include a validation notice' either in the initial communication with a consumer in connection with the collection of a debt or within five days of that initial communication, which must inform the consumer that he or she has certain rights, including the rights to make a written request for verification of the debt and to dispute the validity of debt." Miller, 321 F.3d at 309 (citing 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a)). In particular, § 1692g(a) requires that the validation notice include:
(1) the amount of the debt;
(2) the name of the creditor to whom the ...