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PLEASANT v. RISK MANAGEMENT ALTERNATIVES

September 18, 2003

DEBRA PLEASANT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RISK MANAGEMENT ALTERNATIVES, INC. DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David Coar, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Debra Pleasant filed this action alleging a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act on September 27, 2002. After Defendant Risk Management Alternatives, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss was denied, Plaintiff renewed her Motion for Class Certification. That renewed Motion for Class Certification is presently before the Court.

Factual and Procedural Background

On January 14, 2003, Plaintiff filed her renewed Motion for Class Certification. On June 12, 2003, Defendant filed a document styled a "Conditional Stipulation to Plaintiffs Motion for Class Certification" (Docket No. 30). In this Conditional Stipulation, Defendant sought to withdraw conditionally its objections to Plaintiffs Motion for Class Certification. Specifically, Defendant proposed to agree to class certification "contingent upon execution by the Parties of a settlement agreement which is approved by the Court and is not vacated on appeal." (Def. Cond. Stip., ¶ 3). If the parties could not reach a settlement agreement or the settlement were vacated on appeal, Defendant sought to "reserve the right to reassert its objections to the proposed class." [ Page 2]

(Def. Cond. Stip., ¶ 5) Although Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure does permit conditional orders to certify a class, see Fed, R. Civ. P. 23(c)(1), Defendant's proposed conditions invite needless serial relitigation of the class certification issue. Moreover, the Seventh Circuit has recently emphasized that "Rule 23(c) imposes an independent duty on the district court to determine by order that the requirements of Rule 23(a) are met regardless of the defendant's admissions." Davis v. Hutchins, 321 F.3d 641, 649 (7th Cir. 2003). Rather than conditionally certify the class in the manner sought by Defendant, the Court will address the merits of the class certification issues here.

I. Analysis

Plaintiff Debra Pleasant ("Plaintiff or "Pleasant") filed a one-count class action complaint against Defendant Risk Management Alternatives, Inc. ("Defendant" or "RMA") under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692k. The Complaint alleges that she received a letter from Defendant dated June 13, 2002 offering her a "one time settlement" to settle her debt for half the amount owed on one condition: the settlement amount had to be received by June 26, 2002. (Comp. ¶ 6, Ex. A) Plaintiff alleges in her complaint that the time limitation in the offer was false in violation of 15 U.S.C. § l692e. Plaintiff seeks to proceed on behalf of a class of plaintiffs consisting of: (a) all natural persons in Illinois, (b) to whom Defendant Risk Management Alternatives, Inc. sent a letter, (c) on behalf of Bank One Credit Company, (d) offering a settlement at 50 percent or more of the balance due, (e) that must be accepted within a limited period, (f) which letter was sent on or after September 26, 2001 (one year prior to the filing of this action). To that end, she filed the motion for class certification presently before the Court. [ Page 3]

A similar class action suit was brought against the same defendant in this district. See Jones v. Risk Management Alternatives. Inc., No. 02 C 9392, 2003 WL 21654365 (N.D. 111. July 11, 2003). In Jones, the plaintiff alleged that RMA sent multiple "one-time" settlement letters to the same debtors. In the instant case, the allegations only include a single "one-time" settlement letter, but the facts of the two cases are sufficiently similar that the analysis of the class certification issue in Jones will be instructive here.

A. Legal Standards

Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure sets forth the relevant standards for maintaining class action suits in federal court. In order to bring a class action, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the lawsuit meets the four requirements of Rule 23(a), which are: (1) numerosity; (2) commonality; (3) typicality; and (4) adequacy of representation. Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a). In addition, the Plaintiff must satisfy one of the three conditions of Rule 23(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b). In the case before the Court, Plaintiff seeks certification under Rule 23(b)(3), which authorizes class actions where the "questions of law or fact common to the members of the class predominate over any questions affecting individual members, and a class action is superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy." Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(3). The burden of proof on a motion for class certification rests with the Plaintiff. See Gen. Tel. Co. v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 162 (1982). The failure to satisfy all of these requirements precludes certification of a class.

B. Rule 23(a) Requirements

1. Numerosity

The proposed class must be "so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable." [ Page 4]

Fed.R.Civ.Pro. 23(a)(1). This places a positive burden on the party seeking to certify the class to show that there are enough class members that it would not make sense to bring them all into court. The plaintiff is not required to show a set number of class members to discharge that burden. The actual number of class members necessary to certify a class depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case. "When the class is large, numbers alone are dispositive, but when the class is small, factors other than numbers become significant." Riordan v. Smith Barney, 113 F.R.D. 60, 62 ...


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