185 F.R.D. 681 (S.D.Fla. 1998), 95-2738-CIV-KEHOE, Singer v. AT & T Corp.

Docket Nº95-2738-CIV-KEHOE.
Citation185 F.R.D. 681
Opinion JudgeKEHOE, Senior District Judge.
Party NameLenore Deutch SINGER, on her own behalf and on behalf of all class members similarly situated, Plaintiff, v. AT & T CORPORATION, a foreign corporation, Defendant.
AttorneyMichael A. Hanzman, Michael Elliot Criden, Mark Jurgen Heise, Hanzman, Criden, Korge, Chaykin, Ponce & Heis, Miami, FL, for Lenore Deutch Singer, on her own behalf and behalf of all class members similarly. Todd R. Legon, Wallace, Bauman, Legon, Fodiman & Shannon, Miami, FL, for AT & T Corp., a f...
Judge PanelGARBER, United States Magistrate Judge.
Case DateMarch 04, 1998
CourtUnited States District Courts, 11th Circuit, Southern District of Florida

Page 681

185 F.R.D. 681 (S.D.Fla. 1998)

Lenore Deutch SINGER, on her own behalf and on behalf of all class members similarly situated, Plaintiff,

v.

AT & T CORPORATION, a foreign corporation, Defendant.

No. 95-2738-CIV-KEHOE.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida, Miami Division.

March 4, 1998

Page 682

Customer brought class action against long-distance telephone company alleging overbilling of customers with multiple phone lines, and asserting claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), and bad faith. Customer moved to certify class. The District Court, Kehoe, Senior District Judge, adopted the report and recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Garber, which held that: (1) proposed class met commonality and typicality requirements even though some proposed members may have been correctly billed; (2) issue of company's liability predominated over individual issues concerning justification for billing of some proposed members; (3) reliance on company's alleged misrepresentations as to price could be presumed for purposes of class certification of RICO action; and (4) class action was superior method of adjudicating controversy.

Motion granted.

Page 683

Michael A. Hanzman, Michael Elliot Criden, Mark Jurgen Heise, Hanzman, Criden, Korge, Chaykin, Ponce & Heis, Miami, FL, for Lenore Deutch Singer, on her own behalf and behalf of all class members similarly.

Page 684

Todd R. Legon, Wallace, Bauman, Legon, Fodiman & Shannon, Miami, FL, for AT & T Corp., a foreign, corporation.

ORDER

KEHOE, Senior District Judge.

FOR THE REASONS

stated in the Report and Recommendation of the United States Magistrate Judge, and upon an independent review of the file, it is

ORDERED AND ADJUDGED

that the Plaintiff's Motion for Class Certification [Docket No. 12] is GRANTED. It is

FURTHER ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that all pending motions that have not heretofore been ruled upon, except for the Defendant's Motion for Protective Order to Prohibit the Deposition of John D. Zeglls, Esq. [Docket No. 136], are DENIED as moot.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

GARBER, United States Magistrate Judge.

THIS MATTER is before this Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Class Certification. An Order of Reference was entered by United States District Judge Joan Lenard on April 12, 1996. The case was subsequently transferred to United States District Judge Kehoe. This Court has reviewed the numerous submissions by the parties and held a lengthy hearing on September 30, 1997.

ALLEGED FACTS

AT & T has for many years, upon customer's request, installed or connected two or more phone lines in homes and businesses throughout the United States. In order to install two or more phone lines to multiple telephone sets at a home or office, AT & T would utilize what is known as " key common equipment -1st 4 lines" (" key equipment" ).1 Key equipment made it possible to transmit and receive interstate telephone transmissions on more than one line connected to more than one telephone at a single location. One piece of key equipment is all that was necessary for the first four lines at a home or business. Additional key equipment was required when a customer desired more than four lines connected to multiple telephones at a single location.

Plaintiff Lenore Deutch Singer (" Singer" ) had two lines installed in her home utilizing a single key equipment unit. Singer received two separate bills for the two lines installed in her home. Both bills reflected monthly charges for the leasing of key equipment. In essence, Singer was allegedly billed twice for the same equipment.

Singer instituted this class action on her behalf and on behalf of all persons and entities overcharged for key equipment by AT & T after January 1, 1984. 2 Singer alleges that AT & T is liable for violations of the RICO Act, breach of contract, unjust enrichment and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing.

On August 21, 1996, this Court deferred ruling on Plaintiff's Motion for Class Certification, and allowed discovery limited solely to the certification issues. As a result of such discovery, AT & T produced spreadsheets from its computerized billing system identifying customers that were billed more than once per key equipment at the same installation location address in a single billing cycle. The spreadsheets provided a list of 30,000 past and present AT & T customers who were billed twice for key equipment at the same installation location address in a single billing cycle.

DISCUSSION

Class actions serve three essential purposes: (1) to facilitate judicial economy

Page 685

by the avoidance of multiple suits on the same subject matter; (2) to provide a feasible means for asserting the rights of those who would have no realistic day in court if a class action were not available; and (3) to deter inconsistent results, assuring a uniform, singular determination of rights and liabilities. American Pipe and Constr., Co. v. Utah, 414 U.S. 538, 550, 94 S.Ct. 756, 38 L.Ed.2d 713 (1974); Phillips Petroleum Co. v. Shutts, 472 U.S. 797, 105 S.Ct. 2965, 86 L.Ed.2d 628 (1985); First Federal of Michigan v. Barrow, 878 F.2d 912, 919 (6th Cir.1989). Class certification is strictly a procedural matter and the merits of the claims at stake are not to be considered when determining the propriety of the class action vehicle. Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, 417 U.S. 156, 94 S.Ct. 2140, 40 L.Ed.2d 732 (1974).

" Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, a class action determination is left to the sound discretion of the district court. The district court's decision is reversible only when it abuses its discretion." Jaffree v. Wallace, 705 F.2d 1526, 1536 (11th Cir.1983); Gulf Oil Co. v. Bernard, 452 U.S. 89, 100, 101 S.Ct. 2193, 68 L.Ed.2d 693 (1981); Lawler v. Alexander, 698 F.2d 439, 441 (11th Cir.1983) In reaching the class certification decision, the district court may consider both the allegations of the complaint and the supplemental evidentiary submissions of the parties. Blackie v. Barrack, 524 F.2d 891, 901 n. 17 (9th Cir.1975). Doubts regarding the propriety of class certification should be resolved in favor of certification. 4 H. NEWBERG & A. CONTE, NEWBERG ON CLASS ACTIONS § 7540 (3d ed.1992); Esplin v. Hirschi, 402 F.2d 94, 99 (10th Cir.1968) Class certification is conditional only, and if it appears through discovery that certification was improvidently granted, options such as decertification or revised certification are always available to the district court. Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(c)(1).

I. Class Definition.

Rule 23 governs the certification process. Before considering the requirements of Rule 23, however, a court must determine whether a class exists that can adequately be defined. DeBremaecker v. Short, 433 F.2d 733, 734 (5th Cir.1970). Establishing an early definition of the class serves two functions: (1) it enables the court to determine whether the case is suitable for certification; and (2) it " insures that those actually harmed by defendants' wrongful conduct will be recipients of the relief eventually provided." Simer v. Rios, 661 F.2d 655, 670 (7th Cir.1981).

It is generally acknowledged that a class must be capable of ready identification. DeBremaecker, 433 F.2d at 734. Class definition is of critical importance because it identifies the persons who are entitled to relief, bound by a final judgment and entitled to notice in a Rule 23(b)(3) action. MANUAL FOR COMPLEX LITIGATION, THIRD § 30.14 (1995). Thus, class definition is an implicit requirement which must be met before a Rule 23 analysis can be undertaken by the district court. In re A.H. Robins Co., 880 F.2d 709, 728 (4th Cir.1989); Joseph v. General Motors Corp., 109 F.R.D. 635, 638 (D.Colo.1986).

The definition requirement is problematic. " Not only is Rule 23 silent as to what constitutes a class, but the courts have not attempted to provide an exact definition of the term." 7A CHARLES A. WRIGHT, ET AL., FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 1760 (2d ed.1986). The only requirement is that the description of the class be sufficiently definite to enable the court to determine if a particular individual is a member of the proposed class. Pottinger v. City of Miami, 720 F.Supp. 955, 957 (S.D.Fla.1989). While the definition of the class must not be vague or difficult to apply, the implicit definition requirement does not require an overly strict degree of certainty and is to be liberally applied. Georgia Ass'n of Retarded Citizens v. McDaniel, 716 F.2d 1565, 1571 n. 3 (11th Cir.1983), vacated on other grounds, 468 U.S. 1213, 104 S.Ct. 3581, 82 L.Ed.2d 880 (1984).

AT & T ferociously opposes class certification on the basis that Singer cannot adequately define a class. Singer seeks certification of all lessees of key equipment throughout the United States who were billed by AT & T more than once per billing cycle for key common equipment from January

Page 686

1, 1984 though the entry of final judgment. Singer bases her definition of the proposed class on a list produced by AT & T of at least 30,000 customers who were billed multiple times for one piece of key equipment. AT & T attacks the class definition on the basis that there are three scenarios under which customers, although charged multiple times for one key equipment board, were in actuality billed correctly.

This Court finds that Singer has adequately defined the Class. Singer has produced evidence indicating that AT & T had a nationwide uniform billing procedure of charging customers once for key equipment per physical location. Singer has defined the class...

To continue reading

Request your trial