457 F.3d 291(3rd Cir. 2006), 05-3530, Beck v. Maximus, Inc.

Docket Nº:05-3530.
Citation:457 F.3d 291
Party Name:Donna M. BECK, on Behalf of Herself and All Others Similarly Situated v. MAXIMUS, INC., Appellant.
Case Date:August 04, 2006
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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457 F.3d 291 (3rd Cir. 2006)

Donna M. BECK, on Behalf of Herself and All Others Similarly Situated

v.

MAXIMUS, INC., Appellant.

No. 05-3530.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.

August 4, 2006

Argued April 27, 2006.

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania D.C. Civil Action No. 04-cv-02199 (Honorable Edmund V. Ludwig)

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 293

James A. Keller, (Argued), James F. Kilcur, Saul Ewing LLP, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for Appellant.

James A. Francis, (Argued), Francis & Mailman, P.C., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, David A. Searles, Donovan Searles, LLC, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for Appellee.

Before SCIRICA, Chief Judge, NYGAARD and ALARCÓN, [*] Circuit Judges.

OPINION

SCIRICA, Chief Judge.

In this consumer class action against a debt collector, the issue on appeal is whether the District Court erred in certifying a class when defendant asserted a defense unique to the claims of the class representative. We will vacate and remand.

I.

Maximus, Inc. has a contract with the U.S. Department of Education to collect overdue student loans. Between May 20, 2003, and May 20, 2004, Maximus sent a form collection letter entitled "Employment Verification Request" to the employers of 776 Pennsylvania individuals. The Employment Verification Request displayed "MAXIMUS Collection Center" in boldface type at the top and bottom of the page and requested information about the individual's location and employment. On May 28, 2003, Maximus sent an Employment Verification Request to appellee Donna M. Beck's employer, Inolex Chemical Company.

Beck did not have an outstanding loan with the Department of Education. Maximus had confused her with another woman, with the same name, who lived in the same Philadelphia neighborhood. The two women had a history of being mistaken for one another. They had been confused on voter registration rolls, and their credit histories had been mixed up by the credit information service that provided Maximus with employment information.

Before sending the Employment Verification Request, a Maximus representative telephoned Inolex at least twice, attempting to reach Beck. On one call, Inolex's human-resources department informed the Maximus representative that, based on the social security number he provided, the debtor "Donna M. Beck" did not work there. The Maximus representative responded by contending Beck must be using two different social security numbers. Notified of the inquiries, Beck called Maximus to clarify she was not the debtor in question. She also contacted the other Donna M. Beck, met her in person, and established she had an outstanding debt with the Department of Education. After this meeting, neither woman contacted Maximus to clarify the situation. Beck testified that when she saw the Employment Verification Request, she knew it was intended for the other Donna M. Beck and was sent to Inolex in error.

On May 20, 2004, Beck filed a complaint in the District Court, alleging Maximus

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violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692b, 1692c, 1692d, 1692e, and 1692f. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is intended to protect both debtors and non-debtors from misleading and abusive debt-collection practices. See § 1692(e). Among other things, the Act expressly prohibits "[a]ny debt collector communicating with any person other than the consumer" from "stat[ing] that such consumer owes any debt," § 1692b(2), and from "indicating] that the debt collector is in the debt collection business or that the communication relates to the collection of a debt," § 1692b(5). The complaint alleged Maximus violated the Act by sending Beck's employer a form collection letter, which improperly identified the sender as a collection agency and implied the existence of a debt.

Section 1692k(c) of the Act offers a defense to a debt collector whose violation results from a bona fide error. It provides:

A debt collector may not be liable in any action under this subchapter if the debt collector shows by a preponderance of evidence that the violation was not intentional and resulted from a bona fide error notwithstanding the maintenance of procedures reasonably adapted to avoid such error.

15 U.S.C. § 1692k(c).

Beck filed a motion for class certification of 776 consumers in Pennsylvania whose employers received an Employment Verification Request from Maximus. Maximus responded it had a defense to Beck's claims under § 1692k(c) because it made a bona fide error on the identity of the debtor "Donna M. Beck." Maximus contended this defense, unique to Beck's claims, precluded Beck from being an adequate representative with claims typical of the class. After the District Court denied Maximus's motion to dismiss the class allegations, Maximus filed an answer to the complaint, again contending it had a defense to Beck's claims under § 1692k(c).

Maximus designated two corporate witnesses under Fed.R.Civ.P. 30(b)(6)—the project manager who oversaw student loan collection, and the collection supervisor in charge of assuring compliance with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. At depositions prior to class certification, these witnesses explained the Employment Verification Request was a standard form letter, drafted by Maximus. It was used to verify whether a given debtor worked for the employer Maximus had listed in its records. The witnesses testified Maximus had no specific procedures governing use of Employment Verification Requests. They also testified that sending the Employment Verification Request to Beck's employer did not violate any established policy, and that it was not uncommon to send Employment Verification Requests to the wrong employer.

Following oral arguments, the District Court certified a class consisting of all individuals in Pennsylvania to whose employer Maximus had sent an Employment Verification Request on or after May 20, 2003. The District Court designated Beck as class representative and the law firms of Francis & Mailman, P.C., and Donavan and Searles, LLC, as class co-counsel.

In its "findings of facts" supporting class certification under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a), 1 the District Court noted neither numerosity nor commonality was in dispute. Numerosity was shown by the existence of 776

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class members, and commonality was satisfied because "[t]he principal question is whether defendant violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by sending an 'Employment Verification Request' or a substantially same form to the person's employer(s) on or after the applicable date." (App. 4a.) The court concluded typicality was satisfied because "[t]he claims of plaintiff Donna M. Beck are typical of the claims of the Class." (Id.) in a footnote, the court rejected Maximus's contention that Beck was atypical because her claims were subject to a unique defense. The court stated:

[D]efendant says that sending the EVR to plaintiff's employer was the result of a bona fide error and defensible. Plaintiff counters that it is irrelevant whether the communication was in error, because the violation—the prohibited language included in all EVRs—was not an error. Plaintiff cites deposition testimony of two representatives of defendant that (1) defendant drafted the language of the EVR, (2) there was no specific procedure for sending EVRs, and (3) it was not uncommon for EVRs to be sent to employers for whom debtors did not work. Given this evidence, the EVR does not appear to have been sent to Ms. Beck's employer in error, and she will not be disqualified from representing the class on this basis.

(App. 4a n.4 (internal citations to District Court record omitted).) The court concluded adequacy of representation was also satisfied, noting Beck "retained qualified counsel, appeared for deposition, and verified answers to interrogatories." (App. 5a n.5.) The District Court concluded the class could be maintained under Rules 23(b)(1), (b)(2), and (b)(3). The court did not acknowledge Beck had previously withdrawn her request for certification under Rule 23(b)(2).

Maximus petitioned for an interlocutory appeal under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(f), which we granted. Maximus contends if it prevails on its bona fide error defense, Beck will be precluded from recovery on the class's claims. In its view, the District Court abused its discretion in concluding Beck was a typical and adequate class representative, and in certifying the class. Beck responds her interests are aligned with those of the class. That she was not the "Donna M. Beck" referred to in the Employment Verification Request, she contends, is a factual variation that does not create a conflict of interest between her and the class, and does not render her inadequate or atypical as a class representative.

II.

The District Court had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(e). We review a district court's decision to certify a class for abuse of discretion. In re Prudential Ins. Co. Am. Sales Practice Litig., 148 F.3d 283, 299 (3d Cir. 1998). A district court abuses its discretion if its decision "rests upon a clearly erroneous finding of fact, an errant conclusion of law or an improper application of law to fact." Id. (quoting In re Ge. Motors Corp. Pick-Up Truck Fuel Tank Products Liab. Litig., 55 F.3d 768, 783 (3d Cir. 1995)). A finding of fact is "clearly erroneous when the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." United States v. Igbonwa, 120 F.3d 437, 440 (3d Cir. 1997) (quotations omitted).

III.

A.

To evaluate typicality, we ask "whether the named plaintiffs' claims are

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typical, in common-sense terms, of the class, thus suggesting that the incentives of the plaintiffs are aligned with those of the class." Baby Neal v....

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274 practice notes
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    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 3th Circuit Eastern District of Pennsylvania
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    ...a class action. Because certification and the merits are intertwined, this analysis necessitates a factual inquiry. Beck v. Maximus, Inc., 457 F.3d 291, 297 (3d Cir.2006) ( citing Newton v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., 259 F.3d 154, 167 (3d Cir.2001)). Nonetheless, a cou......
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    ...if the representative is subject to a unique defense that is likely to become a major focus of the litigation." Beck v. Maximus, 457 F.3d 291, 301 (3d Cir.2006). The burden is on the defendant to show that such a unique defense " will play a significant role at trial." Id. at......
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    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 3th Circuit Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • January 31, 2008
    ...of conduct that gives rise to the claims of the class members, and if it is based on the same legal theory." Beck v. Maximus, Inc., 457 F.3d 291, 295-96 (3d Cir.2006) (internal citations omitted). " ‘ [E]ven relatively pronounced factual differences will generally not preclude a f......
  • 260 F.R.D. 168 (E.D.Pa. 2009), C. A. 08-4572, Jackson v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Auth.
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    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 3th Circuit Eastern District of Pennsylvania
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    ...Id. (quoting Gen. Tel. Co. of Sw. v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 160, 102 S.Ct. 2364, 72 L.Ed.2d 740 (1982)); see also Beck v. Maximus, Inc., 457 F.3d 291, 297 (3d Cir.2006). In other words, " [i]n deciding whether to certify a class under [Rule] 23, the district court must make whatever fac......
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271 cases
  • 245 F.R.D. 226 (E.D.Pa. 2007), C. A. 06-2993, Powers v. Lycoming Engines
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 3th Circuit Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • September 25, 2007
    ...a class action. Because certification and the merits are intertwined, this analysis necessitates a factual inquiry. Beck v. Maximus, Inc., 457 F.3d 291, 297 (3d Cir.2006) ( citing Newton v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., 259 F.3d 154, 167 (3d Cir.2001)). Nonetheless, a cou......
  • 246 F.R.D. 480 (E.D.Pa. 2007), C. A. 04-cv-4020, Marsden v. Select Medical Corp.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 3th Circuit Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • October 25, 2007
    ...if the representative is subject to a unique defense that is likely to become a major focus of the litigation." Beck v. Maximus, 457 F.3d 291, 301 (3d Cir.2006). The burden is on the defendant to show that such a unique defense " will play a significant role at trial." Id. at......
  • 247 F.R.D. 469 (E.D.Pa. 2008), C. A. 06-3755, Alberton v. Commonwealth Land Title Ins. Co.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 3th Circuit Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • January 31, 2008
    ...of conduct that gives rise to the claims of the class members, and if it is based on the same legal theory." Beck v. Maximus, Inc., 457 F.3d 291, 295-96 (3d Cir.2006) (internal citations omitted). " ‘ [E]ven relatively pronounced factual differences will generally not preclude a f......
  • 260 F.R.D. 168 (E.D.Pa. 2009), C. A. 08-4572, Jackson v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Auth.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 3th Circuit Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • August 31, 2009
    ...Id. (quoting Gen. Tel. Co. of Sw. v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 160, 102 S.Ct. 2364, 72 L.Ed.2d 740 (1982)); see also Beck v. Maximus, Inc., 457 F.3d 291, 297 (3d Cir.2006). In other words, " [i]n deciding whether to certify a class under [Rule] 23, the district court must make whatever fac......
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1 firm's commentaries
  • Class Action Summer Camp – Typicality
    • United States
    • LexBlog United States
    • July 10, 2012
    ...v. Ford Motor Co., 458 F.3d 549 (6th Cir. 2006). Deiter v. Microsoft Corp., 436 F.3d 461, 466–67 (4th Cir. 2006). Beck v. Maximus, Inc.,457 F.3d 291, 296 (3d Cir. 2006). Sprague v. Gen. Motors Corp., 133 F.3d 388, 399 (6th Cir.1998). Peviani v. Natural Balance...
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    • Washington University Law Review Vol. 90 Nbr. 3, April 2013
    • April 1, 2013
    ...813 Anderson v. U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development 554 F.3d 525 Andrews v. Chevy Chase Bank 545 F.3d 570 Beck v. Maximus, Inc. 457 F.3d 291 Berger v. Compaq Computer Corp. 257 F.3d 475 Bolin v. Sears, Roebuck & Co. 231 F.3d 970 Bonlender v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc. 286 ......
  • The Search for Meaning in the Notice Requirements of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act: A 30 for 30 Short
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    • Capital University Law Review Nbr. 43-1, January 2015
    • January 1, 2015
    ...1318 (2d Cir. 1993); McMillan v. Collection Prof’ls, Inc., 455 F.3d 754, 763 (7th Cir. 2006). 11 § 1692k(a). 12 See Beck v. Maximus, Inc., 457 F.3d 291, 294 (3d Cir. 2006). 13 Barasch v. Estate Info. Servs., No. 07-CV-1963, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79338, at *5, (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 3, 2009). 14 § ......