Thomas v. FTS USA, LLC

Decision Date30 June 2016
Docket NumberCivil Case No. 3:13-cv-825
Citation193 F.Supp.3d 623
Parties Kelvin M. THOMAS, et al., Plaintiffs, v. FTS USA, LLC, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia

Craig Carley Marchiando, Leonard Anthony Bennett, Susan Mary Rotkis, Consumer Litigation Associates, William Leonard Downing, The Consumer and Employee Rights Law Firm PC, Christopher Colt North, Newport News, VA, Lauren KW Brennan, Francis & Mailman PC, Philadelphia, PA, Matthew James Erausquin, Consumer Litgation Associates PC, Alexandria, VA, for Plaintiffs.

Christopher Emil Polchin, Colin David Dougherty, Zachary Arbitman, Fox Rothschild LLP, Blue Bell, PA, Jessica Vasconcellos Haire, Fox Rothschild LLP, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Robert E. Payne, Senior United States District Judge

This matter is before the Court on DEFENDANTS' SECOND MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF No. 156). For the reasons set forth herein, the motion will be denied.

BACKGROUND

On December 11, 2013, Plaintiff Kelvin Thomas ("Thomas") filed a class action complaint on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, alleging that defendant FTS USA, LLC ("FTS"), a subsidiary of UniTek Global Services, Inc. (("UniTek"); collectively, "Defendants") had violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. ("FCRA"). (Complaint ("Compl.") (ECF No. 1)). Counts One and Two of the Complaint allege violations of 15 U.S.C. § 1681b(b)(2)(A)(i) and (ii), which require a disclosure and written consent from the consumer before a person may obtain a consumer report1 for employment purposes. Counts Three and Four allege violations of 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681b(b)(3)(A)(i) and (ii), respectively. In sum, that subsection states that an employer may not take adverse employment action based on a consumer report before the affected person receives a copy of the consumer report and a summary of rights under the FCRA. Both subsections will be discussed in more detail below.

On January 7, 2016, the Court granted Thomas' motion to certify two classes based on the allegations in the Complaint. (ECF No. 105). The Court first certified a so-called "Impermissible Use Class," defined as follows:

All natural persons residing in the United States (including all territories and other political subdivisions of the United States), who applied for an employment position with Defendants or any of their subsidiaries within the two years immediately preceding the filing of the Complaint in this matter on December 11, 2013, and as part of this application process were the subject of a consumer report obtained by Defendants, (a) where the defendants failed to provide a written disclosure as stated at 15 U.S.C. § 1681b(b)(2)(A)(i) to the applicant that they intended to obtain a consumer report for employment purposes, (b) and where as a result the Defendants failed to obtain a proper written authorization as stated at 15 U.S.C. § 1681b(b)(2)(A)(ii) signed by the applicant prior to obtaining the consumer report.

(ECF No. 105).

The Court also certified an "Adverse Action Sub–Class," defined as follows:

All natural persons residing in the United States (including all territories and other political subdivisions of the United States), who applied for an employment position with Defendants or any of their subsidiaries within the two years immediately preceding the filing of the Complaint in this matter on December 11, 2013, and as part of this application process were the subject of a consumer report obtained by Defendants, (a) where the defendants failed to provide a written disclosure as stated at 15 U.S.C. § 1681b(b)(2)(A)(i) to the applicant that they intended to obtain a consumer report for employment purposes, (b) and where as a result the Defendants failed to obtain a proper written authorization as stated at 15 U.S.C. § 1681b(b)(2)(A)(ii) signed by the applicant prior to obtaining the consumer report, and (c) whom Defendants found ineligible for the position for which the applicant had applied based on the applicant's consumer report; (d) to whom Defendants did not provide a copy of the consumer report as stated at 15 U.S.C. § 1681b(b)(3)(A)(i) at least five business days before the date the adverse employment decision is first noted in Defendants' records, (d) and to whom Defendants did not provide a written summary of Fair Credit Reporting Act rights as stated at 15 U.S.C. § 1681b(b) (3) (A) (ii) at least five business days before the date the adverse employment decision is first noted in Defendant's records.

Id.

After the Court certified the classes, the parties conducted limited post-certification discovery. The Court granted leave for Defendants to file a second motion for summary judgment "limited to the following two issues: a. Class Representative Kelvin Thomas' understanding of the Employment Release Form that he signed at the time he applied for employment with FTS USA, LLC; and b. Plaintiffs' damages." (ECF No. 124).

After the close of discovery, Defendants filed their second motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 156). Defendants now contend that summary judgment is appropriate because: (1) Defendants' disclosure forms comply with 15 U.S.C. § 1681b(b)(2) ; (2) Plaintiffs lack standing under the Supreme Court's decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, ––– U.S. ––––, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 194 L.Ed.2d 635 (2016) ; (3) summary judgment is proper as to some members of the Adverse Action Sub–Class who received notice as required by 15 U.S.C. § 1681b(b)(3) ; (4) summary judgment is proper as to some members of the class who executed general releases or signed settlement agreements such that their claims are barred by the doctrine of accord and satisfaction; and (5) Thomas is barred from pursuing the instant claims by judicial estoppel. (Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def. Mem.," ECF No. 157)).

Defendants' motion obviously is not confined to the scope allowed by the order authorizing a second motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 124). Nonetheless, it is appropriate for Defendants to raise, and for the Court to address, the standing issue, because that is a question of subject matter jurisdiction. Defendants have abandoned the defenses of release and accord and satisfaction; therefore, that part of the summary judgment motion will not be further addressed. See ECF No. 217. For reasons set forth in the Memorandum Opinion (ECF No. 217) addressing PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTION AND MOTION TO STRIKE (ECF No. 173), the Court has stricken the evidentiary support for the newly minted argument that some members of the Adverse Action Sub–Class received proper pre-adverse action notices. Hence, Defendants' motion for summary judgment against those class members will be denied. As to Defendants' argument respecting the adequacy of the Employment Release Statement (which is beyond the scope allowed by the Court's order, ECF No. 124), the motion will be denied because Plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment on that issue, as set forth in a separate Memorandum Opinion and order. Finally, the motion for summary judgment on the ground of judicial estoppel will be denied.

A. Factual Background

In September 2009, Thomas obtained a job with Cableview Communications ("Cableview"), which was purchased by FTS in the fall of 2011. (Deposition of Kelvin Thomas ("Thomas Dep.," ECF No. 165–2) at 12). Defendant UniTek is the parent company of FTS. (ECF No. 38 at 6, ¶ 2). In order to continue his employment with FTS, on January 17, 2012, Thomas signed an "Employment Release Statement," which provides, in pertinent part:

Prior to and for the duration of my employment with FTS USA, LLC (the "Company"), I understand that investigative background inquiries are going to be made on myself [sic]. I understand that the Company will be requesting information from various Federal, State, Local and other agencies which maintain records concerning my past activities relating to my driving history, credit, criminal, civil, and other experiences. These reports may also include inquiries regarding my educational history and past work experience and performance including reasons for termination of employment.
I authorize, without reservation, any party or agency contacted by the Company or its agents to furnish any of the above mentioned information or any other information requested.

(ECF No. 92 Ex. 1). According to Steven Conlin, Defendants' corporate designee under Fed. R. Civ. P. 30(b) (6), the Employment Release Statement that Thomas received was UniTek's standard disclosure form, which was provided to all prospective employees during the relevant class period. (Deposition of Steven Conlin ("Conlin Dep.," ECF No. 165–1) at 58).

After its acquisition of Cableview, FTS required every Cableview employee who wished to continue employment with FTS to undergo a background check. (ECF No. 38 at 3, ¶¶ 7–10). UniTek's internal hiring policies provided that " [a] pending employee may not be eligible for hire" if the employee has been charged with or convicted of certain felonies, misdemeanors, driving offenses, or other "unacceptable" crimes. Id. at ¶¶ 11–12.

On or about January 20, 2012, UniTek, which performed "all consumer report-related functions on behalf of itself and...FTS," ordered a background check on Thomas Backgroundchecks.com ("BGC"), a consumer reporting agency. (ECF from No. 99, Ex. D). BGC performed all background checks for consumers who applied for employment with FTS, but UniTek also engaged various other consumer reporting agencies to perform background checks on its other subsidiaries' potential employees. (Conlin Dep. at 73).

BGC's initial report on Thomas contained numerous felony convictions, including convictions for distribution marijuana, of money laundering, statutory rape, and carnal knowledge of a juvenile, all of which were incorrectly attributed to Thomas. (ECF No. 38, Ex. C). The report also revealed that Thomas' driving record contained several...

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