No Class Action Status for Junk Fax Lawsuit, Says NJ Appeals Court
The drafters [of the TCPA] recognized that damages from a single violation would ordinarily amount to only a few pennies worth of ink and paper usage, and so believed that the $500 minimum damage award would be sufficient to motivate private redress of a consumer's grievance through a relatively simple small claims court proceeding, without an attorney. See 137 Cong. Rec. S16205-06 (daily ed. Nov. 7, 1991) (statement of Sen. Hollings)("[I]t would defeat the purposes of the bill if the attorneys' costs to consumers of bringing an action were greater than the potential damages.").
(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable, (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class, (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class, and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the
The appeals court explained that the issues in this lawsuit “are whether the proposed class raises ‘questions of law or fact common to the members of the class [that] predominate over any questions affecting only individual members [(commonality and predomination)], and that a class action is superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy [(superiority)].”
Acknowledging that no published New Jersey decision had resolved the issue of class actions under the TCPA [though the court did cite several unpublished decisions in New Jersey involving class action certification under the TCPA which are not binding or of precedential pursuant to New Jersey Court Rule 1:36-2], the Appellate Division looked to decisions from other state and federal courts, finding that there was a “lack of uniformity as to approach and result.” For example, courts in seven states have published decisions allowing class certification for TCPA claims: Arizona, California, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina and Oklahoma. Whereas, courts in five other states have published decisions denying class action certification under the TCPA: Colorado, Connecticut, New York, Ohio, and Texas. The appeals court also noted a split in decisions published by federal district courts.
Expressing its doubt that the plaintiff could satisfy the commonality and typicality requirements of New Jersey Court Rule 4:32-1 governing class actions, the NJ Appellate Division ultimately concluded that the bakery could not satisfy the predominance and superiority factors. Specifically, the court declared that “a class action suit is not a superior means of adjudicating a TCPA suit.” The court stressed that by providing consumers with a statutory award of $500, Congress had offered aggrieved parties with an adequate incentive to pursue their claims without having to resort to a class action in order to aggregate many small claims.
Furthermore, the appellate court emphasized out that “[t]he combination of the TCPA’s design and New Jersey’s procedures suggests that the benefit of a class action has been conferred on a litigant by the very nature of the procedures employed and relief obtained. The cost of litigating for an individual is significantly less than the potential recovery.” Lastly, the court reasoned that the facts that were necessary to succeed on an individual claim would be identical to the facts needed simply to be identified as a class member.