In LaRocque ex rel. Spang v. TRS Recovery Services, Inc. 2013 WL 30055 (D.Me. 2013), Judge Hornby declined to expand a state-wide class action into a federal one to protect the FDCPA defendant against multiple $500,000 penalties under the Act.
The defendants’ central premise is that the Maine-limited scope of Class One “circumvent[s] the statutory cap on damages set forth in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act,” 15 U.S.C. § 1692k. Defs.’ Mem. in Support of Mot. to Expand Class (“Defs.’ Mem.”) 3 (ECF No. 66). The FDCPA limits statutory damages in class actions to $1,000 per named plain-tiff and “such amount as the court may allow for all other class members … not to exceed the lesser of $500,000 or 1 per centum of the net worth of the debt collector…. 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(2)(B). But the plaintiff’s lawyers have filed putative state-wide class action lawsuits in four districts other than Maine, making the same federal claim as that made in Class One for Maine residents in this court. The defendants say that “allowing counsel free rein to file as many class actions as they choose in order to continually reset the cap would have the effect of writing the cap out of the statute.” Id . at 10. In Mace v. Van Ru Credit Corp., 109 F.3d 338 (7th Cir.1997), the Seventh Circuit found nothing in § 1692k that precluded certification of a statewide-only class or that imposed a single damages cap upon a series of such actions. The Seventh Circuit reached this conclusion largely by contrasting § 1692k(a)(2)(B)(ii) with the damages cap in the related Truth in Lending Act (“TILA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1640(a)(2)(B). The TILA caps damages “in any class action or series of class actions ” (emphasis added)—language conspicuously absent from § 1692k(a)(2)(B)(ii). See Mace, 109 F.3d at 342–43 (declining to read the TILA provision into the FDCPA). Mace accordingly reversed the district court, which, like the defendants here, had reasoned that “if the damage cap of $500,000 can be applied anew to a series of state-wide (or otherwise limited) class actions, the damage limitation would become meaningless.” Id. at 344. Three years after Mace, the Seventh Circuit reiterated this conclusion in Sanders v. Jackson, 209 F.3d 998, 1002 (7th Cir.2000), stating that “there is no provision that limits defendants being exposed to more than one FDCPA class action lawsuit, which is exactly what happened to the defendant in this case.” A number of district courts have followed Mace and certified statewide classes against similar objections by defendants. See, e.g., Lewis v. ARS Nat’l Servs., Inc., 2011 WL 3903092, at *5–7 (M.D.Ala. Sept. 6, 2011); Hubbard v. M.R.S. Assocs., Inc., 2008 WL 5384294, at *3–4 (S.D.Ind. Dec. 19, 2008); Nichols v. Northland Groups, Inc., 2006 WL 897867, at *8–11 (N.D.Ill. Mar. 31, 2006); Mailloux v. Arrow Fin’l Servs. LLC, 204 F.R.D. 38, 43 (E.D.N.Y. 2001) (certifying a statewide class even when another class action based on the same collection letter had been filed in another state); Brink v. First Credit Res., 185 F.R.D. 567, 573 (D.Ariz.1999) (concluding “that a nationwide class would be a disservice to the potential plaintiffs because the group as a whole might obtain a larger total recovery by maintaining several class actions rather than only one”); cf. Zimmerman v. Zwicker & Assocs ., P.A., 2011 WL 65912, at *4–6 (D.N.J.2011) (rejecting as unfair a proposed settlement between the defendant and a nationwide class of plaintiffs when it remained possi-ble that the plaintiffs could have recovered more in a series of state-by-state class actions). In fact, there are no cases to the contrary.FN2 [FN2. The defendants cite Campos v. W. Dental Servs., Inc., 404 F.Supp.2d 1164, 1173 (N.D.Cal.2005), Defs.’ Mem. at 11, but Campos denied certification of a countywide class of about 250 members rather than a statewide class. It is easy to understand why the court concluded that the plaintiff had failed to satisfy the “superiority” require-ment of Rule 23(b)(3) in making such a pro-posal that could produce “a multitude of potential lawsuits.” Id. at 1172–73.] It is true that Mace recognized that “the case before us does not now present multiple or serial class actions to recover for the same misconduct … If and when multiple serial class actions are presented, it will be time enough to rule on such a pattern.” 109 F.3d at 344. According to the defendants, “[t]his case presents the situation that the Seventh Circuit in Mace envisioned but did not address: the filing of multiple FDCPA class actions asserting identical claims.” Defs.’ Mem. at 8. In the wake of Mace, however, courts have allowed multiplicative class actions with both chronologically distinct classes, see, e.g., Nichols, 2006 WL 897867 (two classes of plaintiffs in the same state who received the same letter at different periods), and geographically distinct classes, see, e.g., Mailloux, 204 F.R.D. at 38 (two identical classes of plaintiffs in different states). The defendants have found no cases holding that § 1692k(a)(2)(B)(ii) requires certification of a nation-wide class. To the extent that the defendants request that this court certify a nationwide class as a matter of judicial discretion, I decline to do so. If the plaintiff is able to establish the defendants’ liability, my discretion will be invoked at the time of determining statutory damages.FN4 Then, the defendants can point to the size of the class and the pendency of lawsuits in other jurisdictions (assuming that the MDL Panel has not placed them all before a single judge). Nothing in the statute requires that a court set statutory damages at the maximum allowed. [FN4. Section 1692k(b)(2) provides that in determining the amount of damages in a § 1692k(a)(2)(B)(ii) class action, the court shall consider, among other relevant factors, “the frequency and persistence of noncom-pliance by the debt collector, the nature of such noncompliance, the resources of the debt collector, the number of persons adversely affected, and the extent to which the debt collector’s noncompliance was inten-tional” (emphasis added).”]