On January 13, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the District Court’s grant of class certification in a case where plaintiffs allege violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.  In Powers v. Credit Management Services, the defendant filed standard-form complaints and discovery requests against the plaintiffs in state court to collect past due debts.  Plaintiffs achieved class certification in a District Court action against defendant, alleging a violation of the FDCPA based on the filing of these standard-form documents.

The Eighth Circuit revoked class certification, challenging the class in terms of commonality, superiority, and predominance requirements (opinion here).  Because of the individual nature of each plaintiff’s case, the Eighth Circuit found class certification would only be appropriate if the plaintiffs were able to show that the defendant’s standard-form complaints violated the FDCPA, on their face, for the entire purported class.

The appellate court stated that “[t]he court did not conduct a ‘rigorous analysis’ of what plaintiffs must prove to prevail on their facial invalidity theories.  Our task, then, is to fill this void, which requires separate analyses of the legal theories attacking the standard-form complaints and discovery requests.”   After analyzing the plaintiffs’ facial invalidity theory, the Eighth Circuit found that because of the individual fact-finding necessary for the plaintiffs’ state law claims, class certification was inappropriate.

This decision highlights the importance of a rigorous analysis of the class at the class certification stage.  The court discussed the importance of this analysis, especially given the complex nature of FDCPA liability for litigation activities.  “In the class certification context, these complexities — ignored by plaintiffs and not addressed by the district court — are highly relevant to a rigorous analysis of the well-traveled Rule 23 inquiries into commonality, typicality, adequate representation of the class, predominance, and superiority.”