Last week, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida rejected a defendant’s attempt to dismiss a proposed class action claiming Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) violations for charging excessive fees. The case is Brotz v. Simm Assocs., No. 6:17-cv-1603 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 15, 2018).
In its motion to dismiss, Simm Associates Inc. (“SAI”) argued the Court lacked personal jurisdiction over claims of out-of-state putative class members based on the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017). In Bristol-Myers – a mass tort action, not a class action – the Supreme Court determined that exercise of personal jurisdiction over non-resident claims violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. SAI used this precedent to assert that Bristol-Myers requires dismissal of the non-state resident putative class members in its action.
District Court Judge Paul G. Byron rejected SAI’s argument, noting that SAI’s brief “fails to mention a single decision, of which there are numerous, holding that Bristol-Myers does not apply in the class action context.” The court further noted that SAI “only tells half the story, which is unfortunate since the other half is more compelling.” Numerous courts have found that Bristol-Myers’ holding does not apply to “out-of-forum putative class members’ claims.” Borrowing logic from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Judge Byron reasoned that in a mass tort action, each plaintiff is a real party in interest, whereas in a putative class action, one or more plaintiffs seek to represent similarly situated plaintiffs, and there are additional due process standards at play in class certification cases. As a result, the additional elements in a class action provide due process guardrails not applicable in a mass tort context, such as Bristol-Myers.
Nonetheless, numerous courts have ruled that Bristol-Myers does extend to federal court class actions, as evidenced in Practice Mgmt. Support Servs. v. Cirque Du Soleil, Inc., 301 F. Supp. 3d 840 (N.D. Ill. 2018); Greene v. Mizuho Bank, Ltd., 289 F. Supp. 3d 870 (N.D. Ill. 2017); and Wenokur v. AXA Equitable Life Ins. Co., No. 2:17-cv- 00165 (D. Ariz. Oct. 2, 2017).