The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois recently denied a plaintiff’s motion for class certification on a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act claim, ruling that he had failed to establish that he was an adequate class representative.  This decision illustrates that a plaintiff must meet all factors to certify a class action – even in cases dealing with standard debt collection letters.

Plaintiff Jose Luis Ocampo filed a putative FDCPA class action against GC Services Limited Partnership, alleging that the initial debt collection letter sent to him did not properly state the amount of debt owed, in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1692g.  He also claimed that the letter contained false and misleading statements in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1692e.  The putative class action complaint sought to include all residents of Illinois who received a similar letter from GC Services.

The Court, however, found that Ocampo was not an adequate class representative based on the record before it and, therefore, declined to certify a class.  Importantly, the Court found—and Ocampo’s deposition testimony showed—that Ocampo:

(i) did not appear to know what a class action is:

“Q: Do you know what a class action is?  A: Yeah.  Q: What is it?  A:  I’m not sure exactly, like everything and so … .  Q: Can you give me any description at all?  A: It’s to fix a problem.  Q: Anything else?  A: Sorry.”

(ii) did not know what a class representative is or the duties he owed to the class as a class representative:

“Q: Do you know what the phrase ‘class representative means?  A: No.  Q: Can you tell me what you believe your responsibilities are as a class representative?  A. No 

(iii) could not articulate why the complaint was filed:

“Q: Why did you file this lawsuit?  A: I’m not sure.”

(iv) did not understand the legal basis of his claim:

“Q: Do you know what the FDCPA is?  A: No.”

(v) testified that he was unwilling to bear financial burdens to proceed as a class representative: 

“Q: Are you willing to bear the financial burdens to proceed as the class representative in this lawsuit?  A: No.”

The Court found that Ocampo had satisfied all of the other requirements to certify a class, but ultimately declined to certify the class on the basis that Ocampo was not an adequate class representative.  Nonetheless, the Court has allowed Ocampo to file supplemental briefing regarding the legality of substituting the named plaintiff to cure the adequacy defect.  Ocampo has until January 7 to brief the issue.