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Posts Tagged ‘faulkner’

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling yesterday that will be a blow to plaintiffs seeking to sue call centers in class actions for violations of California’s Invasion of Privacy Law, Cal. Penal Code § 632 (sometimes called the “wiretapping” statute).  The law prohibits the recording or monitoring of confidential telephone calls without the caller’s consent.  It is an appealing basis for class action claims because it provides for statutory penalty of $5,000 per violation, creating the possibility of annihilating exposure in a case that involves a call center that handles thousands of customer calls.

In Faulkner v. ADT Security Services, Inc., the court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of a claim under the statute based on allegations that a call center for a security company recorded the call of a customer who called with a billing dispute.  The Ninth Circuit fell short of holding that a billing dispute with a security company could never qualify as a “confidential” communication giving rise to liability under the law, but it did observe that whether a particular call was confidential would require unique facts:

For example, a caller might be asked to verify his identity by confirming his social security number or his unlisted telephone number, or to disclose other private or potentially private information. If adequately pled, such facts might well support a finding of confidentiality.

Slip op. at 9, n.***.  The need to examine the particular content of each call to determine whether liability is present would in most cases create an individualized issue of fact preventing class certification.  So, although the ruling does not close the door on claims against call centers for violations of the Invasion of Privacy law, it presents a hurdle to the certification of potentially bankrupting class actions.

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Professor Eric Voigt of the Jones School of Law at Faulkner University in Alabama has authored an intriguing article entitled A Company’s Voluntary Refund Program for Consumers Can Be a Fair and Efficient Alternative to a Class Action, 31 Review of Litigation 617 (University of Texas 2012).  Voigt proposes that a company’s voluntary efforts in providing refunds to customers in consumer litigation can, in an appropriate case, be a more efficient means of providing collective redress than a class action settlement, which a court should take into account in conducting the superiority analysis required under Rule 23.  Voigt argues that in evaluating superiority of a class action, non-judicial alternatives must be considered in addition to individual lawsuits.  Therefore, he argues, a court must consider whether a company’s voluntary refund program is a more fair and efficient alternative to class action litigation.  He also proposes various procedural and substantive features that should be included in any voluntary refund program to satisfy the requirement that it be a fair and efficient alternative to a class action.  Voigt’s article is one of the first I have seen addressing this issue in detail, and I highly recommend it to practitioners, academics, judges, and policymakers alike.

As Voigt’s analysis suggests, even though it lacks the same preclusive effect as a class action settlement judgment, a voluntary refund program is something that a defendant may consider in attempting to avoid or defeat a class action in an appropriate case.  Candidates for this strategy could include any case where the cost of providing direct relief to customers for 100% of damages that could be claimed in a lawsuit is outweighed by the cost of defending a potential class action combined with the likely cost of having to ultimately settle the case for some smaller amount.   The strategy is far from failsafe because a voluntary refund program lacks the same preclusive effect as a class action settlement, and because a court’s evaluation of the superiority requirement is a matter of discretion.  However, having done a voluntary refund program with the protections proposed in Voigt’s article can provide a strong basis to seek an early ruling not to certify any subsequent class action.  Similarly, even when a class action lawsuit has already been filed, the prospect of doing a voluntary refund program can be used as leverage in bringing down an unreasonable settlement demand from plaintiff’s counsel.  This is especially true in jurisdictions that do not recognize the “catalyst” theory (click link to read 2005 article on the topic by Professor Roy Simon) as a basis for the recovery of attorney’s fees.

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