District court denies auto lender’s “de minimis” $4 million TCPA class action settlement
On February 14, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied the approval of a proposed $4 million class action settlement in a TCPA case based on a “confluence of a number of negative factors,” including that the court believed the defendant—a subprime auto lender—would be able to withstand a significantly higher judgement to compensate consumers allegedly harmed by its use of an automatic telephone dialing system. The complaint alleged that the defendant allegedly placed automated and prerecorded phone calls to class members on their cellphones in violation of the TCPA. In 2018, the parties reached a preliminary settlement that would give each of the 67,255 class members who opted into the settlement roughly $35.
In denying the approval, the court cited three primary concerns with the proposed settlement: “first, the lack of information available to counsel to inform their view and advise the class of the strengths and weaknesses of the case given the early posture in which the parties reached agreement; second, the emphasis on [the defendant’s] inability to pay more than $4 million when no underlying financial information was provided to the class members, compounded by the [c]ourt’s belief, after in camera review of the financials, that this statement is inaccurate; and third, the [c]ourt’s skepticism that $4 million is a fair settlement in this case, given that it will result in a de minimis per claimant recovery of $35.30.” Arguing that “de minimis class action recoveries, such as TCPA recoveries, may not be worth the costs they impose on our judicial system,” the court also noted that the TCPA provides for a private right of action and statutory damages of $500 for each violation (or actual monetary loss—whichever is greater), and does not impose a cap on statutory damages in class actions. Moreover, the court argued that the $35.30 that each class member would receive would likely not even cover the cell phone bill for one class member for one month and is, among other things, “simply trivial in light of a possible recovery of $500.”