26 Phone Calls, 22 Lawsuits, 22 Sets of Discovery—Turns Out Making a Defendant’s Life as Painful as Possible Violates the Claim Splitting Doctrine
Here’s a fun quick one for you TCPAWorld.
Guy receives 26 calls (allegedly) from a debt collector (allegedly) without consent. Rather than file one lawsuit (or, you know, no lawsuits) he elects to file 22 separate lawsuits against the defendant—18 pertaining to one call each and 4 pertaining to two calls each. Making matters more fun (burdensome), for each lawsuit he served a separate set of discovery, resulting in 22 sets of discovery being served on a Defendant.
Interestingly, the Plaintiff outright admitted that he engaged in this conduct in the hopes of increasing his recovery under the FDCPA—which allows only $1,000.00 per violation (in Plaintiff’s mind, “per suit.”) He figured if he sued Defendant 22 times and Defendant was found liable 22 times he could collect 22 times the statutory penalty. That almost makes sense if you squint a little.
The Court was not impressed or amused, however.
In Laccinole v. Diversified Consultants, C.A. No. 1:19-CV-00149-MSM-LDA, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65173 (D. R.I. April 14, 2020) the Defendant moved to dismiss the successive lawsuits arguing that the doctrine of claim splitting prohibits the filing of separate suits. The claim splitting doctrine generally holds that where multiple claims arise out of a single nexus of operative facts they must be pursued in a single case. The Court found that the purportedly illegal debt collection at issue in the case amounted to a single set of facts that could only give rise to a single case. So 21 cases dismissed.
While I hate to quibble with the right result here, it seems to me that each illegal call does give rise to a separate cause of action and is a separate claim—at least under the TCPA. While I don’t think that justifies bringing multiple lawsuits—and the district courts are well empowered to punish a party that engages in conduct that makes litigation needlessly expensive—it is critical to keep the single call = single claim rule in mind when assessing standing to pursue claims in a TCPA case. Stated simply: because each call is a separate claim a Plaintiff must demonstrate standing for each call he seeks to recover on. While this rule pays dividends even in individual suits, it is absolutely dynamite in thwarting class certification,
Have a good night TCPAWorld.