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For Whom the Statute Tolls: Statute of Limitations Extended in Plaintiff’s Individual TCPA Lawsuit Based on American Pipe Tolling Doctrine

The TCPA already has an ample four-year statute of limitations.  But based upon a 1974 Supreme Court case called American Pipe & Construction Co. v. Utah, 414 U.S. 538 (1974), that statute is extended every time a defendant is sued in a class action.  And given how frequently those class actions are filed in TCPAland, this doctrine comes into play more than you’d think.

Take the last week’s ruling in the case of Christianson v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, No. 17-1525 (DWF/TNL), 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 152528, at *1 (D. Minn. Sep. 7, 2018).  In Christianson, Plaintiff brought an action on May 9, 2017 against Ocwen alleging, among other things, violations of the TCPA. Id.  In her Complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Ocwen called her at least 1,429 times between April 2, 2011 and April 7, 2014 after she’d revoked her consent to be called.  Id. at *1-2.  So Plaintiff’s claims encompassed alleged violations that occurred over six years before her suit was filed.

Ocwen brought a motion to limit Plaintiff’s TCPA claims based on the TCPA’s four-year statute of limitations, arguing that all of Plaintiff’s claims prior to May 9, 2013 were time-barred and should therefore be dismissed. Id. at *4.  In response, Plaintiff argued that her TCPA claims were tolled pending the Snyder v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, Civ. No. 14-08461 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 27, 2014) class action pursuant to the Supreme Court’s holding in American PipeId. at *5.

According to that holding, “the commencement of a class action suspends the applicable statute of limitations as to all asserted members of the class who would have been parties had the suite been permitted to continue as a class action.” Id. at *5 (quoting American Pipe, 414 U.S. at 554).  While American Pipe involved a case in which class certification was denied, the doctrine has since been expanded in subsequent case law to apply regardless of the manner in which the class action resolved – whether through certification, denial of certification, dismissal, etc.

Notably, Plaintiff filed her action before class certification in the Snyder class action was granted. Id. at *2.  And Ocwen argued that American Pipe did not extend the limitations period to Plaintiff’s claims because the doctrine “does not toll the limitations period for individual actions brought by members of the class while the class still exists.” Id. at *6 (quoting Pulley v. Burlington N., Inc., 568 F.Supp. 1177, 1179-80 (D. Minn. 1983).

However, the court disagreed with Ocwen, explaining:

Here, Plaintiff was a putative class member. The fact that she chose to file her own suit prior to certification of the class does not negate her tolling benefit. Defendant was put on notice of its TCPA violations when the Snyder action was filed on October 27, 2014. Pursuant to the four-year statute of limitations, any potential violation by Defendant after October 27, 2010 is subject to liability. Therefore, all of Plaintiff’s claims are properly pled.

Id. at *8-9.

This sort of mass-extension of the statute of limitations on individual suits is an unfortunate side effect of the significant volume of class actions in TCPAland.  Although the law already affords plaintiffs an ample amount of time to bring suit, the Christianson case is an example of how American Pipe can serve to extend that time sometimes years beyond what is already provided under the law.

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About this Author

Shane Micheil, Womble Bond Dickinson Law Firm, Orange County, Finance and Communications Litigation Attorney
Associate

Shane focuses his practice on commercial and financial services litigation.  He is part of a nationally-recognized team with broad experience defending financial institutions in cases involving the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.  He also has significant experience in Fair Credit Reporting Act cases. 

Shane’s experience includes serving as lead defense attorney for more than 20 single-plaintiff FCRA lawsuits in state and federal courts in multiple states. He also represented a major credit reporting agency in mediation of an FCRA case in the...

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