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Harbin v. Emergency Coverage Corporation

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville

November 21, 2017

DUSTIN HARBIN and JIMMY PRUITT, on behalf of themselves and the class defined herein, Plaintiffs,
v.
EMERGENCY COVERAGE CORPORATION and ACCOUNT RESOLUTION TEAM, INC., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

         This case is before the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), the Rules of this Court, Standing Order 13-02, and the referral Order [Doc. 44] of the District Judge.

         Now before the Court is a Joint Motion for an Order Conditionally Certifying Class and Granting Preliminary Approval of Class Settlement Agreement [Doc. 43]. The parties appeared before the Court on November 13, 2017, for a motion hearing. Attorney Alan Lee was present on behalf of the Plaintiffs. Attorney John Lawhorn was present on behalf of the Defendants. Accordingly, for the reasons further explained below, the Court RECOMMENDS that the Joint Motion for an Order Conditionally Certifying Class and Granting Preliminary Approval of Class Settlement Agreement [Doc. 43] be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Complaint [Doc. 1] in this case was filed on March 16, 2016. The Complaint alleges that Defendant Emergency Coverage Corporation (“Emergency Coverage”) issued garnishments against Plaintiffs' employers in Hamblen County General Sessions Court, requesting post-judgment interest that exceeded the amount allowed under Tennessee state law and resulted in wrongful garnishments. [Doc. 1 at ¶ 1]. Plaintiffs seek restitution in the amounts received by Defendant Emergency Coverage in excess of the legal rate of post-judgment interest, pre-judgment interest on the restitution, and punitive damages. [Id.]. In addition, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Account Resolution Team, Inc., (“ART”) violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) in its illegal efforts to collect consumer debts. [Id.].

         On March 23, 2017, the District Judge granted [Doc. 29] class certification. Specifically, the District Judge certified the following class:

(a) All persons sued by Defendants; (b) [i]n the General Session Court of Hamblen County, Tennessee; (c) [t]hat had garnishments issued against their wages that included amounts of post judgment interest or fees that exceed[] the amount allowed under Tennessee state law; (d) [t]hat made payments to Defendants as a result of the wrongful garnishments issued to their employers by garnishment of wages or direct payment to the clerk; (e) [i]n the six years preceding the filing of this action, for all persons as to the state law claims; and (f) [i]n the one year preceding the filing of this action, and on or before a date 20 days after the filing of this action, as to the FDCPA claims.

[Doc. 29]. Later, the District Judge dismissed several of Plaintiffs' claims, including Plaintiffs' unjust enrichment claim against Defendant Emergency Coverage and Plaintiffs' request for punitive damages. [Doc. 38]. In addition, the District Judge found that Plaintiffs' remaining unjust enrichment claim is governed under the three-year statute of limitations provided in Tennessee Code Annotated § 28-3-105. [Id.].

         On September 28, 2017, the parties filed the instant Motion [Doc. 43]. The instant Motion requests that the Court (i) preliminarily approve the Class Settlement Agreement; (ii) certify for settlement purposes the Settlement Class; (iii) appoint Alan C. Lee, Peter A. Holland, and Scott C. Borison as Class Counsel; (iv); appoint Plaintiffs as representatives of the Settlement Class; (v) sets dates for Settlement Class members to opt-out of, or object to, the Settlement Agreement; (vi) schedule a hearing for final approval of the agreement; (vii) approve the mailing of notice to Settlement Class members; and (viii) find that the mailing of such notices satisfies the requirements of due process.

         II. ANALYSIS

         The Court has considered the procedural history of this case and the parties' filings. Accordingly, the Court RECOMMENDS that the Joint Motion [Doc. 43] be GRANTED.

         As an initial matter, the Court notes that the parties have requested conditional certification of the Settlement Class as defined in paragraph 10 of the Settlement Agreement. Paragraph 10 provides as follows:

(a) All persons sued by Defendants; (b) in the General Session Court of Hamblen County, Tennessee; (c) that had garnishments issued against their wages that included amounts of post-judgment interest or fees that exceeded the amount allowed under Tennessee state law; (d) that made payments to Defendants as a result of the wrongful garnishments issued to their employers by garnishments of wages or direct payment to the clerk between March 16, 2013[, ] and ending on April 5, 2016.

[Doc. 43-1 at 4]. The District Judge has already certified this litigation as a class action. See [Doc. 29]. The proposed class definition is the same definition that the District Judge certified, except that the proposed class definition includes a time period from March 16, 2013, to April 5, 2016. The proposed definition, however, is in accordance with the District Judge's finding that the three-year statute of limitations governs this action. Accordingly, because the District Judge has already certified the class action and the proposed definition is in accordance with the District Judge's previous ruling, the undersigned finds it unnecessary to conduct another Rule 23 analysis.

         Class actions may be settled or compromised only with the approval of the Court and after giving notice of the proposed settlement to the class. Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e). There is a three-step process that ...


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