California’s Court of Appeal has blocked a class-action lawsuit against against collection agency GC Services.
Richard Howard had filed suit against GC Services after he received notices claiming that he owed $680 to the Los Angeles County Superior Court over an unpaid red light camera citation. The three-judge appellate panel last Thursday refused to allow the claim to be heard by a jury, holding that Howard and his attorney failed to make a convincing case for class-action status. Los Angeles County court officials refused to testify in a deposition. Howard was left with citing little more than news reports as evidence. Howard's suit argued that the collection letter was filled with fraudulent claims, including a false statement that the county court would garnish his wages if he failed to pay up immediately. In Los Angeles County, the court actually refused to enforce photo tickets, which led to the city dropping its camera program entirely. The collection letters were sent to as many as 22,000 motorists. Howard had received a collection letter on July 12, 2010. He was confused as he had never received any photo ticket in the mail. Howard lives six hours away from Los Angeles in Concord, Calif., and he had not driven that far south since 1999. The state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) knew nothing about the citation. The court argued that because GC Services made phone calls and sent different letters to some ticket recipients, a class action would be inappropriate as the calls and letters may have made different assertions. Moreover, the appellate panel found Howard's situation unique. "In this case, when plaintiff received defendant's, letter, he knew he had not been in Southern California in over seven years and that he had never received any citation there," Justice Marla J. Miller wrote for the panel. "He therefore knew that he did not owe money to LACSC. Further, he knew he was the victim of identity theft and had reason to suspect that this was the reason he had received defendant's letter. As a result, while plaintiff alleges that the class members were misled into paying the balance listed in defendant's letter, plaintiff himself was not misled in this way."