Tuesday, May 2, 2006
Judge Diamond of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has “put the brakes” on a consumer class action against U-Haul based on a breach of contract theory. The named plaintiff, Edward Ritti, was told on the morning of his scheduled move that U-Haul was unable to provide him with the truck he had reserved on the phone a few days earlier. When Ritti discovered that he was not alone in this experience, he filed a consumer class action against U-Haul. The proposed class was to consist of “all persons in the United States who reserved rental trucks or trailers from U-Haul for specific dates, received written confirmations of their agreements with U-Haul, did not receive trucks or trailers from U-Haul on the specific dates promised, and who were damaged thereby.”
The court recently denied class certification, however, holding that Ritti’s claim is not typical of the class because it is premised on the specific details of Ritti’s own interactions with U-Haul representatives. The court wrote:
There is no single rental agreement here. Rather, like Ritti himself, each class member will base his claim on a unique contract comprising terms offered and accepted when the Class member met with, spoke to, or electronically communicated with U-Haul. Moreover, the circumstances relating to each purported breach necessarily differ and so trigger different defenses. In these circumstances, I am compelled to conclude that plaintiff is not typical of the purported class and that common issues of law and fact do not predominate.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that the company’s written confirmations are "standard, boilerplate, computer-generated forms" and that they "contain the essential terms of the parties’ agreements." Therefore, they insisted that there was “no need to inquire into any oral conversations that customers may have had with U-Haul.” However, the court agreed with U-Haul, holding that, because Ritti had testified about his telephone and email communications with U-Haul to make his reservation, Ritt’s contract was unique to him and he could not satisfy the typicality requirements of FRCP 23(a).
The focus nearly always seems to be on the hurdles to certification of the “mass tort” class action. Given that these were boilerplate contracts, it seems that certification of the “mass breach of contract action” likewise faces insuperable odds.
[Meredith R. Miller]