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Lee v. Global Tel Link Corp.

United States District Court, C.D. California

April 7, 2017

ALICE LEE and DAVID W. MARTIN, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
GLOBAL TEL*LINK CORPORATION, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION AND PRELIMINARY APPROVAL OF CLASS SETTLEMENT [135] AND DENYING AS MOOT APPLICATION TO FILE DOCUMENT UNDER SEAL, MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, MOTION TO EXCLUDE, APPLICATION TO FILE UNDER SEAL, AND MOTION TO CERTIFY CLASS [120, 111, 98, 87, 72]

          OTIS D. WRIGHT II UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This case is about automated collect call messages that occur when inmates in jails and prisons attempt to call a number and have the recipient of the call pay the charges. (See First Consolidated Class Action Complaint (“FCCAC”) ¶¶ 11-18.) Plaintiff alleges that the automated nature of the calls to cell phone numbers violates the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). (Id. ¶¶ 47-53.) While Defendant Global Tel*Link Corporation (“GTL”) maintains that it would prevail on the merits if the case were to be tried, the parties have reached a settlement to avoid risk for both sides. (See Mot. 1-2, ECF No. 135.) Plaintiff has moved for preliminary approval of the settlement agreement, provisional class certification, and approval of the form of class notice, which GTL has not opposed. For the reasons discussed below, the Court provisionally GRANTS the motion for class certification and preliminarily APPROVES the class settlement.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The basics of the putative class and the proposed settlement are outlined below.

         A. Factual Background

         GTL provides collect-call services to inmates at jails and prisons throughout the United States. (See FCCAC ¶ 11.) The service requires that the called party establish a billing relationship with GTL in order to pay for and receive calls from an inmate. (Id. ¶ 13.) When an inmate attempts to place a collect call to a telephone number for which there is no pre-established billing relationship with GTL, the call attempt will trigger a separate prerecorded “Notification Call” that tells the called party that they need to set up an account in order to pay for and receive the call. (Id. ¶ 14.)

         Plaintiff[1] purports to represent a class of persons who have received such calls on their cellular telephone, with each call allegedly representing a violation of the TCPA's prohibition against automated calls to cell phones without prior express permission from the called party. (Id. ¶ 35); see 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(iii). GTL contends that its Notification Calls are exempt from the TCPA due to an order from the Federal Communications Commission. (Mot. 3.) In response, Plaintiff argues that the calls are not exempt because GTL does not provide an opt-out mechanism in compliance with the FCC's order. (Id.) The parties now state that they have entered into a settlement due to the fact that the litigation is highly contentious and there is risk to both sides in not settling. (Id. at 1-2.)

         Plaintiffs filed the putative class action Complaint on December 5, 2014, and it was assigned to this Court on April 3, 2015. (See ECF No. 12.) Plaintiff's FCCAC asserts only one claim: violations of the TCPA. (FCCAC ¶¶ 47-53.)

         B. Settlement Terms

         The parties propose no sub-classes; the class will be uniform. (See Mot. 4-5.)

         1. Relevant Definitions

         Plaintiffs define the proposed class as follows: “All persons using and/or subscribing to a mobile telephone number to which a Notification Call was placed during the Class Period.” (Id. at 4.) The Judge and court staff working on this case are excluded from the class definition, as are their immediate family members. (Id.) The parties estimate that there are 1, 800, 000 members in the proposed class. (Id. at 5.)

         The definition of the Class Period is December 5, 2010, through the date of entry of a Preliminary Approval Order. (Id. at 4.)

         A Notification Call is defined as “a call (i) placed by or on behalf of GTL, (ii) to a number attempted in a Failed Inmate Call Attempt, (iii) using a prerecorded voice message, (iv) to explain in sum and substance that inmate calls could not be completed and/or billed, and that the called party could take certain steps to arrange for billing and/or set up a prepaid account.” (Id.)

         A Failed Inmate Call Attempt is a telephone call attempted by an inmate or prisoner through GTL's service to a phone number for which GTL had no billing relationship and therefore no means to bill the call to the called party. (Id.)

         2. Settlement Fund and GTL's Changing Practices

         GTL will pay $8, 800, 000 into a common settlement fund. (Id. at 5.) Class members who submit a claim will receive a pro-rata share of the balance of that amount-after payment of notice and administration costs, any Court-ordered award of attorneys' fees and expenses, and any Court-ordered incentive award for Plaintiff. (Id.) Because the amount that class members will receive depends on the number of claims submitted, the parties cannot estimate with specificity the amount that members who submit claims are likely to receive. (Id.) However, they conservatively estimate that if the percentage of potential class members who submit claims is in keeping with typical TCPA cases (roughly 5%), then each class member will receive about $60. (Id. at 12.)

         In addition to the payment to class members who submit claims, GTL will change its practices to include in all Notification Calls an interactive-voice and/or key-activated opt-out mechanism that the called party may use to opt-out of all future Notification Calls. (Id. at 5.) The called party will also be provided with a toll-free number that can be used to opt-out. (Id.) Finally, opting out is effective to block all future calls, regardless of the number of times an inmate attempts to call that number. (Id.)

         The settlement amount shall be reserved and paid out as follows:

         (1) Opting In and Opting Out: After Notice is initially sent (see Section on Notice, below), class members will have 60 days in which to submit timely and valid requests for exclusion. (Id. at 8.) Requests for exclusion must be mailed to the settlement administrator. (Id.) Similarly, objections to the settlement must be made within 60 days. (Id.) Objections must be filed with the Court. (Id.) The parties have agreed that in order to ensure that only valid class members can object to the settlement, objectors must provide a valid claim ID, demonstrate ownership of a telephone number that appears on the class list based on GTL's records, or produce telephone records establishing receipt of a Notification Call. (Id.)

         (2) Release of Claims: Any class member who does not opt out within the 60-day period described above will release all claims against GTL arising out of Notification Calls, calls made by automatic telephone dialing systems, and/or artificial or prerecorded voice calls to mobile telephones during the class period. (Id.)

         (3) Calculation of Payment: Once the claims period has ended, the settlement administrator will calculate the amount each class member is to receive (the amount will be uniform among all class members, aside from any incentive award to the named plaintiff). (See id.)

         (4) Method of Payment: The settlement administrator will send checks to the class members who submit valid claims. (See Id. at 5-6.) The recipients will then have 120 days to cash the check. (Id. at 5.) Any amounts that remain uncashed after 120 days will be part of a second distribution, whereby any remaining funds will be distributed to class members who did cash their checks, provided that each member would receive at least $10 in the second distribution. (Id.) After 120 days of the date of the checks in the second distribution, any remaining funds will be paid to the National Consumer Law Center, which works with the FCC to enforce the protections of the TCPA. (Id. at 5-6.) No funds will revert to GTL. (Id.)

         (5) Attorneys' Fees and Incentive Award: Class counsel has indicated that they will file a motion for attorneys' fees and for an incentive award for the named plaintiff. (Id. at 8-9.) Further, the parties have not agreed that GTL is stipulating to a certain amount of fees or awards; GTL is permitted to oppose the requested awards. (Id.) Moreover, the ...


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