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Monteferrante v. Williams-Sonoma, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 20, 2017

JUDITH MONTEFERRANTE, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff.
v.
WILLIAMS-SONOMA, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          WOLF, D.J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On April 15, 2013, plaintiff Judith Monteferrante brought this class action against defendant Williams-Sonoma, Inc. ("Williams-Sonoma"). She seeks to represent a class of consumers whose zip codes Williams-Sonoma allegedly collected unlawfully and who subsequently received marketing materials from Williams Sonoma from April 15, 2009 to the present. Williams-Sonoma moves to strike the class allegations. It argues that the class definition is overbroad because it includes individuals whose claims are time-barred. The court agrees. Accordingly, it is allowing the Motion to Strike and striking the class allegation without prejudice.

         II. APPLICABLE LAW

         A. Motion to Strike under Rule 12

         Two Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorize the court to strike a class allegation at the pleading stage. First, "[D]istrict courts may use their authority under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) to delete the complaint's class allegations." Manning v. Boston Medical Center Corp., 725 F.3d 34, 59 (1st Cir. 2013)(citing Pilgrim v. Universal Heath Card, LLC, 660 F.3d 943, 949 (6th Cir. 2011)). In addition, Rule 23(d)(1)(D) authorizes the court to "require that the pleadings be amended to eliminate allegations about representation of absent persons and that the allegation proceed accordingly."

         However, the First Circuit has discouraged courts from striking class allegations before discovery:

[C]ourts should exercise caution when striking class action allegations based solely on the pleadings, for two reasons. First, while ruling on a motion to strike is committed to the district court's sound judgment, "such motions are narrow in scope, disfavored in practice, and not calculated readily to invoke the court's discretion." This is so because "striking a portion of a pleading is a drastic remedy and...it is often sought by the movant simply as a dilatory or harassing tactic." Second, courts have repeatedly emphasized that striking class allegations under Rule 12(f) "is even more disfavored because it requires a reviewing court to preemptively terminate the class aspects of... litigation, solely on the basis of what is alleged in the complaint, and before plaintiffs are permitted to complete the discovery to which they would otherwise be entitled on questions relevant to class certification"...Accordingly, a court should typically await the development of a factual record before determining whether the case should move forward on a representative basis.

Id. (citations omitted). Therefore, the court may only strike a class allegation if "it is obvious from the pleadings that the proceeding cannot possibly move forward on a class-wide basis." See id. at 59-60 (reversing district court's order striking class allegations where it was "plausible" that employer's allegedly unlawful practices affected employees on a class-wide basis, "even [though] the court had concerns about plaintiff's ability to represent such a diverse group of employees").

         Nevertheless, "sometimes the issues are plain enough from the pleadings to determine whether the interests of the absent parties are fairly encompassed within the named plaintiff's claim..." General Telephone Co. of Southwest v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 160 (1982). Rule 23(d)(1)(D) "permits courts to 'order deletion of portions [of] a complaint's class claims once it becomes clear that the plaintiffs cannot possibly prove the deleted portion of those claims, ' at least where the basis for the motion to strike is distinct from the factors the court would consider on a motion for class certification." Barrett v. Forest Laboratories, Inc., 39 F.Supp.3d 407, 458 (S.D.N.Y. 2014)(citing 5 Moore's Federal Practice §23.145 (3d ed. 2007)).

         Consistent with this principle, a court may strike class allegations that plainly encompass individuals whose claims are barred by jurisdictional or time limitations. See Barrett v. Avco Financial Servs., 292 B. R. 1, 11-12 (D. Mass. 2003) (Ponsor, D.J.)(allowing motion to strike nation-wide class allegation, where court had no jurisdiction over out-of-state putative class members, and ordering plaintiff to amend with narrower class definition); Barrett, 39 F.Supp.3d at 458-60 (narrowing scope of putative class to include only class members whose claims accrued within applicable limitations period); Shabaz v. Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., 586 F.Supp.2d 1205, 1211 (CD. Cal. 2008) (same).

         III. RELEVANT FACTS

         Monteferrante alleges that she used her credit card to purchase items at Williams-Sonoma, a retailor with locations in Massachusetts. During that purchase, a Williams-Sonoma employee asked for her zip code. Believing that Williams-Sonoma required the information to complete her purchase, she complied. Williams-Sonoma subsequently used her zip code to identify her home address. As a result, she began receiving unwanted marketing materials from the retailor, mailings which continued "long after March 2013." Compl. at ¶6.

         Monteferrante alleges that Williams-Sonoma's collection of zip code information, when it was not required by the credit card issuer, violates Mass. Gen. Laws Chapter 93, §105 (a). That statute states that:

No person, firm, partnership, corporation or other business entity that accepts a credit card for a business transaction shall write, cause to be written or require that a credit card holder write personal identification information, not required by the credit card issuer, on the credit card transaction form[, including]...a credit card holder's address or telephone number...[except when such] information is necessary for shipping, delivery or installation of ...

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