District Court denies class certification in suit against City of Philadelphia for parking fees

By Nicholas Malfitano | Feb 18, 2016

City of Philadelphia  

PHILADELPHIA – A federal court has denied certification to a plaintiff seeking to establish a class action lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia for allegedly improperly collected parking fees.

Judge Thomas N. O’Neill Jr. opted to deny class certification in the matter brought by Angela Parsons alleging unjust enrichment, and remanded the case to its point of origin in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.

Parsons alleges she and others “paid for metered parking in the City when and where such parking was free of charge and paid for metered parking beyond the time required by the applicable parking regulation signs.”

Parsons further asserts the defendant “collected and retained fees for street parking from the Class Members for times during which no fee was required, pursuant to applicable parking signage through parking meters including electronic parking meter kiosks” and “failed and refused to deactivate the meters and kiosks or program them so that they did not accept payment for parking for times which no payment was required.”

In the lawsuit, Parsons seeks to recover on a theory of unjust enrichment on behalf of herself and her proposed class, for the money allegedly paid to defendant when no payment was due. (The City of Philadelphia is the lone remaining defendant in the case, as all claims against the Philadelphia Parking Authority have been dismissed.)

The defendant argued Parsons “failed to show ascertainability and predominance” as required to certify a class under Rule 23 of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and O’Neill agreed.

“Through her claim for unjust enrichment, plaintiff primarily seeks to recover monetary damages for overpayments for metered parking on behalf of the class – quintessential individualized monetary claims,” O’Neill said. “She has not shown that there is a limited fund available to pay the claims of putative class members.”

Under Rule 23 (b)(1), O’Neill stated Parsons failed to illustrate that “the prosecution of separate actions would create a risk of multiple actions that would establish incompatible standards of conduct or that the denial of class certification would substantially impair or impede the ability of other putative class members to protect their interests.”

With respect to potential class certification under Rule 23 (b)(3), which would determine if a class-action suit would be a superior option for litigating the case, O’Neill found Parsons did not meet the burden of proof on this point, as well – under the terms of ascertainability and predominance.

“Although ‘there is no records requirement’ to proving ascertainability, the burden remains on plaintiff to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the class members are identifiable,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill added Parsons couldn’t link payments to the defendant to potential class members, nor explain if she can link payments to circumstances when “parking was to be free of charge or where payments were made beyond the time required by the applicable parking regulation.”

“Plaintiff has failed to identify any mechanism by which the putative class may be ascertained and she has not provided any evidence to show that any method could be successful. Thus, I find that plaintiff has not met her burden of demonstrating the ascertainability of the proposed class,” O’Neill said.

As to predominance, O’Neill said Parsons’ complaint lacked this necessary quality.

“In order to certify a class, Rule 23(b)(3) requires that I find ‘that the questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members,” O’Neill said.

“Defendant argues that plaintiff cannot meet the predominance requirement because a finding of unjust enrichment depends on each putative class member’s individualized circumstances and knowledge,” O’Neill stated.

O’Neill indicated it would be necessary to undertake “individual inquiries to determine whether each class member’s payments have unjustly enriched the defendant”, a process which makes a class-action “inappropriate”.

“Common questions of law or fact do not predominate over the individual questions that must be addressed for all class members to adjudicate their unjust enrichment claims,” O’Neill said. “Plaintiff has not met her burden of demonstrating ascertainability or predominance of common questions or law or fact as required by Rule 23(b)(3). I will therefore deny plaintiff’s motion for class certification.”

With no federal issues remaining in the case and absent class certification, O’Neill further declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Parsons’ remaining state law claim of unjust enrichment.

“Plaintiff’s case will be remanded to plaintiff’s original choice of forum, the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County,” O’Neill said.

The plaintiff is represented by Edward S. Mazurek of The Mazurek Law Firm, in Philadelphia.

The defendant is represented by Christopher H. Rider, Daniel Auerbach and Robert D. Aversa of the City of Philadelphia’s Law Department.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:13-cv-00955

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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