Class certification denied to drivers in toll bridges lawsuit

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Finding the group to be too inclusive, a federal judge has denied a motion for class certification filed by drivers who claim they were wrongly charged late fees and fines when they crossed the Ohio River toll bridges.

The lawsuit was filed in the Southern Indiana District Court in 2020 on behalf of the drivers who either did not open individual debit accounts which would allow for the tolls to be deducted automatically or did not have enough funds in their accounts to cover the tolls. Consequently, these drivers were mailed a bill for the toll charges whenever they motored across the Kennedy, the Lincoln or the Lewis and Clark bridges.

Kapsch Trafficcom and Gila were contracted to handle the billing and customer service for RiverLink, the tolling system established by Indiana and Kentucky. The plaintiffs claim the vendors ignored their own protocol and listed an earlier due date than 35 days on the first notice or assessed fees and penalties on some customers before the first notice was even sent.

Chief Judge Tanya Walton Pratt denied the plaintiffs’ motion in Monique Outzen et al. v. Kapsch Trafficcom USA, Inc. and Gila, LLC, 1:20-cv-01286, to certify its proposed damages class, damages subclass and issue class. The judge ruled the classes were too inclusive and too broad.

Attorneys from Taft Stettinius & Hollister and Foley & Lardner LLP representing Kapsch and Gila, respectively, did not provide a comment by IL deadline. Jacob Cox, who along with lawyers from Wilson Kehoe & Winingham is representing the drivers said the plaintiffs were preparing to file a motion to reconsider.

Even though the damages classes included just those drivers who paid the fees and penalties they were charged, the court concurred with the defendants that when each class member paid the fees mattered.

“…Plaintiffs do not seem to contend that Defendants cannot assess at least initial fees and/or penalties thirty-five days following the generation of a notice, so how could individuals paying their first fees and/or penalties after that window suffer injury,” Walton Pratt questioned. “And as this case involves escalating fees and penalties cascading from the first ‘due date,’ this Damages Class, as structured, is overly inclusive and too broad to be limited to only those who suffered harm. How are the parties and the Court to, on a class-wide basis, discern who was actually harmed without minutiae overrunning the case?”

Pratt also cited Mullins v. Direct Digital, LLC, 765 F.3d at 660 (7th Cir. 2015) in concluding that the concern over the size of the class implicated Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. That rule requires that “class definitions generally need to identify a particular group, harmed during a particular time frame, in a particular location, in a particular way.”

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