Timing Matters: District Court Refuses To Dismiss A TCPA Class Action That Was Moot Before It Was Ever Filed.

The facts of Edelsberg v. Brea Financial Group are straightforward. See No. 18-cv-62119, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29941 (Feb. 26, 2019). The plaintiff sent the defendant a letter claiming that the defendant violated the TCPA by sending a single telemarketing text message. The defendant responded by sending a check for $3,000 – twice the amount the plaintiff could possibly receive for the single text message – and a letter promising not to send the plaintiff any communications that violate the TCPA or any other law. The defendant thus offered more monetary and injunctive relief than the plaintiff could hope to receive at trial.

That should have ended the case. The plaintiff should have cashed the check and been happy with his windfall. Instead, he returned the check and filed a class action in an apparent attempt to receive $1,500 for the single text instead of the $3,000 the defendant sent. Federal courts should have no time for such nonsense, and the case should have been dismissed as moot promptly on arrival. But rather than dismissing the case, the court relied on the Seventh Circuit’s decision in Lauren v. Volvo Cars of North America, 868 F.3d 622 (7th Cir. 2017) to hold that even a pre-suit unaccepted offer does not moot a case.

Both Edelsberg and Lauren, however, failed to apply the relation back doctrine, which survived Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez, 136 S. Ct. 663 (2016). Under the relation back doctrine, standing is determined at the time a complaint is filed, not when a motion to certify is filed. See United States Parole Comm’n v. Geraghty, 445 U.S. 388, 398 (1980). Thus, even though an unaccepted offer made after a complaint is filed does not moot a case, an offer made before a complaint is filed does moot it. In the former situation, the plaintiff had standing but lost it; in the latter situation, the plaintiff never had standing to begin with. Because standing never existed, relation back cannot prevent the claim from being moot.

The upshot is that the precedential value Edelsberg and Lauren is minimal because neither case even mentioned the relation back doctrine. Future cases will hopefully consider the doctrine and recognize that a plaintiff who is offered complete relief prior to even filing suit has no business being in federal court, let alone representing a class.