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Martinez-Santiago v. Public Storage

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 26, 2018

JACKELINE MARTINEZ-SANTIAGO, on behalf of herself and other persons similarly situated, Plaintiff,


          JEROME B. SIMANDLE U.S. District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court upon Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket Item 182] and Motion to Decertify the Class [Docket Item 206], as well as Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [Docket Item 187] and Motion to Preclude the Testimony of Ronald Schaible [Docket Item 184]. The motions having been fully briefed and presented at oral argument on September 6, 2017 [Docket Item 244] and the Court has considered the submissions of Plaintiff's counsel and the submissions by Defendants' counsel. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will temporarily stay this action, reserve judgment on the pending motions, and administratively terminate said motions:

         1. Factual and Procedural Background.

         This case centers on contracts for the leasing of private storage spaces, offered by Defendant Public Storage, that allegedly contained provisions which violated the New Jersey Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act (“TCCWNA”). The Court previously issued an Opinion and Order denying a Motion to Dismiss on the grounds that the contracts at issue did not contain provisions that violated clearly established legal rights of consumers in violation of TCCWNA. Martinez-Santiago v. Public Storage, 38 F.Supp.3d 500 (D.N.J. 2014). [Docket Items 24 and 25.] Subsequently, the Court granted class certification to a class defined as all individuals since September 24, 2007 and until October 21, 2014 who signed a storage lease agreement with Public Storage, Martinez-Santiago v. Public Storage, 312 F.R.D. 380 (D.N.J. 2015) [Docket Item 134], and noted that, assuming that the contractual language at issue violated the provisions of TCCWNA at N.J.S.A. §§ 56:12-15 and 56:12-16, “each class member was harmed in the same way in that each class member signed a lease that allegedly violated his or her clearly established legal rights.” [Docket Item 133 at 17.] In assessing typicality under the Rule 23 class-certification analysis, the Court noted that the named plaintiff's

claims stem from the same course of conduct that gives rise to the claims of the class. A lease agreement may violate the TCCWNA even if the plaintiff has not suffered any actual damages because a TCCWNA violation arises simply from the language in the contract. See Barrows v. Chase Manhattan Mort. Corp., 456 F.Supp.2d 347, 362 (D.N.J. 2006). Thus, the claims of the class all stem from the same factual circumstance--entering into a lease for storage space with Public Storage. . . . In fact, a remedy under TCCWNA is not limited to individuals who have entered into unlawful consumer contracts. TCCWNA may be violated even when a defendant merely presents a consumer with a contract that “contains terms contrary to any established state or federal right of the consumer.” Shelton v., Inc., 70 A.3d 544, 558 (N.J. 2013).

         [Docket Item 133 at 24, 24 n.13.]

         2. Subsequent discovery practice revealed that, unlike the named Plaintiff, the vast majority of class members suffered no actual harm or damages from the allegedly-TCCWNA-violative provisions of the lease agreements they signed. [Docket Item 206-1 at 7-8.]

         3. Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket Item 182], and Plaintiff filed a cross Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [Docket Item 187], centering on the issues of whether the provisions at issue in the lease agreements actually violated Sections 56:12-15 and 56:12-16 of TCCWNA.

         4. Defendant filed a Motion to Decertify the Class on the grounds that 99.98% of the class members (unlike the named Plaintiff) suffered no injury and therefore lacked standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution [Docket Item 206]. In the alternative, Defendant argued that the class action is inappropriate under Rule 23, given that the vast majority of absent class members suffered no injury, because it is now clear that the requirements of typicality and superiority are not met. [Docket Item 206-1 at 28-38.]

         5. All motions were fully briefed, and the parties were able to submit additional authority to the Court in support of their respective positions. [Docket Items 216-18, 220-23, 225, 227, 234-35, 238-42.]

         6. Oral argument was held on the pending motions on September 6, 2017 and the Court reserved decision at that time. [Docket Item 244.]

         7. Parallel Proceedings in Third Circuit and New Jersey Supreme Court.

         While these proceedings were before this Court, parallel litigation regarding TCCWNA occurred in the Third Circuit in two consolidated cases, Spade v. Select Comfort Corp., No. 16-1558, and Wenger v. Bob's Discount Furniture, LLC, No. 16-1572. On November 23, 2016, a panel of the Third Circuit certified two questions of state law to the New Jersey Supreme Court pursuant to New Jersey Court Rule 2:12A-1:

(1) Is a consumer who receives a contract that does not comply with the Furniture Delivery Regulations, but has not suffered any adverse consequences from the noncompliance, an ...

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