Woman’s 15 debt collection lawsuits settled after consolidation
September 12 2013
By : John O’Brien
MARTINSBURG – A Jefferson County woman who sued Saxon Mortgage Services 15 times settled her lawsuits shortly after they were consolidated into one and removed to federal court. On Sept. 9, Melinda D. Hedden notified U.S. District Judge Gina Groh, of the Northern District of West Virginia, that she and Saxon have reached an agreement. Within 60 days, the settlement documents will be finalized, Charles Town attorney Andrew C. Skinner wrote.
The settlement comes only five days after the case was removed to federal court. Her 15 lawsuits had been consolidated into one in August in Jefferson County Circuit Court, and Saxon filed its removal notice Sept. 4. Each of her 15 lawsuits, filed in 2011, stipulated to only seek damages of less than $74,999, which is $1 under the threshold for removal to federal court. Once they were consolidated, the amount in controversy was capped at $1.1 million.
“In this case, Plaintiff has acted in bad faith in order to prevent Saxon from removing the action by deliberately separating her claim against Saxon into fifteen separate actions, each stipulated to recovery of no more than $74,999,” the removal notice says.
“Further, Plaintiff opposed Saxon’s motion, filed within one year of commencement, seeking to require Plaintiff to litigate her claims in a single lawsuit. Accordingly, the lawsuits were not consolidated and the parties litigated them as separate actions.”
It was shortly before a trial was to start that Hedden asked for her lawsuits to be consolidated. Hedden’s lawsuits alleged violations of the West Virginia Consumer Credit Protection Act. Saxon allegedly called Hedden for debt collection purposes after it received notice that she was represented by counsel.
After the first complaint, Hedden filed 14 more that sought relief for 540 phone calls. Saxon opposed Hedden’s motion to consolidate her cases because it didn’t wanted her to be unable to introduce evidence from her other cases in each case.
“If Plaintiff were allowed to admit, and the jury were allowed to consider, evidence regarding over 500 calls not alleged in each specific complaint at issue, it will lead to substantial unfair prejudice,” the company wrote.
“For example, the jury is likely to: (1) become confused as to which calls are at issue with respect to each complaint; (2) disregard the issue of whether Plaintiff proved each individual call and assess liability based on evidence of cumulative calls; and (3) fail to consider Saxon’s defenses with respect to each call.”