Class Action Complaint Adequately Pleaded Claims Against T-Mobile because Claims were not Premised on Fraud, so Rule 9(b) did not Apply, and because Claims Sufficiently Pleaded Breach of Contract, Unjust Enrichment and Violation of Consumer Protection Act Washington Federal Court Holds
Plaintiff filed a class action complaint T-Mobile USA alleging unfair business practices in connection with cellular telephone text messaging; specifically, the class action alleged that “T-Mobile charges customers for the receipt of unsolicited text messages, and does not adequately disclose the practice in its contract with customers.” Zaldivar v. T-Mobile USA, Inc., ___ F.Supp.2d ___ (W.D. Wash. July 15, 2008) [Slip Opn., at 1]. The class action complaint alleged breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and violations of Washington’s Consumer Protection Act. Id., at 2. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action complaint under Rule 9(b) for failure to plead fraud with specificity. Id., at 1-2. They argued that the gravamen of the class action was the allegation that T-Mobile defrauded its customers, and therefore Rule 9(b)’s heightened pleading requirements for fraud should apply, id., at 2. The district court disagreed and denied the motion to dismiss the class action.
The federal court distinguished Vess v. Ciba-Geigy Corp. USA, 317 F.3d 1097 (9th Cir. 2003), which held that a plaintiff who “‘rel[ies] entirely’ on a ‘unified course of fraudulent conduct’ to support a claim in which fraud is not a necessary element must nonetheless satisfy Rule 9(b) in ‘pleading the claim as a whole.’” Zaldivar, at 2 (quoting Vess, at 1103-04). Here, the class action does not “‘rely entirely’ on a uniform course of fraudulent conduct”; on the contrary, even if the court assumed that the allegations against T-Mobile were “grounded in fraud” and stripped them from the complaint, the complaint would still state claims for relief against T-Mobile. Id., at 3. For example, the breach of contract claim relies on the allegation the T-Mobile failed to charges customers only for charges ‘contractually agreed upon,” and the Consumer Protection Act class action claim was premised on T-Mobile’s failure to “properly notify or advise” customers that “they were not contractually liable to pay certain fees for text messaging.” Id. Accordingly, the district court denied T-Mobile’s motion to dismiss the class action complaint, id., at 5.