U.S. District Judge Esther Salas U.S. District Judge Esther Salas/photo by Carmen Natale

A federal judge has granted class certification in an action against a debt collection company over its business practices, and denied the company’s request to arbitrate the issue because that request came two years into the litigation.

U.S. District Judge Esther Salas, sitting in Newark, granted class status to what her ruling said currently amounts to 1,876 members in New Jersey alone, and said the defendant, GC Services Limited Partnership, has not demonstrated that arbitration was the preferred forum for settling the disputes.

The lead plaintiff, Rukhsana Kausar, is a New Jersey resident. GC Services is based in Houston.

The dispute began in February 2015, when Kausar bought something from Brooks Brothers using a store card issued by Synchrony Bank, according to the decision, which does not specify what she purchased, nor the amount she paid.

Synchrony Bank then assigned the matter for collection to GC Services, which in turn sent a letter to Kausar saying it was attempting to collect a debt.

Kausar in her suit alleged that GC Services violated the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by failing to verify the debt, and that Kausar was not provided information about the identity of the creditor.

Discovery in the lawsuit, which had not yet been designated as a class action, proceeded.

GC Services then moved to have the case settled through arbitration.

Salas noted that while Kausar filed her complaint in August 2015, GC Services waited more than two years to file a motion demanding arbitration. GC Services had argued that the bank, in its contract with it cardholders, provided that all disputes were to be settled through arbitration.

While acknowledging that arbitration is the preferred method for settling disputes as a matter of policy, Salas said GC Services effectively waived its right to arbitration by waiting so long.

“A court may refuse to enforce an arbitration agreement when the party seeking arbitration waives its right to arbitration,” Salas said.

“GC’s 24-month delay is even longer than the delays in cases where the [U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit] found waiver,” Salas said.

If GC Services had told the court earlier that there was an arbitration clause in the Brooks Brothers credit card agreement, Salas said, she could have stayed the proceedings early in the discovery stage, and Kausar wouldn’t have suffered prejudice.

“Instead, GC chose silence,” Salas said.

GC Services also challenged the motion for class certification, but to no avail.

Salas found that the potential class members all lived in New Jersey and received collection letters from GC Services within a certain time period.

“The court agrees that ‘a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating this controversy,” Salas said.

Neither the plaintiffs’ attorney, Ryan Gentile of the law office of Gus Farinella in Florham Park, New York, nor GC Services’ lawyer, Jeffrey Spiegel of the New York office of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, could be reached for comment.