Individual Issues Doom ASU Students’ Class Action

In a decision handed down today, a panel of the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s denial of class certification in a case brought by college students at Appalachian State University to recover rental security deposits. The Court of Appeals held that “[d]etermination of the appropriate amount of each Plaintiff’s refund would require individual trials, thus rendering class action an inferior method for the adjudication of Plaintiffs’ claims.” After concluding that the trial court’s findings regarding the predominance of individual factual issues were supported by competent evidence, the Court tackled what it regarded as the essential legal issue in the case: Were plaintiffs correct that any willful violation of the North Carolina Tenant Security Deposit Act required a full refund of a student’s deposit? This became an outcome determinative question – no individual trial would be needed if the return of the entire deposit followed a statutory violation. The Court said “no,” and held that trials would be required to decide what portions of “a class member’s individual charges, if any, was attributable to overcharging or charging for normal wear and tear.”