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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

District Court denies debt collector’s motion for summary judgment FDCPA action concerning a consumer who filed for bankruptcy

Courts Debt Collection FDCPA Affirmative Defense

Courts

On May 29, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio denied a debt collector’s motion for summary judgment in an action alleging the debt collector violated the FDCPA by sending a collection letter three days after the consumer filed for bankruptcy. According to the opinion, the debt collector confirmed that the consumer had not yet filed for bankruptcy following placement of the consumer’s account for collection and, thus, sent an initial communication to the consumer’s attorney. Thereafter, the consumer filed for bankruptcy, but before the collector learned of the bankruptcy, it sent a collection letter to the consumer’s counsel. As a result, the consumer filed a lawsuit claiming that the debt collector violated the FDCPA by sending a collection letter to the consumer’s attorney after the bankruptcy proceeding had been initiated. The debt collector moved for summary judgment, arguing that it could not be held liable under the FDCPA because, at the time it sent the collection letter, it had not yet received notice of the bankruptcy proceeding. The court, however, rejected this argument, citing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in stating that “‘[t]he FDCPA is a strict-liability statute: A plaintiff does not need to prove knowledge or intent . . . and does not have to have suffered actual damages.’” Because the debt collector did present arguments or evidence relating to FDCPA’s bona fide error provision, which provides an affirmative defense for a violation that is not intentional and is the result of a bona fide error, the court said that it was essentially being asked by the debt collector “to read an intent or knowledge requirement into the FDCPA,” something it could not do, and, thus, it denied the motion for summary judgment.

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