7th Circuit holds recoverable costs under FDCPA do not include damages or compensation for expenses
On June 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s holding that the costs recoverable under the FDCPA and Rule 54(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not include damages or compensation for the plaintiff’s time and mailing expenses related to litigation. According to the opinion, the plaintiff filed suit against a debt collector alleging various violations of the FDCPA for failing to verify that the plaintiff owned the debt after it was disputed and for sending a demand letter with the plaintiff’s personal information in an envelope viewing screen. The debt collector made an offer of judgment to the plaintiff for “$1,101, ‘plus costs to be awarded by the Court.’” The plaintiff sought costs that included damages under the FDCPA while the debt collector argued that the offer was only for “taxable costs as a prevailing party.” After the district court concluded that the plaintiff had accepted the offer of judgment, it entered judgment for the award of $1,101 and instructed the plaintiff to file a bill of costs “‘limited to those contemplated by [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure] 54(d).’” The plaintiff demanded over $24,000 for “hundreds of hours” spent litigating the action, over $150 in “mailing costs,” $1,000 in “additional damage costs,” and over $47,000 in punitive damages. The district court denied the costs under Rule 54(d) and awarded final judgment for the $1,101 in statutory damages.
On appeal, the 7th Circuit disagreed with the plaintiff’s assertion that the costs he submitted were recoverable under Section 1692k(a) of the FDCPA, concluding that “damages are not part of the costs ‘properly awardable under’ § 1692k(a),” which contains both provisions for damages and for costs; therefore, if costs included damages, “the damages provisions would be superfluous.” The appellate court went on to state that “[w]ithout a special definition in the [FDCPA], the ‘costs’ it contemplates are simply those awardable under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d),” which do not include the damages or compensation sought by the plaintiff.