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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

District Court denies plaintiff’s motion to remand FDCPA

Courts FDCPA California Debt Collection Ninth Circuit Appellate U.S. Supreme Court

Courts

On December 22, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denied a plaintiff’s motion to remand, ruling that a default judgment allegedly obtained fraudulently in an underlying collection lawsuit qualifies as a concrete injury in fact to the plaintiff in an FDCPA suit. According to the order, the plaintiff sued the defendants, a process server and its employee, for fraudulently certifying that service of process had been made to the plaintiff in a state debt collection action and obtaining a default judgment against the plaintiff as a result, which the plaintiff described as engaging in the practice of “sewer service.” The plaintiff sued the defendants in state court and the action was removed to federal court by the defendants. The plaintiff filed a motion to remand for lack of standing, claiming that his complaint “does not sufficiently allege a concrete harm to confer [Article III] standing to Plaintiff” because the complaint “solely asserts a bare procedural violation of the [FDCPA].” While “Article III requires plaintiff to show ‘(i) that he suffered an injury in fact that is concrete, particularized, and actual or imminent; (ii) that the injury was likely caused by the defendant; and (iii) that the injury would likely be redressed by judicial relief,’” the court noted that the plaintiff’s argument “focuses only on the ‘concreteness’ of the ‘injury in fact.’” Applying the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s two-step framework for determining whether a statutory violation is a “concrete” harm, and considering the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez decision (covered by InfoBytes here), the court found that the plaintiff’s complaint sufficiently alleged a “concrete” injury in fact for alleged violations of the FDCPA arising from alleged sewer service.

Specifically, the court indicated that the 9th Circuit’s first step requires the court “‘[t]o identify the interests protected by the FDCPA’ by examining the ‘[h]istorical practice’ and the ‘legislative judgment’ underlying the provisions at issue’” and determine whether “the FDCPA ‘provisions at issue were established to protect the plaintiff’s concrete interests.’” Although the defendants failed to identify any historical or common-law practices, the court found that legislative history of the FDCPA indicates that Congress enacted the statute to protect consumers from abusive collection practices, which include engaging in sewer service. The court further cited to district courts’ decisions concluding that “the ‘FDCPA codifies Plaintiff's concrete interest in being free from abusive debt collection practices.’” Turning to step two of the 9th Circuit’s framework, the court considered whether the sewer service allegations present a material risk of harm that had materialized and “actually harm[ed] Plaintiff’s interests under the FDCPA.” The court found that the “Complaint sufficiently allege[d] that the risk of harm to Plaintiff’s concrete interests materialized” because the “Complaint plead[ed] that the fraudulent proof of service specifically targeted Plaintiff, advanced the state debt collection action against Plaintiff to a stage where default judgment was pending, and caused Plaintiff to obtain legal representation to defend Plaintiff in the state debt collection action [which] do more than present a ‘risk of harm’ to Plaintiff’s interests under step two.” On this basis, the court denied the plaintiff’s motion to remand the action.

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