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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

3rd Circuit says debt collector owes finder’s fee

Courts Appellate Third Circuit Debt Collection Finder's Fee Department of Education


On September 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned a district court’s summary judgment ruling in favor of a defendant debt collector. The action concerned whether a federal contract entered between the debt collector and the Department of Education (DOE) required the payment of a finder’s fee to a plaintiff consulting company that helped the defendant secure the contract. The defendant entered into an agreement with the plaintiff to help it secure federal contracts in debt collection in exchange for a finder’s fee. The defendant signed a contract with the DOE in 2014, but did not begin performing work on the contract until 2016 after the agreement with the plaintiff had expired. The defendant refused to pay the finder’s fee, arguing that even though the contract with the DOE was signed while the agreement was still active, the contract had not been “consummated” during the agreement’s applicable period because the defendant was not eligible to receive work orders or start performing work until after the agreement expired. The plaintiff sued, but the district court ruled in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff appealed and the 3rd Circuit reversed, holding that the contract had in fact been “consummated” when it was formed in 2014, and that the defendant owed the finder’s fee. On remand, the district court again granted summary judgment for the defendant, this time on the grounds that the defendant had not “facilitated” the contract with the DOE.

On the second appeal, the 3rd Circuit determined that the agreement specifies that a finder’s fee is owed whenever a “fee transaction is consummated” and defined a fee transaction as “the subsequent consummation of any contract with any Federal government agency for which [defendant] has been invited to compete, and is later awarded a contract to perform, which both parties herein expressly agree shall have arisen due to any ‘teaming’ or ‘subcontracting’ engagement Finder may have facilitated in advance of any such award of a contract by a Federal government agency.” According to the appellate court, it did not matter when the work orders from the DOE began, because the fee transaction was consummated during the agreement period.