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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

District Court denies certification and defendants’ motion for summary judgment in FDCPA class action

Courts Class Action FDCPA CFPB CFPA

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On January 26, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington denied a plaintiff’s motion for class certification and denied motions for summary judgment from defendants in an FDCPA case stemming from a consent order between one of the defendants and the CFPB. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in September 2017, the CFPB announced it had filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware against a collection of 15 Delaware statutory trusts and their debt collector for, among other things, allegedly filing lawsuits against consumers for private student loan debt that they could not prove was owed or that was outside the applicable statute of limitations. According to the consent judgment, the trusts were required to pay at least $3.5 million in restitution to more than 2,000 consumers who made payments resulting from the improper collection suits, to pay $7.8 million in disgorgement to the Treasury Department, and to pay an additional $7.8 million civil money penalty to the CFPB. In addition, the trusts were required to: (i) hire an independent auditor, subject to the Bureau’s approval, to audit all 800,000 student loans in the portfolio to determine if collection efforts must be stopped on additional accounts; (ii) cease collection attempts on loans that lack proper documentation or that are time-barred; and (iii) ensure false or misleading documents are not filed and that documents requiring notarization are handled properly. A separate consent order issued against the debt collector orders the company to pay a $2.5 million civil money penalty to the CFPB.

According to the district court’s order, the plaintiffs, who were sued by the defendants for failing to pay their student loans, alleged that the defendants filed fraudulent, deceptive, and misleading affidavits in order to obtain default judgments. The plaintiffs sought to include a class of those residing in Washington for which the defendants sought to collect a debt allegedly owned by one of the trusts. The district court, however, was “unconvinced” that any of the questions would generate common answers on a class-wide basis. For example, the question of whether the defendants’ employees filed false or misleading affidavits “cannot be resolved in one stroke,” the district court said, because the plaintiffs “cannot show by a preponderance of the evidence that the documents Defendants used in every debt collection action suffered from the same alleged deficiencies.” With respect to the defendants’ summary judgment motion, the district court determined there were genuine issues of material fact regarding the alleged violations of the FDCPA and state law in Washington. The district court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, noting noted that “[a]ttempts to collect debts with false affidavits and without the necessary documentation to prove the claims is unfair or unconscionable and involves false, deceptive, and/or misleading representations in violation of the FDCPA.”