Motion to Dismiss FDCPA Class Action Claim Premised on Filing Untimely Debt Collection Lawsuits Fails but Motion to Dismiss State Law Class Action Claims and to Dismiss FDCPA Class Action Claim based on Attorney Fees Sought in Debt Collection Lawsuits were Meritorious Florida Federal Court Holds
Plaintiff filed a class action against Portfolio Recovery Associates (PRA) and certain individuals (PRA’s lawyers) alleging violations of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and Florida’s Consumer Collections Practices Act (FCCPA); the class action complaint asserted that in violation of state and federal law, defendants engaged in a pattern and practice of filing lawsuits to collect debts after the statute of limitations had expired for doing so, and that defendants sought a standard amount of attorney fees without supporting documentation and without actually having incurred the stated amount in attorney fees. Gaisser v. Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC, 571 F.Supp.2d 1273, 1274-75 (S.D. Fla. 2008). According to the class action, “Defendants’ practice of attempting to collect on debts after expiration of the applicable statute of limitations and Defendants’ practice regarding attorney’s fees runs afoul of the FDCPA.” Id., at 1275. More specifically, the class action complaint alleged that “Defendants used false or misleading representations to collect or attempt to collect a debt in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1692e,” and “used unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect a debt in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1692f.” Id. The class action further alleged that defendants’ conduct violated Florida state law. Id. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the first amended class action complaint. Id., at 1274. The district court granted the motion in part and denied the motion in part.
Plaintiff incurred credit card debts but was unable to keep up with the required payments. Gaisser, at 1274. The debt was assigned to PRA, who retained counsel to file suit against plaintiff to collect on the debt. Id. The first issue the district court addressed was whether New Hampshire’s three-year statute of limitations applied or Florida’s five-year statute of limitations applied to the debt collection lawsuits filed by defendants. Id., at 1275-76. The Court concluded that New Hampshire law applied, id., at 1276-77, and that defense attorneys failed to establish that the lawsuit – filed against plaintiff four years after the commencement of the statute of limitations – was filed timely, id., at 1277-78. But the district court granted the defense motion to dismiss the class action claims premised on the lawyer’s attorney fees, concluding that the lawyer verified only what a “reasonable fee” would be for the services rendered, not that the amount sought represented his “actual fee.” Id., at 1278. Because defendants did not represent the amount of attorney fees requested was a “sum certain,” and because defendants invited the court to determine the “reasonable fee” to be awarded, the class action claims based on the attorney fee requests failed. Id., at 1277-78.
Finally, with respect to the class action claims premised on Florida’s state law, defense attorneys argued that the litigation privilege barred the FCCPA claim. Gaisser, at 1279. The district court agreed that the litigation privilege applied and accordingly granted the motion to dismiss the FCCPA class action claims, id., at 1279-80. Accordingly, the federal court granted the defense motion to dismiss certain claims in the class action complaint, but denied the motion as to the FDCPA claim, id., at 1280.