The CFPB has filed a supplemental amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Bock v. Pressler & Pressler, LLP, the case in which the district court ruled that a debt collection law firm violated the FDCPA by filing a complaint without “meaningful attorney involvement.” In its amicus brief, which was filed jointly with the FTC, the CFPB argued that the “meaningful attorney involvement” standard that has been applied to debt collection letters should apply equally to debt collection complaints.
The supplemental amicus brief was filed in response to a Third Circuit order requesting that the parties file supplemental briefs addressing the applicability of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, including the question whether the plaintiff had established concrete harm sufficient to establish Article III standing or whether he had only established a bare procedural violation. In Spokeo, the Supreme Court ruled that a plaintiff alleging a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act must be able to establish “an injury in fact” to have standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution to sue for statutory damages in federal court. The Supreme Court indicated that, to satisfy the “injury in fact” requirement, a plaintiff must show that he or she suffered “an invasion of a legally protected interest” that is both “concrete” and “particularized.” To be particularized, an injury must affect the plaintiff “in a personal and individual way.” To be concrete, an injury must “actually exist”; it must be “real.”
The district court had ruled that the filing of a collection complaint without “meaningful attorney involvement” violates the FDCPA provision that prohibits a debt collector from using false, deceptive or misleading representations in connection with collecting a debt. In its supplemental brief, the CFPB argues that the plaintiff’s injury is “particularized” because it was personal to him in that the defendant law firm “misrepresented to Bock that an attorney had been meaningfully involved in the lawsuit filed against him.” (emphasis provided) Relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1982 decision in Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman (a case involving the FHA), the CFPB also argues that the plaintiff’s injury is “concrete” because “a person who has been subjected to a misrepresentation made unlawful by [the FDCPA] suffers a concrete injury that satisfies Article III.” The CFPB asserts that under Havens Realty, the plaintiff has a “concrete” injury “even if he has not alleged that the misrepresentation cause additional consequential harm.”
With regard to whether the plaintiff had only established a bare procedural violation, the CFPB argues that the plaintiff’s “statutory right to be free from misleading debt-collection practices…is not a procedural right for which a separate ‘concrete harm’ must be identified.” (emphasis provided) According to the CFPB, an infringement of that statutory right, in itself, satisfies the Article III injury in fact requirement because it is a “specific injury.”