Appeals Court Rules ‘Emotional Distress, Anger & Frustration’ Are Grounds For FDCA Violation Claim

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling late last week, vacating a ruling in favor of a Maryland collection law firm and remanding the case back to the District Court.

The ruling was an unpublished opinion, so while it does not carry the full force and effect of a ruling from the appellate level, it does remove some of the legal cover that the ARM industry had been using under the Spokeo v. Robbins Supreme Court ruling.

A copy of the Appeals court ruling can be accessed here.

In this case, a plaintiff, Amber Ben-Davies, alleged that a collection law firm, Blibaum & Associates, “attempted to collect from her a debt arising out of a state court judgment by demanding payment of an incorrect sum based on the calculation of an interest rate not authorized by law.”

Indeed, Ben-Davies’ complaint alleged that, as a “direct consequence” of Blibaum’s alleged violations of the FDCPA’s proscribed practices, she “suffered and continues to suffer” actually existing intangible harms that affect her personally: “emotional distress, anger, and frustration.” Ben-Davies thus sufficiently established the existence of an injury in fact, and Blibaum has not asserted that such an injury is anything other than traceable to its alleged violations of the FDCPA and could not be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.

Under Spokeo, a plaintiff must prove that an injury is “concrete and particularized,” meaning there actually has to be some real harm. The Appeals Court ruled:

To qualify as “particularized,” an injury “must affect the plaintiff in a personal and individual way.” To qualify as “concrete,” an injury “must be de facto; that is, it must actually exist.” “‘Concrete’ is not, however, necessarily synonymous with ‘tangible,’” and intangible injuries nevertheless may qualify as concrete.

This ruling further proves that defendants attempting to use Spokeo as a defense against violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act have a tighter needle to thread than originally anticipated.

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