Appeals Court Rules in Favor of Defendant in FDCPA Suit About Concrete Injury

When is having its summary judgment motion vacated by an Appeals Court a good thing for a defendant in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case? When instead the Appeals Court says the case never should have made it that far and remands the case back to the District Court to be dismissed, which is what the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia did this week after a debt buyer was sued for including documents signed by individuals purporting to work for the debt buyer but who actually worked for the agency collecting the debt on its behalf.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Frank v. Autovest can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff purchased a used car and then defaulted on the loan payments. The plaintiff surrendered the vehicle, and the deficiency balance was acquired by the defendant. The defendant placed the debt with a collection law firm, who sent the plaintiff two collection letters attempting to collect on the unpaid balance. The defendant subsequently sued to collect on the debt. The defendant included a sworn “Verification of Complaint” which was signed by someone who identified herself as an agent/officer/employee of the plaintiff when in fact she worked for the law firm. Later, when moving for a default judgment, the defendant included an affidavit signed by an individual who said he was employed by the debt buyer, but he too, worked for the law firm.

The plaintiff filed suit, alleging the defendants misrepresented themselves and were unfair and unconscionable debt collection practices. A District Court judge denied a motion to dismiss, but ultimately granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

At the end of the day, the Appeals Court ruled, the plaintiff did not have standing under Article III of the Constitution to sue the defendant because she did not suffer a concrete injury. During her deposition, the plaintiff never contended that she was confused, misled, or harmed in any way because of the contested affidavits. She never did enough to prove she was harmed by those documents, the Appeals Court ruled.

“A misrepresentation in a debt collector’s court affidavit — including a false statement about the affiant’s employer — is certainly capable of causing a
concrete and particularized injury,” the Appeals Court wrote in its ruling. “But Frank has not demonstrated that these statements had that effect. Without that showing, Frank lacks standing — even if Autovest and Andrews violated the FDCPA.”

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