Appeals Court Partially Affirms Ruling in FDCPA Case, But Overturns Award of Attorneys’ Fees & Costs

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has partially affirmed and partially overturned a lower court’s ruling in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case, determining that the defendant was not entitled to fees and costs from the plaintiff because the District Court judge incorrectly applied a legal doctrine.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Bjornsdotter v. Suttell & Hammer can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff filed suit alleging the defendants had violated the FDCPA by falsely alleging a creditor was entitled to a judgment on the account, that the defendants were unjustly enriched, and that the defendants were wrong for trying to collect a $65 process service fee. A District Court judge ruled that the first two claims were barred by something known as the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which deals with the interplay between court cases at the state court level and those in federal court. Applying the doctrine led the judge to determine that the plaintiff should have know her claims were “clearly untenable” from the start and awarded the defendant more than $65,000 in fees and costs.

But the Rooker-Feldman doctrine should not have been applied, according to the panel from the Ninth Circuit. In this case, the plaintiff was not seeking to appeal a state court ruling in federal court, she was arguing that the defendant’s actions during the state court proceeding violated the FDCPA.

The Appeals Court did rule that the lower court was correct in determining that the plaintiff failed to present a genuine issue of material fact in claiming that the defendant violated the FDCPA by seeking the process server fee.

The Appeals Court remanded the case back to the District Court to reevaluate whether attorneys’ fees “remain warranted.”

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