A District Court judge in Nebraska has rejected a defendant’s objection to the award of attorney’s fees in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case, and has agreed to the plaintiff’s request to award more than $265,000 while also denying a request from the defendant to stay the injunction while the ruling is being appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
A copy of the ruling in the case of Bassett v. Credit Bureau Services can be accessed by clicking here.
Back in August, the judge admitted he made a mistake and threw out a jury verdict in favor of the defendant, instead determining that the plaintiffs should be the prevailing party.
The defendant was sued for allegedly violating the FDCPA and Nebraska state law over interest that was charged and how it was disclosed in a collection letter that was sent to the plaintiffs. Ultimately, the case went to a trial and a jury ruled in favor of the defendant on all counts. But Judge Joseph Bataillon of the District Court for the District of Nebraska decided to intervene and grant a judgment as a matter of law of his own initiative. Judge Bataillon determined that the Court made an error when it responded to a question from the jury during deliberations because it is against state law for a collector to try and collect interest on a debt before obtaining a judgement. That violation of state law also triggered a violation of the FDCPA, Judge Bataillon ruled.
The judge awarded the plaintiffs $39,000 in damages while also awarding reasonable costs and attorney’s fees. The plaintiffs submitted a request of more than $257,000 in attorney’s fees and $8,000 in costs. The defendant’s objected, arguing that the amount of work and hourly rates proposed by the plaintiff’s attorneys were excessive, and requesting that any fee award should be limited to $60,000.
By obtaining the maximum amount of statutory damages under the FDCPA and Nebraska state law, while also inducing the defendants to make changes to their collection letters, the plaintiffs “achieved a significant degree of success,” ruled Judge Bataillon. As well, because of the defendants’ “vigorous” defense of the suit, the fees incurred by the plaintiff class were higher, Judge Bataillon wrote.