The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has upheld a lower court’s summary judgment ruling in favor of a defendant that was sued for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act when it attempted to collect on a judgment that was later vacated.
A copy of the ruling in the case of Lowe v. FBCS can be accessed by clicking here.
The plaintiff was sued for an unpaid debt. Somehow, a default judgment was entered in favor of the plaintiff and an order was entered dismissing the case when the plaintiff did not appear for the trial. Two years later, the state court confirmed the judgment. A year later, the defendant began attempting to collect on it. The plaintiff disputed the debt and then filed suit against the defendant, alleging it should have known the debt was not enforceable. Four months after filing her suit against the defendant, the plaintiff went to the state court and filed a motion to vacate the default judgment, which the state court granted.
A District Court judge ruled in favor of the defendant because the judgment was technically still valid and in effect when the defendant attempted to collect on it.
The plaintiff appealed, arguing the judgment violated the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and that her motion to have the judgment vacated was “void ab initio” meaning it was void from the outset and technically not in effect.
But the Third Circuit disagreed with each of the plaintiff’s arguments. The plaintiff satisfied none of the four requirements to invoke the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the Court ruled, and regardless of the state court declaring the judgment “void ab initio” it was in effect when the defendant attempted its collection efforts. The plaintiff “failed to present a triable issue that any communication from Defendants to [the plaintiff] regarding the collection of the default judgment was made unlawful retroactively upon the Superior Court vacating its default judgment order,” the Appeals Court wrote.