Spokeo Test Plaintiff Has Standing, CFPB Says

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By Chris Bruce

June 6 — A plaintiff in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) case now on appeal has standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) said in an early effort to apply a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling ( Bock v. Pressler & Pressler LLP, 3d Cir., No. 15-cv-01056, brief filed 6/3/16 ).

At issue is a case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that tests the application of the Supreme Court's May 16 decision in Spokeo Inc. v. Robins, a 6-2 ruling that said the Ninth Circuit failed to fully address Article III standing in the context of a Fair Credit Reporting Act case (95 BBD, 5/17/16).

According to Spokeo, the injury-in-fact requirement for Article III standing requires two showings — that the injury alleged is “particularized” because it personally affects the plaintiff, and that it is “concrete,” meaning that the injury must actually exist.

The Ninth Circuit addressed the “particularized” element but not the “concrete” prong, the Supreme Court said, adding that both must be shown.

“We have made it clear time and time again that an injury in fact must be both concrete and particularized,” the majority said (emphasis in original).

Debt Collection Case

Less than a week later, the Third Circuit asked for briefs on how Spokeo applies to an appeal brought by Pressler & Pressler, a Parsippany, N.J., law firm that sued Daniel Bock to collect a debt.

In 2014, a district court ruled for Bock, saying lawyers at Pressler & Pressler violated the FDCPA by failing to give “meaningful review” to the complaint filed against Bock (127 BBD, 7/2/14).

According to the district court, the complaint against Bock was reviewed by a Pressler & Pressler attorney for approximately four seconds.

Injury Called Concrete

In a brief filed June 3, the CFPB said Bock suffered “concrete harm sufficient to establish Article III standing,” citing his allegations that Pressler & Pressler misrepresented “that an attorney was meaningfully involved” in the suit against him.

The FDCPA “grants consumers a legal right to truthful information in their dealings with debt collectors,” the CFPB said, citing the Supreme Court's 1982 ruling in Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman (455 U.S. 363).

Bock's counsel, Deepak Gupta of Gupta Wessler in Washington, D.C., took a similar direction in a separate June 3 brief

He said Spokeo itself recognizes that denial of information is sufficient to satisfy the demands of Article III.

“Mr. Bock has suffered that very injury,” the brief said. “Under the FDCPA, consumers like Mr. Bock have a statutory right to truthful information concerning the debt-collection process.”

Law Firm Disagrees

But a June 3 brief by Manuel H. Newburger of Barron & Newburger in Austin, Texas, who represents the law firm, said Spokeo supports dismissal of Bock's case.

According to the brief, Bock already has stipulated that he suffered damages only from a procedural violation of the FDCPA.

“His sole claim is essentially that the Pressler & Pressler attorney did not spend enough time reviewing the two-sentence, form allegation asserting the book account claim on which he was sued and that Pressler & Pressler did not do enough work in representing its own client,” the brief said. “It has often been said that the plaintiff is the master of his own complaint, and in this case Mr. Bock alleged nothing that would or could cause a concrete injury.”

Latest CFPB Brief

The CFPB's brief is its latest in the case. In August, the CFPB and the Federal Trade Commission submitted a joint brief in support of Bock (158 BBD, 8/17/15)

It also follows an April skirmish between the CFPB and Pressler & Pressler, when the law firm and a debt buyer agreed to pay $2.5 million to resolve administrative claims of illegal collection and litigation practices (80 BBD, 4/26/16).

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Bruce in Washington at cbruce@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mike Ferullo at mferullo@bna.com