When we sue debt collectors under the FDCPA for abusive debt collection practices, sometimes the lawyers who are hired to defend these collectors make settlement offers.
These offers are almost always not enough and don’t take into account that we have sued for actual damages and punitive damages. They also don’t take into account that we want a judgment, not just a settlement.
Amazingly, we have had lawyers threaten us — but never follow through — that the whole case should be dismissed because the settlement offer is so good it gives us all the relief we asked for in the lawsuit.
Well, it never does. We also asked for a judgment and the additional damages.
See, debt collectors think all you are entitled to is “statutory damages” of $1000. You are entitled up to $1000 in statutory damages but if you were harmed by the abusive collection practices (mental anguish, etc) then you are entitled to those damages as well.
Yesterday the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals — the court over Alabama, Florida, and Georgia Federal courts — ruled that a settlement offer does not “moot” or cause a case to be dismissed. Instead, the plaintiff who sues is entitled to a judgment.
[We are having problems attaching file — contact us if you want a copy or we will put the google scholar link up when it is available — thanks].
There were three cases (Zinni v. ER Solutions, Inc.; Dellapietro v ARS; and Desty v. Collection Information Bureau) that were dismissed by the trial court and the plaintiffs appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.
Here are some quotes:
This consolidated appeal presents the issue of whether a settlement offer for the full amount of statutory damages requested under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq., moots a claim brought pursuant to the FDCPA. Appellants Anthony W. Zinni, Blanche Dellapietro, and Naomi Desty appeal the district court’s dismissal of their complaints for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
In each case, an Appellee sent an e-mail offering to settle an Appellant’s FDCPA case for $1,001-an amount exceeding by $1 the maximum statutory damages available for an individual plaintiff under the FDCPA.3 Appellees also offered attorneys’ fees and costs in each case, but did not specify the amount of fees and costs to be paid. Appellants did not accept the settlement offers.
The district court subsequently granted Appellees’ motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1),
holding that the offers left Appellants with “no remaining stake” in the litigation.
The district court then dismissed Appellants’ complaints with prejudice. We conclude the settlement offers did not divest the district court of subject matter jurisdiction.
The district court erred in finding Appellees’ settlement offers rendered moot Appellants’ FDCPA claims because the settlement offers did not offer full relief. See id. Each of the Appellants requested that the district court enter judgment in his or her favor and against an Appellee as part of the prayer for relief in the complaint. Appellees’ settlement offers, however, did not offer to have judgment entered against them. Because the settlement offers were not for the full relief requested, a live controversy remained over the issue of a judgment, and the cases were not moot. See Friends of Everglades, 570 F.3d at 1216.
A judgment is important to Appellants because the district court can enforce it. Instead, with no offer of judgment accompanying Appellees’ settlement offers,
Appellants were left with a mere promise to pay. If Appellees did not pay,
Appellants faced the prospect of filing a breach of contract suit in state court with its attendant filing fees–resulting in two lawsuits instead of just one.
This is a good ruling. It shows there is value in a judgment. We often try to explain this to debt collectors or their lawyers — that it is important for our clients to have judgments.
So if you have a case and the debt collector is trying this strategy of claiming an offer to settle, without a judgment, destroys your case, you might point them to this nice opinion by the Eleventh Circuit.