In a recent decision of Thornton v. Wolpoff and Abramson, No. 07-12016, by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the court rejected Wolpoff and Abramson’s argument that the Ms. Thornton’s attorney should not receive the Court ordered attorney fees as required by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) to a successful plaintiff.
Ms. Thornton had sued Wolpoff for violations of the FDCPA related to Wolpoff’s collection activities surrounding a balance on a credit card bill that had belonged to her ex-husband. The jury found that Wolpoff had violated the law, but only awarded Ms. Thornton nominal damages in the amount of $1.
After the trial, the court awarded Ms. Thornton’s attorney fees at a rate of $250 per hour and in the amount of $7,500. This was significantly less that what was asked for by the plaintiff, due to the court’s finding that the case could have been settled by the parties at an early stage of the litigation for a nominal amount of money. It was also significantly more that asked for by Wolpoff.
Both sides appealed, with Wolpoff arguing that the plaintiff did not bring a “successful action” and thus should not be compensated for her attorney’s time. The court squarely rejected Wolpoff’s argument that a jury finding of $1 resulted in a meaningless difference than a jury’s finding in it is favor or awarding 0 dollars. The court stated simply, “Wolpoff is incorrect. The difference between zero dollars and one dollar is the difference between an unsuccessful action and a successful action.” at p. 7.
Wolpoff position that the trial court had no discretion to award Ms. Thornton’s attorney fees for her work, the court found, was simply not supported by the law. This is important as debt collectors and debt buyers often think that the award of attorney’s fees is not a real possibility – this opinion shows otherwise.
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