DANIEL BOCK, JR. v. PRESSLER AND PRESSLER, LLP
OPINION. Signed by Judge Kevin McNulty on 5/25/17. (DD, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
DANIEL BOCK, JR.,
Civ. No. 11-7593 (KM) (SCM)
PRESSLER & PRESSLER, LLP,
KEVIN MCNULTY, U.S.D.J.:
Plaintiff Daniel Bock, Jr. brought this action against a law firm, Pressler
and Pressler, LLP (“Pressler”), based on a debt collection action that Pressler
initiated against Bock in State court. While that state court action was
pending, Bock brought this federal court action against Pressler, alleging that
Pressler made a false or misleading representation in violation of the Fair Debt
Collections Practice Act (the “FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C.
On June 30, 2014, I granted Bock’s summary judgment motion. Pressler
appealed. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
sua sponte raised the issue of Bock’s Article III standing in light of Spokeo, Inc.
v. Robbins, 136 S. Ct. 1540 (2016), a case decided by the Supreme Court after
my decision but while the Third Circuit appeal was pending. Bock v. Press ler &
Pressler, LLP, 658 F. App’x 63 (3d Cir. 2016). The Third Circuit remanded the
case to this Court to determine in the first instance whether Bock’s alleged
harm is sufficiently concrete and particularized to satisfy the injury-in-fact
requirement for Article III standing enunciated in Spokeo. Id. at 65. If Bock
lacked standing to bring his claims in the first place, that would of course
vitiate this Court’s judgment in his favor.
That Spokeo/standing issue is now before this court on remand. I
authorized supplemental briefing on that issue (ECF no. 82). For the reasons
stated below, I find that Bock has established Article III standing, and I shall
re-enter the Judgment (ECF no. 67)’ that was vacated by the Third Circuit.
Because I write for the parties and have recounted the facts of the case
at length in my prior summary judgment opinion (Opinion, ECF no. 59), I
summarize the facts only briefly. Pressler is a law firm that specializes in
collection law and is a debt collector within the meaning of FDCPA. A creditor,
Midland, retained Pressler to pursue a debt owed by Bock that allegedly
Midland electronically transmitted basic information concerning its
claim against Bock to Pressler’s computer system. (Affidavit of Gerald J. Felt,
¶ 11). The information was then subjected to a series of reviews by non-
attorneys and internal “scrubs” by Pressler’s computer system. After surviving
these reviews and scrubs, the information was imported into a form collection
letter, which was sent to Bock on September 15, 2011, after a final review for
accuracy by a member of Pressler’s non-attorney staff. (Id. at
Record items cited repeatedly will be abbreviated as follows
Defendant’s Brief Regarding Subject Matter Jurisdiction
“Def. Br.” =
(ECF no. 85)
Brief On Behalf Of Plaintiff, Daniel Bock, Jr. Establishing
“P1. Br.” =
Article III Standing (ECF no. 86)
Defendant’s Reply Brief Regarding Subject Matter
Jurisdiction (ECF no. 88)
Defendant’s Brief in Response to Plaintiffs
“Def. Reply to Supp. Auth.” =
Notice of Suppleme[njtal Authority Re: Standing (ECF no.
The basic information that Pressler receives from Midland (and other clients)
consists essentially of the debtor’s name, address, and social security number, the
outstanding balance, annual percentage rate, other charges and fees, closing dates of
the billing cycle, the date the account was opened, and the dates of recent payments.
(Felt Aff. ¶ 13).
Pressler L. Civ. R. 56.1 Statement at
2). Bock did not respond and did not
remit any funds. (Certification of Mitchell L. Williamson, Esq. at Ex. A).
After thirty-five days passed without the return of the initial collection
letter or any repayment or arrangement with Bock, Pressler then transferred
the electronic information file to its “Approve for Suit Department.” There, nonattorneys “trained to review the new claim further to determine whether it
should proceed through litigation,” “check[ed] and verif[iedj” the same basic
information about the debt. In addition, they checked whether the statute of
limitations had run, whether there was some unresolved “dispute’ code” (it is
unclear what Pressler means by this), and whether the social security number
on record was accurate. (Felt Aff. ¶j 20—22). Then, the “Summons and
Complaint” team, which also included no attorneys, verified that an initial
collection letter had been sent, that Pressler had Bock’s correct home address,
that Bock’s address is in the New Jersey county in which the lawsuit would be
brought, and that the suit was not barred by the statute of limitations, any
bankruptcy, or a “dispute’ code.” (Id. at
25). Once satisfied with this review,
the team generated the actual Summons and Complaint by populating
standard forms with the information on file. (Id.). It then added the Summons
and Complaint against Bock to an electronic queue of all of the Summonses
and Complaints it had generated for attorney review. (Id. at
26). The attorney
at Pressler who is responsible for approving complaints for filing in New Jersey
is Ralph Gulko, Esq. Mr. Gulko reviewed and approved the complaint against
On October 20, 2011, Mr. Gulko’s review and approval of the complaint
against Bock occupied a total of four seconds. Computer records disclose that
that was the period of time for which the electronic file containing the
complaint against Bock and the previously-culled data (described supra) were
open. (Gulko Aff. at
12). Gulko reviewed 673 complaints that day, approving
663 and rejecting 10. (Id.). Neither he nor any other attorney was involved with
Midland’s case against Bock in any way before his brief review of the pre
drafted complaint. (See Gulko Dep. Testimony at 26:14 to 27:12; Gulko Aff. at
9; Felt Aff. at
By all accounts, neither Mr. Gulko nor any other member of Pressler’s
staff reviewed, or otherwise had knowledge of, the contract between Bock and
the bank, including any choice of law, choice of venue, or dispute resolution
clause governing disputes between Bock and his creditor. (Bock’s Statement at
47; Pressler’s Resp. Statement at
47). Nor did Gulko or anyone else at
Pressler review the agreement by which Bock’s original creditor allegedly
assigned this debt to Pressler’s client, Midland. (Bock’s Statement at
Pressler’s Resp. Statement at
On October 21, 2011, Pressler commenced a collection action against
Bock by filing the complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Special Civil
Part. (Pressler’s Statement at
4). The complaint was signed on behalf of
Pressler by Ralph Gulko, Esq., “the attorney who reviewed, read, and signed
the complaint.” (Id. at
4—5). That one-page complaint states:
It [i.e., the plaintiff, Midland Funding LLC] is now the owner of the
defendant(s) HSBC BANK NEVADA, N.A. account number
5458001561298245 which is now in default. There is due plaintiff
from the defendant(s) DANIEL BOCK JR the sum of $8,021.57 plus
interest from 05/31/2010 to 10/20/2011 in the amount of
$102.98 for a total of $8,124.55.
WHEREFORE, plaintiff demands judgment for the sum of
$8,124.55 plus accruing interest to the date of judgment plus
(Williamson Cert. at Ex. B).
On December 30, 2011, while that state action was pending, Bock filed
the Complaint in this federal court action against Pressler. Bock alleged that
Pressler made a false or misleading representation in violation of the FDCPA,
1692e. Under section 1692e, “[a] debt collector may not use any
false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the
collection of any debt.” Id. That statute enumerates a non-exhaustive list of
specific conduct that constitutes a violation of the section, including, “[tjhe
false representation or implication that any individual is an attorney or that
any communication is from an attorney.” Id.
1692e(3). Bock alleged that
although Mr. Gulko signed the collection complaint,
Gulko signs so many complaints that it is either physically
impossible or so highly improbably that he read the Collection
Complaint or made a sufficient inquiry from which to conclude
that the factual allegations have evidentiary support. Therefore,
Ralph Gulko on behalf of PRESSLER made false representations to
collect or attempt to collect the Debt.
On October 1, 2013, Pressler moved for summary judgment dismissing
the action (ECF no. 32), and on the following day, Bock moved for summary
judgment on the issue of liability (ECF no. 34). On June 30, 2014, I denied
Pressler’s motion and granted summary judgment in favor of Bock. In my
Opinion on summary judgment, I held that
a signed complaint is inherently false and misleading, in violation
of 15 U.S.C.  1692e, where, at the time of signing, the attorney
signing it has not
1) drafted, or carefully reviewed, the complaint; and
2) conducted an inquiry, reasonable under the
circumstances, sufficient to form a good faith belief that the
claims and legal contentions in the complaint are supported
by fact and warranted by law.
Bock v. Pressler & Pressler, LLP, 30 F. Supp. 3d 283, 303—04 (D.N.J. 2014)
(citing N.J. Ct. R. 1:4—8(a); Fed. R. Civ. P. 11; Lesher v. Law Offices of Mitchell
N. Kay, PC, 650 F.3d 993, 1002—1003 (3d Cir. 2011), cert. denied,
132 S. Ct. 1143 (2012); Miller v. Upton, Cohen & Slamowitz, 687 F. Supp. 2d
86, 99—102 (E.D.N.Y. 2009); Nielsen v. Dickerson, 307 F.3d 623, 635—638 (7th
Cir. 2002)), as corrected (July 1, 2014), as corrected (July 7, 2014). I further
held that “the evidence shows that the only attorney involvement.
Pressler filing suit [against Bock] on Midland’s behalf was a hurried, ministerial
review” that “would not meet the Lesher/ Nielsen standards for meaningful
attorney involvement when
filing a complaint.” Id. at 306. Consequently,
“Pressler, when it signed and filed the state court civil complaint against Bock,
violated the FDCPA, 15 U.S.C.
On September 15, 2014, the parties stipulated that Bock’s damages were
$1,000, the maximum allowed for statutory damages under 15 U.S.C.
1692k(a)(2)(A). On December 4, 2014, I entered final judgment in favor of Bock,
from which Pressler appealed.
The Third Circuit heard oral argument in this case while Spokeo, Inc. v.
Robbins, 136 S. Ct. 1540 (2016), was pending before the Supreme Court. On
May 16, 2016, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Spokeo. On July 27,
2016, the Third Circuit vacated the judgment and remanded this case so that
this Court could determine whether Bock had Article III standing in light of
Spokeo. Bock, 658 F. App’x 63.
I authorized supplemental briefing on the standing issue (ECF no. 82).
The parties submitted such supplemental briefs. (ECF nos. 85, 86, 87, 88, 89,
93, 96) I now address the standing issue, which goes to the subject matter
jurisdiction of the court.
LEGAL STANDARDS AND DISCUSSION
A. Legal Standard
This matter came before the Court on a motion for summary judgment. I
apply a summary judgment standard in determining whether there is any issue
of fact as to the jurisdictional Spokeo/standing issue raised by the Court of
The Court of Appeals raised the Article III standing issue sua sponte in light of
intervening Supreme Court authority. If that issue had been raised by a party, the
procedural vehicle would have been a motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). Because
discovery is complete and both parties have submitted evidence for the Court’s
consideration, this cannot be regarded as a facial challenge to the complaint. Rather,
it is a factual challenge to the Court’s jurisdiction. In such a case, factual disputes
may require resolution via a plenary hearing. I here apply a summary judgment
standard to determine whether such a hearing is necessary. See, e.g., Lincoln Ben. Life
Co. v. AEILfe, LLC, 800 F.3d 99, 105 (3d Cir. 2015).
Pressler emphasizes the difference between the showing required at the
pleading stage, as compared to the summary judgment stage. (Def. Reply to Supp.
Auth. 4—5) (citing Beck v. McDonald, 848 F.3d 262 (4th Cir. 2017). I agree. There is
indeed a difference, and “having developed through discovery a summary judgment
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment
should be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to
any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
248, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986); Kreschollek v. S. Stevedoring Co., 223 F.3d 202,
204 (3d Cir. 2000). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, a court must
construe all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party. See Boyle v. County of Allegheny Pennsylvania, 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d
Cir. 1998). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that no genuine
issue of material fact remains. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322—
23, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). “[W}ith respect to an issue on which the nonmoving
party bears the burden of proof.
the burden on the moving party may be
discharged by ‘showing’—-that is, pointing out to the district court—that there
is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case.” Id. at 325,
106 S. Ct. 2548.
If the moving party meets its threshold burden, the opposing party must
present actual evidence that creates a genuine issue as to a material fact for
trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)
(setting forth types of evidence on which nonmoving party must rely to support
its assertion that genuine issues of material fact exist). “[U]nsupported
and pleadings are insufficient to repel summary judgment.”
Schoch v. First Fid. Bancorporation, 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990); see also
Gleason v. Norwest Mortg., Inc., 243 F.3d 130, 138 (3d Cir. 2001) (“A
nonmoving party has created a genuine issue of material fact if it has provided
sufficient evidence to allow a jury to find in its favor at trial.”).
record, plaintiffs are not entitled to ‘rest on such mere allegations, but must set forth
by affidavit or other evidence specific facts, which for purposes of the summary
judgment motion will be taken to be true.” Id. at 270 (quoting Lujan v. Defs. of Wildl!fe,
504 U.S. 555, 561, 112 S. Ct. 2130, 2137 (1992)).
B. Article III Standing
Under Article Ill of the U.S. Constitution, a plaintiff seeking to establish
standing to sue must demonstrate: “(1) an injury-in-fact, (2) a sufficient causal
connection between the injury and the conduct complained of, and (3) a
likelihood that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.” In re
Nickelodeon Consumer Privacy Litig., 827 F.3d 262, 272 (3d Cir. 2016) (quoting
Finkelman v. Nat’l Football League, 810 F.3d 187, 193 (3d Cir. 2016)), cert.
denied sub nom. C. A. F. v. Viacom Inc. (U.S. Jan. 9, 2017). “The plaintiff, as the
party invoking federal jurisdiction, bears the burden of establishing these
elements.” Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540, 1547 (2016) (citing FW/PBS,
Inc. v. Dallas, 493 U.S. 215, 231, 110 S. Ct. 596 (1990)). As the Supreme Court
At the pleading stage, general factual allegations of injury resulting
from the defendant’s conduct may suffice, for on a motion to
dismiss we “presum[e] that general allegations embrace those
specific facts that are necessary to support the claim.” In response
to a summary judgment motion, however, the plaintiff can no
longer rest on such “mere allegations,” but must “set forth” by
affidavit or other evidence “specific facts,” Fed. Rule Civ. Proc.
56(e), which for purposes of the summary judgment motion will be
taken to be true. And at the final stage, those facts (if controverted)
must be “supported adequately by the evidence adduced at trial.”
Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561, 112 S. Ct. 2130, 2137 (1992)
(internal citations omitted).
In Spokeo, the plaintiff alleged that Spokeo, the operator of an online
“people search engine” that conducts computerized background checks,
violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 (“FCRA”) by providing inaccurate
personal information about the plaintiff to Spokeo’s customers. The plaintiff did
not allege actual damages, prompting Spokeo to challenge the plaintiff’s
standing to sue. Spokeo, 136 5. Ct. at 1546. Reasoning that a “bare procedural
violation” of the FCRA might result in no harm at all, the Supreme Court
reversed the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth
Circuit. That court, without separately analyzing particularity and
concreteness, had concluded that the alleged violation of a statutory right was
sufficient injury-in-fact to confer standing—particularly because the plaintiff
had a “personal interest[j in the handling of his credit information.” Id. at 1550;
see Robins v. Spokeo, Inc., 742 F.3d 409, 4 13—14 (9th Cir. 2014). The Supreme
Court took “no position as to whether the Ninth Circuit’s ultimate conclusion—
that [the plaintiff] adequately alleged an injury in fact—was correct.” Id.
Here, as in Spokeo, the particular component of standing at issue is
injury-in-fact. Id. To allege injury-in-fact, “a plaintiff must claim the invasion of
a concrete and particularized legally protected interest resulting in harm that is
actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” Nickelodeon, 827 F.3d at
272 (quoting Finkelman, 810 F.3d 187, 193) (internal quotations omitted). A
harm is “concrete” only if it is “defacto’; that is, it must actually exist”; it
cannot be merely “abstract.” Id. (quoting Spokeo, 136 S. Ct. at 1548).
A harm need not be tangible, however, to be “concrete.” In Spokeo, the
Supreme Court explained that whether an intangible harm rises to the level of
injury-in-fact depends on historical practice and Congressional judgment.
Spokeo, 136 S. Ct. at 1549. Specifically, courts should look to (a) whether the
“alleged intangible harm’ is closely related” to a harm traditionally recognized
at law, and (b) whether Congress has elevated it to the status of a legally
cognizable, redressable injury. In re Horizon Healthcare Servs. Inc. Data Breach
Litig., No. 15-2309, 2017 WL 242554, at *9 (3d Cir. Jan. 20, 2017) (citing id.).
The Court illustrated the point thus: “An example that comes readily to mind is
an incorrect zip code. It is difficult to imagine how the dissemination of an incorrect
zip code, without more, could work any concrete harm.” Id. at 1550.
“A harm is “particularized” if it “affect[s] the plaintiff in a personal and
individual way.” Nickelodeon, 827 F.3d at 272 (quoting Lujan v. Defenders of Wildbfe,
504 U.S. 555, 560 n.1, 112 S. Ct. 2130, 119 L. Ed. 2d 351 (1992)). It is undisputed
that the injury in this case is particularized; Pressler filed a collection complaint
against Bock himself, seeking to collect from Bock a debt that he allegedly owed.
Spokeo teaches, however, that a mere wave of the Congressional hand—
i.e., the creation of a cause of action—is not enough to render an abstract
injury concrete. Allegations of a “bare procedural violation, divorced from any
concrete harm” cannot satisfy the Article III injury-in-fact requirement. Spokeo,
136 S. Ct. at 1549 (citing Summers v. Earth Island Inst., 555 U.S. 488, 496,
129 S. Ct. 1142 (2009) (“[D]eprivation of a procedural right without some
concrete interest that is affected by the deprivation
is insufficient to create
Article III standing.”)); Nickelodeon, 827 F.3d at 274 (citing id. at 1550). In
other words, a bare violation of a procedural right granted by statute is not
inherently injurious; to constitute an injury-in-fact, such a violation must
result in a concrete harm. That requirement persists even where a statute
“purports to authorize [a] person to sue to vindicate [a statutory procedurall
right.” Id.; Raines v. Byrd, 521 U.S. 811, 820 n.3, 117 S. Ct. 2312 (1997) (“It is
settled that Congress cannot erase Article III’s standing requirements by
statutorily granting the right to sue to a plaintiff who would not otherwise have
standing.”). “Thus, standing based [only] on a violation of a statutorily created
right turns on whether such a right is substantive or merely procedural.”
Fuentes v. AR Res., Inc., No. CV157988FLWLHG, 2017 WL 1197814, at *3
(D.N.J. Mar. 31, 2017).
Analysis of the Parties’ Contentions
The present dispute boils down to an argument over whether the
prohibition against a debt collector’s use of “any false, deceptive, or misleading
representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt,” by
means of a “false representation or implication that.
from an attorney,” 15 U.S.C.
[a] communication is
§ 1692e(3), protects a substantive right, or merely
a procedural one.
A “procedural right” is defined as “[a] right that derives from legal or
administrative procedure; a right that helps in the protection or enforcement of
a substantive right.” Land rum v. Blackbird Enterprises, LLC, No. CV H-16-0374,
2016 WL 6075446, at *3 (S.D. Tex. Oct. 3, 2016) (for purposes of a Spokeo
analysis, citing Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014)). In contrast, a
“substantive right” is “[a] right that can be protected or enforced by law; a right
of substance rather than form.” Id. “To the extent that a violation of the
procedural right has no effect on the substantive right, the bare procedural
violation does not cause an injury of the sort that, alone, would support
Pressler argues that Bock has established (at most) a bare procedural
violation of the FDCPA. Bock, in contrast, contends that he has alleged—and
that the Court has already found—a substantive violation of a right established
by section 1692e. I agree with Bock that, at the very least, the protection that
section 1692e provides to shield debtors, or alleged debtors, from a debt
collector’s use of “any false, deceptive, or misleading representation[s] or means
in connection with the collection of any debt,” is substantive. This
Landrum offers a helpful analogy to elucidate the distinction between a
procedural and substantive violation:
Consider a hypothetical statute requiring building managers to notify
occupants in the event of a fire in a timely manner via a loudspeaker
using specific language. Now imagine that, during a fire, a manager
effectively communicates a warning to an occupant in a timely manner
but does so in person, after which the occupant escapes unharmed. The
occupant was subjected to a bare, procedural violation. If, however,
another occupant was never warned but smelled smoke and safely exited
the building, the latter occupant was subject to a substantive violation of
his right to be timely notified, albeit without independent, “tangible”
harm. In the latter case, a statutory remedy would be appropriate. In the
former case, only the manner in which the warning was to be delivered
(i.e., the procedure) failed to meet statutory guidelines. The underlying
right, the right to be timely notified in the event of a fire, was honored.
Landrum, 2016 WL 6075446, at *4
Bock argues, inter alia, that Pressler was obligated to disclose to Bock truthful
and non-misleading information, and that the Court’s fmding that Pressler’s “breach
of that duty” is a sufficiently concrete injury. (ECF no. 86, P1. Br. 5) Essentially, Bock
contends that he has suffered an “informational injury.” He cites Nickelodeon for the
proposition that the “unlawful denial of access to information subject to disclosure” is
an “[i]ntangible harm that may give rise to standing.” (Id.) (quoting Nickelodeon, 827
F.3d at 273—74).
Congressionally-created right includes the right to be free from “[tjhe false
representation or implication that any individual is an attorney or that any
communication is from an attorney.” 15 U.S.C.
a. Post-Spokeo FDCPA Cases
I have benefited from, and cited, overtaking decisions of the United
States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that interpret Spokeo. See, e.g., In
re Horizon Healthcare, supra; Nickelodeon, supra. None of these are precisely on
point, however. As Judge Wolfson recently noted, “the Third Circuit has not
addressed whether a [bare] violation of the FDCPA can give rise to a concrete
injury, [but] post-Spokeo, courts in this district have considered that question.”
Fuentes, 2017 WL 1197814, at *4 J therefore consider persuasive opinions of
other courts, both in this district and elsewhere.
As I have previously observed, with respect to violations of section 1692e,
decisions in this district “trend in favor of finding concrete injury under the
FDCPA where the amount or validity of the debt has been misstated.” Thomas
v. Youderian, No. 16—1408, 2017 WL 1250988, at *7 (D.N.J. Feb. 3, 2017); see
Camey v. Goldman, No. CV 15-260-BRM-DEA, 2016 WL 7408849, at
(D.N.J. Dec. 22, 2016) (holding that plaintiff’s allegations that defendant
§ 1692e when it sent collection letters containing false and misleading
statements about the amount of debt owed satisfied the Article III concreteness
requirement); Blaha v. First National Collection Bureau, Case No. 16-279 1, slip
op. at 13—16 (D.N.J. Nov. 10, 2016) (concluding that plaintiff established a
concrete injury-in-fact, where defendant allegedly sent to plaintiff a collection
letter offering settlement of a time-barred debt, but failing to disclose the legal
status of that debt) 8
Nor is this District an outher. See Church v. Accretive Health, Inc., 654 F. App’x
990, 995 (11th Cir. 2016) (allegation that plaintiff did not receive FDCPA-required
disclosures sufficiently alleged concrete injury); Medina v. Allianceone Receivables
Mgmt., Inc., No. CV 16-4664, 2017 WL 220328, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 19, 2017) (where
sentence in debt collection letter was found deceptive or misleading under Section
1692e so as to survive a motion to dismiss, “[t]he deceptive declaration in the letter.
As I explained, “[tjo my mind, such cases fit easily within the Spokeo
rationale. The right not to be given false information about the true amount
owed is rooted in an interest traditionally recognized at law. Congress, in
enacting the FDCPA, could give content to that interest and elevate particular
violations of it to the status of a viable federal cause of action.” Youderian,
2017 WL 1250988, at *8.
Courts in this district have also found sufficiently concrete
violations where the alleged misstatements did not concern the amount owed
or validity of the debt. In Youderian, I found standing where the plaintiff alleged
a violation of sections 1692e and 1692f arising from allegedly false and
deceptive language in a debt collection letter concerning a convenience fee to be
charged for the use of a credit card to pay the debt. Youderian, 2017 WL
1250988, at *9 Judge Wolfson came to a similar conclusion in Fuentes. 2017
WL 1197814, at *5 (holding that plaintiff alleged a concrete injury by alleging
that, in violation of sections 1692e and 1692f, defendant represented that it
was entitled to charge a credit card convenience fee not authorized by law or
the contractual agreement). Judge Wolfson also recently held that the
allegation that a creditor failed to disclose its identity in a voice message left on
plaintiffs celiphone in violation of plaintiff’s statutory rights under sections
1 692d and 1 692e was sufficiently concrete to satisfy Article III standing. Pisarz
creates a particularized and concrete injury, at the very least unnecessary fear and
anxiety on the part of the consumer. While the harm may be intangible, it involves a
de facto injury nonetheless. The FDCPA was enacted to provide redress for such a
result.”); Bautz v. ARSNat’l Serus., Inc., No. 16CV768JFBSIL, 2016 WL 7422301, at *1
(E.D.N.Y. Dec. 23, 2016) (“[A]dequately alleging a ‘false, deceptive, or misleading
representation’ under Section 1692e that is materially misleading to the least
sophisticated consumer satisfies the concrete injury component of Article III standing
because such conduct violates an individual’s substantive statutory right to be free of
abusive debt practices.”); Kaymark i.’. Udren Law Offices, P.c., 2016 WL 7187840, at
(W.D. Pa. Dec. 12, 2016) (“The goal of the FDCPA is to protect consumers from
harmful debt-collection practices, and debtors have a statutory right to be free from
being subjected to false, deceptive, unfair or unconscionable means to collect a debt.”)
(internal quotation marks omitted).
v. GC Servs. Ltd. P’ship, No. CV 16-4552 (FLW), 2017 WL 1102636, at *6
(D.N.J. Mar. 24, 2017).
b. This Case
The present case differs from those other section 1692e cases, however,
insofar as it does not involve an alleged misstatement of the amount or validity
of the debt, the applicability of additional fees, or the identity of the creditor.
Pressler argues forcefully that the only possible injury here is a bare procedural
violation. That is so, says Pressler, because Bock “was sued on a debt that he
does not deny owing, in a suit that he settled (while represented by [counselfl”;
Bock makes “no claim that he was sued by the wrong creditor, in the wrong
venue, on the wrong debt, or for the wrong amount.” (Def. Br. 4—5) Relatedly,
Pressler seeks to characterize the section 1692e violation as the lack of
meaningful attorney review itself; such substandard attorney review, Pressler
says, could not have harmed the debtor, but only the client, which may not
have gotten its money’s worth of legal work. (Id. at 5, 9—10)
To my mind, these facts do not dictate an outcome different from that of
previous section 1692e cases in this district. For that conclusion I offer several
First, in enacting the FDCPA, Congress found that “[t]here is abundant
evidence of the use of abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices
by many debt collectors. Abusive debt collection practices contribute to the
number of personal bankruptcies, to marital instability, to the loss of jobs, and
to invasions of individual privacy.” 15 U.S.C.
§ 1692(a). With that factual
foundation in place, Congress sought, by enacting FDCPA, to “eliminate
abusive debt collection practices by debt collectors, to insure that those debt
collectors who refrain from using abusive debt collection practices are not
competitively disadvantaged, and to promote consistent State action to protect
consumers against debt collection abuses.” Id.
§ 1692(e). Pressler’s argument
here seems to carry the implication that Congress was concerned only with
inaccurate claims, i.e., claims for debts not actually owed. If so, FDCPA
presumably could have been a One—sentence statute. But FDCPA, including its
title, is permeated by a Congressional intent to protect consumers from abusive
debt collection practices, irrespective of whether the consumer in fact owed a
debt. See id.
§ 1692(c) (finding that “Im]eans other than misrepresentation or
other abusive debt collection practices are available for the effective collection
of debts.”). That an individual consumer may actually owe the money does not
imply that the FDCPA’s prohibitions on abusive debt collection practices are
thereby demoted to “procedural” status. FDCPA does not declare open season
on trickery, so long as the existence and amount of the debt are accurately
Quite the opposite, in fact. “The FDCPA is designed to protect the
consumer from the inherent harm caused when a debt collector, in seeking to
collect a debt, is not straight with the consumer but instead makes a false or
deceptive statement to achieve its purpose.” Medina v. Allianceone Receivables
Mgmt., Inc., No. CV 16-4664, 2017 WL 220328, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 19, 2017).
“To that end, in [s]ection 1692e Congress specifically precluded the ‘use [ofi any
false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the
collection of any debt.”’ Bautz v. ARS Nat’l Servs., Inc., No. 16CV768JFBSIL,
2016 WL 7422301, at *8 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 23, 2016) (citing
§ 1692e). “Thus,
through [s]ection 1692e of the FDCPA, Congress established ‘an enforceable
right to truthful information concerning’ debt collection practices, a decision
that ‘was undoubtedly influenced by congressional awareness that the
intentional provision of misinformation’ related to such practices, ‘contribute[s]
to the number of personal bankruptcies, to marital instability, to the loss of
jobs, and to invasions of individual privacy,’ 15 U.S.C.
§ 1692(a).” Bautz, 2016
WL 7422301, at *8 (citations omitted) (paraphrasing Havens Realty Corp. v.
Coleman, 455 U.S. 363, 102 S. Ct. 1114,71 L. Ed. 2d 214 (1982) (AfricanAmerican discrimination tester had standing because he was denied
informational content to which he was entitled under the Fair Housing Act)).
In enacting FDCPA, Congress elevated certain abusive debt collection
practices to the status of viable federal causes of action. Such practices violate
interests traditionally recognized at law; proscriptions against fraud or false
statements should come as no surprise. Among these Congressionallyrecognized abuses is “[t]he false representation or implication that any
individual is an attorney or that any communication is from an attorney.” Id. §
1692e(3). Such a false representation or implication is, in itself, the very
conduct Congress expressly sought to proscribe. Thus, the right to truthful
Pressler appears to suggest that the misrepresentation that an attorney was
meaningfully involved in the preparation of a collection complaint does not have the
same potential for abuse as does the misrepresentation of attorney involvement at an
earlier stage in the collection process. (E.g., Def. Reply to Supp. Auth. 3—4)
(“[M]eaningful attorney involvement claims are based upon the false sense of urgency
that can arise when a consumer is misled by an attorney’s communication into
[In contrast,] Bock was
believing that a case has reached a more serious stage.
actually sued.”) The implication is that there is no harm at all in the complaint
context, legally cognizable or not, for Congress to elevate. I disagree. I do not here
repeat the discussion in my earlier summary judgment opinion, but for purposes of
standing the considerations are similar, so I comment only briefly.
The misrepresentation of meaningful attorney review, whether in the context of
a collection letter or a complaint, presents a risk of real harm to a debtor. Importantly,
in the Third Circuit, there is no “requirement that a plaintiff show a statutory violation
has caused a ‘material risk of harm’ before he can bring suit.” In re Horizon Healthcare
Servs. Inc. Data Breach Litig., 846 F.3d 625, 637 (3d Cir. 2017). Accordingly, I discuss
the risk of harm to the least sophisticated consumer, not to demonstrate that the
injury is sufficiently concrete, but only to demonstrate that even in the context of a
collection complaint, the misrepresentations prohibited by Congress in section
1692e(3) present dangers closely related to harms traditionally recognized at law.
As the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reasoned in the context of a
collection letter, the risk of harm is as follows:
An unsophisticated consumer, getting a letter from an “attorney,” knows
the price of poker has just gone up. And that clearly is the reason why
the dunning campaign escalates from the collection agency, which might
not strike fear in the heart of the consumer, to the attorney, who is better
positioned to get the debtor’s knees knocking.
A letter from an attorney implies that a real lawyer, acting like a lawyer
usually acts, directly controlled or supervised the process through which
The attorney letter implies that the attorney has
the letter was sent
reached a considered, professional judgment that the debtor is
delinquent and is a candidate for legal action. And the letter also implies
information in this context is a substantive right. See also Linehan v.
Allianceone Receivables Mgrnt., Inc., No. C15—1012--JCC, 2016 WL 4765839, at
*78 (W.D. Wash. Sept. 13, 2016) (“The goal of the FDCPA is to protect
consumers from certain harmful practices; it logically follows that those
practices would themselves constitute a concrete injury.”).’
that the attorney has some personal involvement in the decision to send
Avila v. Rubin, 84 F.3d 222, 229 (7th Cir. 1996).
True, as Pressler argues, once a complaint and summons has been filed, as in
this case—whether filed by an attorney or non-attorney—the “price of poker” has
undoubtedly gone up. (Def. Reply to Supp. Auth. 4) Indeed, Bock might be subject to
an entry of default judgment if he did not appear.
Nevertheless, a complaint misrepresented as having been filed after attorney
review (likely one of many filed en masse) falsely signals to a debtor that the creditor
intends to litigate this particular claim. The least sophisticated consumer is at risk of
being misled into believing that at least one attorney thinks the claim is meritorious,
and that he or she must hire counsel to match the creditor’s legal firepower.
Alternatively, such a consumer is at risk of submitting to an unfavorable settlement
agreement if the cost of hiring his or her own counsel is prohibitive—whether because
the expense outweighs the value of the alleged debt or because the consumer simply
cannot afford the legal fees. Thus, even at the stage at which a collection complaint
has been filed, the false representation that an attorney was meaningfully involved in
preparing the complaint presents harms closely related to those traditionally
recognized at law.
Section 1692g cases cited by Pressler are not on point. For example, the court
in Jackson v. Abendroth & Russell, P.C., 207 F. Supp. 3d 945, 961 (S.D. Iowa 2016),
found that “bare procedural violations of FDCPA sections 1692g(a) and (b) do not
amount to a concrete injury,” but that holding is confmed to the factual and legal
context of that case. There, the allegations involved the failure to include disclosures
required under section 1692g, not misrepresentations under section 1692e. Jackson
recognized, and cited cases for the proposition, that “violations of other FDCPA
provisions may be sufficient on their own to constitute an Article III injury in fact.” Id.
(collecting cases finding alleged violations of section 1692e to constitute a concrete
injury sufficient for Article III standing). Perry v. Columbia Recovery Grp., LLC, No.
C16-O191JLR, 2016 WL 6094821 (W.D. Wash. Oct. 19, 2016), like Jackson, involved
section l692g, not section 1692e. According to Perry, the relevant requirements in
section 1692g were merely “procedural rights designed to decrease the risk of injury
identified by Congress in the FDCPA—abusive debt collection practices.” Id. at *8. In
contrast, section 1692e violations constitute harmful debt collection practices in
Here, the deceptive implication that an attorney was meaningfully
involved in the preparation of the collection complaint against Bock violated
that substantive right and created a particularized and concrete
Under Spokeo, Bock need not establish any “additional harm” to surpass the
standing threshold of concrete injury. See Spokeo, 136 S. Ct. at 1549
Accordingly, Bock has standing to bring this action.
I briefly discuss here certain other contentions raised by Pressler.
Pressler builds several arguments on a fundamental misunderstanding of the
violation alleged here. The violation is not a deprivation of meaningful attorney
involvement. Bock’s claim is based on the misrepresentation that there had been
meaningful attorney involvement, in violation of section 1692e(3), which prohibits the
“false representation or implication that.
[a] communication is from an attorney.”
15 U.S.C. § 1692e(3). The consumer is entitled, not to attorney review, but to truthful
information about whether such review has occurred.
Relatedly, I find unpersuasive Pressler’s argument that “meaningful attorney
involvement’ is not a right elevated by Congress to a concrete injury; instead, it is a
creation of common law that has historically been raised with no claim of actual
damages and no consideration given to Article III standing.” (Def. Br. 9; see also Def.
Reply Br. 1) As stated in the previous paragraph, this mischaracterizes the right at
issue. And I referred to that common-law background only in the course of gardenvariety statutory interpretation to determine what constitutes a communication “from
an attorney,” within the meaning of section 1692e(3).
Pressler argues that cases cited by Bock are distinguishable because Bock has
asserted a claim for statutory damages only. I have found, however, that Bock suffered
a concrete injury. The plaintiff’s election of statutory damages does not detract from
that fmding. “There is no caselaw that the Court is aware of finding that by selecting
to pursue only statutory damages, a Plaintiff concedes he or she lacks an actual
injury” for standing. Ferguson v. DIRECTV, LLC, No. 1:15CV2636, 2017 WL 733900, at
*4 (N.D. Ohio Feb. 22, 2017).
Finally, Pressler cites a “risk of harm” standard and argues that it has not been
met. In Beck v. McDonald, 848 F.3d 262 (4th Cir. 2017), the Fourth Circuit affirmed
the district court’s holding that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they had failed
to establish a “substantial risk’ of harm” as a result of a data breach. Id. at 268, 270.
That case involved a “threatened injury” theory of standing, and it is inapposite. Here,
I found at summary judgment that Bock had established that the substantive harm—
Bock’s subjection to the false representation or implication that a communication was
from an attorney—was not threatened, but had already occurred.
For the foregoing reasons, I conclude that Bock has established that he
possesses Article III standing. I will re-enter the Judgment (ECF no. 67) vacated
by the Third Circuit.
An appropriate Order follows.
Dated: May 25, 2017
ON. KEVIN MCNULTY, U.S)J.
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