Third Circuit Holds That Attorney Letter Can Form Basis for FDCPA Claim

Third Circuit Holds That Attorney Letter Can Form Basis for FDCPA Claim

A new opinion from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals could lead to more claims under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act being filed in Bankruptcy Court. Allen v. LaSalle Bank, N.A., No. 09-1466 (3rd Cir. 1/12/11) held that correspondence from a debt collector to a consumer's attorney could be actionable under the FDCPA. You can find the opinion here. Although Allen did not arise in a bankruptcy case, it involves a fact pattern likely to be seen in bankruptcies.

The Facts

The case began when Dorothy Rhue Allen failed to make the final payment on her 30 year mortgage. LaSalle Bank retained Fein, Such, Kahn & Shephard, P.C. ("FSKS") to file a foreclosure action. At the request of Allen's attorney, FSKS provided a payoff letter. Less than three weeks later, Allen filed a class action counterclaim and third party complaint asserting that FSKS's response violated the FDCPA. LaSalle promptly released the mortgage and dismissed the foreclosure action.

Not content with this result, Allen filed a class action against FSKS, LaSalle and the servicer for the loan in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. Although she initially made other arguments, she later conceded that her complaint was based solely on a violation of 15 U.S.C. §1692f(1), which prohibits "the collection of any amount (including any interest, fee, charge, or expense incidental to the principal obligation) unless such amount is expressly authorized by the agreement creating the debt or permitted by law." She alleged that the amounts charged to her exceeded the actual charges or the amounts allowed by court rule. For example, she alleged that FSKS demanded $910 in attorney's fees when a court rule permitted only $15.43, $335 for searches when court rule permits only $75, $160 for recording fees when the actual fee was only $60 and $475 for service of process when statute and court rule limited reimbursement to $175.

The defendants moved to dismiss. The District Court, relying on precedent from the Seventh Circuit, held that a communication from a debt collector to a consumer's attorney should be analyzed under the standard of a competent attorney. Because a competent attorney would have recognized the charges as being excessive and objected to them, the District Court held that the complaint failed to state a cause of action.

Read the entire article at A Texas Bankruptcy Lawyer's Blog