Condominium lawyers, property managers and even some condominium associations have occasionally run afoul of the myriad of technical statutory violations contained in the Federal Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (“FDCPA”).
Under the FDCPA and similar other federal acts, the so-called “no injury”, statutory violation cases can give rise to hefty statutory damages (depending on the number and severity of the violation) and attorney fees. They can also be challenging and expensive to defend. Sometimes these cases are prosecuted by attorneys interested in little other than attorney fees.
Sometimes they turn into class actions. Often times the “statutory violation” which can be as minor as the wording on a notice or the filing of a lawsuit in the wrong venue, do not actually cause any harm or concrete injury to the complainant (hence the term “no injury cases”), but the Courts have consistently held a violation is a violation and enforced them just the same.
That trend appears to be changing with a more conservative Supreme Court and Federal bench. Recently, on September 15, 2022, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Hunstein v. Preferred Collection and Management Services, dismissed a case where a debt collector transmitted notice of a debt to a 3rd party mail vendor, which is a technical violation of the Act. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case, despite the technical statutory violation because the debtor did not and could not allege any concrete injury that occurred as a result of the FDCPA statutory violation. In doing so, the 11TH Circuit relied heavily upon the United States Supreme Court decision in Transunion LLC v. Ramirez, 594 US (2021) authored by Justice Kavanaugh, holding that Article III of the United States Constitution requires an actual injury in fact in order to have access to the Federal Courts.
The Transunion case was a class action brought on behalf of a number of consumers for violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. In that case, there were a number of consumers that had misleading credit scores but that were not disclosed to a third party. However, those consumers could not and did not allege any harm other than a statutory violation. The Court held that only plaintiffs concretely harmed by a defendant’s statutory violation have Article III standing to seek damages against the defendant in Federal Court. The majority noted over the objection of the minority that a mere statutory violation was not sufficient, as the Statute did not amend or otherwise supplant the Article III requirement. The Court described three possible types of hypothetical injury, monetary, emotional, or reputational that could satisfy Article III standing. In the no injury cases, the concrete injury must result from the alleged statutory violation.
Interestingly, the other half of the class action participants in Transunion had their credit reports marked as “possible terrorist” and were disclosed to third parties. The Court held that based on those facts, that half of the class had a plausible concrete injury based on reputational damages and as such the statutory claims belonging to that half of the class, could proceed further.
The trend seems to be that an actual and concrete injury is required to pursue claims for statutory violations in Federal Court, which is probably a good thing for the condominium industry as a whole, as FDCPA claims often bespeckle the collections arena.
If you have any questions about condominium collections and their possible applicability to the FDCPA or about this article e-mail Ed Allcock at email@example.com.
Hunstein v. Preferred Collection and Management Services Decision (PDF)