Interesting things are happening within the Eleventh Circuit and, finally, things are looking up for the industry in the litigation sphere. Back in July, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals rocked the boat with its decision in Trichell v. Midland Credit Management, where it established a no-harm, no-foul approach to standing for FDCPA claims. Trichell's progeny are flowing in at a fast clip, and we are tracking this very closely with the iA Case Law Tracker. The latest update in this sphere comes from the Middle District of Florida's dismissal of an FDCPA claim for lack of standing.
Trichell established that a consumer that did not suffer the harm he or she alleges does not have standing to bring the relevant FDCPA claim. In Trichell, the claim alleged that letter language could mislead consumers, but the consumer himself was not actually misled by the letter.
The most recent court decision out of M.D. Fla. citing Trichell is Ruffin v. Dynamic Recovery Sols. (M.D. Fla. Oct. 19, 2020).
So, what happened in Ruffin?
In Ruffin, the defendant debt collector sent a letter to the consumer on a time-barred debt account. The letter included disclosures similar to what the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) proposed in its Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: that, due to the age of the debt, the defendants will not sue the consumer and that a partial payment may restart the statute of limitations period.
The consumer filed an FDCPA lawsuit alleging that the letter contained a misleading representation because, in Florida, the statute of limitations does not revive with a partial payment. Revival requires a written acknowledgment by the consumer.
Notably, the consumer did not make any payments nor stated how she was damaged in any way.
Defendants filed a motion to dismiss.
The Court's Decision
The court granted the defendants' motion, finding that the consumer lacked standing to bring the FDCPA claim under the precedent set by the Eleventh Circuit in Trichell. The court summarizes Trichell:
In addressing the plaintiffs' standing, the Eleventh Circuit observed that "neither plaintiff alleges that he made any payments in response to the defendants' letters—or even that he wasted time or money in determining whether to do so," but rather that they "asserted only intangible injuries, in the form of alleged violations of the FDCPA." The Eleventh Circuit noted that, even in the context of a statutory violation, "Article III standing requires a concrete injury." It concluded that the plaintiffs did not allege reliance or actual damages. Instead, the plaintiffs alleged harm only to "unsophisticated consumer[s]," which was insufficient.
[Internal citations omitted.]
In determining its result, M.D. Fla reasons:
Ruffin generally alleges the Letter "misleads the consumer regarding Florida law." She does go a step further in claiming that she was misled. However, she fails to allege she made a payment towards the debt as a result of having received the Letter, and otherwise fails to allege any sort of reliance on the alleged misrepresentation. Also, despite claiming she was damaged, Ruffin fails to explain how she was damaged or how the alleged misrepresentations caused her damages.
At best, Ruffin alleges she is at risk of incurring damages as a result of being misled. But the complaint's allegations reflect that this alleged risk was dissipated by the time she filed her complaint because her complaint identifies the Florida statute on reviving a time-barred debt. In other words, if the Letter was actually misleading, Ruffin knew that before she filed her complaint and any risk of harm associated with the language in the Letter had dissipated.
The court concludes:
Because the Eleventh Circuit does not recognize an "anything-hurts-so-long-as-Congress-says-it-hurts theory of Article III injury," Ruffin's complaint is dismissed without prejudice for lack of standing.
As mentioned above, we are tracking Trichell and its progeny very closely in the iA Case Law Tracker. Subscribers get our weekly legal trends and analysis report, which gives them the inside scoop from someone who closely monitors industry-related court decisions: me! The Trichell saga, including its trend details, has been the subject of this report on 3 separate occasions. This means that subscribers already know this issue from all angles: where it's held up, when it failed, what facts supported dismissal, etc. The weekly report also contains a rundown of all of the new cases added to the CLT in the prior week, so subscribers get an exclusive, detailed glimpse of what's going on in the courts in minutes (so they don't have to spend hours of their week getting up-to-date).