Collection attorneys have closely followed the course of Bock v. Pressler & Pressler (Pressler), a case involving the issue of “meaningful attorney involvement” in debt collection litigation. Last week there was another update to the case.
Here is a summary of the case, concluding with the latest update:
In 2011, on behalf of its client Midland Credit, Pressler filed a collection law suit against Bock, a consumer, in state court. Bock hired an attorney and the case was settled for a monetary sum.
Bock then filed a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) suit against Pressler, alleging the original compliant had been filed without “meaningful review.” The Pressler attorney responsible for the case testified in discovery that it took him 4 seconds to review the case.
Both sides filed Motions for Summary Judgment.
Editor’s Note: A motion for summary judgment is based upon a claim by one party (or, in some cases, both parties) that contends that all necessary factual issues are settled or so one-sided they need not be tried. The summary judgment is appropriate when the court determines there no factual issues remaining to be tried, and therefore a cause of action or all causes of action in a complaint can be decided upon certain facts without trial.
On June 30, 2014 the District Court of New Jersey found in favor of Bock. Pressler appealed. Oral argument was heard on November 10, 2015.
Taking place in parallel was the Supreme Court case of Spokeo Inc. v. Robbins -- which raised the question of whether a plaintiff has standing if there is no “concrete” harm, but merely a statutory procedural violation.
Citing oral arguments that had just taken place the week before in the Spokeo case, the panel in Bock asked that counsel from both sides address that case. In an article describing the case at the time, attorney Joann Needleman said:
“Specifically, the panel was concerned whether the decision in Spokeo could directly impact the Bock case, which, like Spokeo alleged no actual harm. The panel even hinted whether the Bock case should be stayed. Newburger suggested that if the Supreme Court sided with Spokeo and held that actual harm was needed to bring an action like an FDCPA claim, then many consumer protections statutes would be gutted. The Bock case, Newburger argued, should then be reversed and dismissed. Flitter, arguing for Bock, said that Spokeo was a class action and since the parties agreed on damages in the matter below, Spokeo was inapplicable.”
On May 16, 2016 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the defendant, Spokeo.
On July 27, 2016 the Court of Appeals in Bock issued a non-precedential opinion, remanding the case back to the District Court to determine in the first instance whether Bock has Article III standing, given the Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo.
And, filed last week on May 25, 2017, the New Jersey District Court upheld its summary judgement ruling in favor of Bock. You can see a copy of the ruling here.
Numerous attorneys have pontificated about the implications of “meaningful involvement”. Among others, insideARM recently published a two-part discussion on the topic by Tomio Narita. Read part one here and part two here.
As Tim Bauer offered in his earlier perspective on the matter, the stage has become much broader than this one case.
In April 2016 the CFPB reached a settlement with Pressler in an unrelated matter – (Pressler said this about that settlement) -- as well as a settlement with the Law offices of Frederick J. Hanna & Associates. See here to read our coverage of the Hanna case. Collection attorneys everywhere have read the Pressler and Hanna Documents. Policies and practices have already changed.
The CFPB has also issued its Outline of Proposed Rules for Debt Collection. Collection litigation is addressed in that document, most importantly in the substantiation section. Regardless of the ultimate outcome in the Bock case, collection attorneys are operating under different standards than in the past.