In Bock v. Pressler & Pressler, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey held that it is false and misleading, within the meaning of FDCPA, for an attorney to file an FDCPA lawsuit without having meaningfully reviewed the complaint. In granting summary judgment in favor of the consumer, the court relied on a seminal decision from the Third Circuit holding that a meaningful review by an attorney is required for debt collection letters. See Lesher v. Law Offices of Mitchell N. Kay, PC, 650 F.3d 993, 1001-1003 (3d Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 132 S.Ct. 1143 (2012).
Defendant Pressler & Pressler did not contest that the draft complaint was prepared by a non-attorney and was only opened by an attorney for four seconds. In ruling for the plaintiff consumer, the Court stated:
The process by which Pressler prepares complaints almost entirely involves automation and non-attorney personnel. There is nothing wrong with that; the FDCPA does not mandate drudgery or enshrine outmoded business methods. The state court complaint filed in the state action here, however, was reviewed by an attorney for approximately four seconds. The case law is sparse, and it is possible for reasonable people to disagree as to what constitutes reasonable attorney review. But whatever reasonable attorney review may be, a four-second scan is not it.
This decision is apt to give pause to many lawyers in the collection industry. While a four-second scan seems extreme, challenges certainly will follow as to what exactly is considered “meaningful” or reasonable. With the computerized and automated nature of some debt collection legal practices, one thing is for sure — the other side, and the court, may be interested in learning how long a debt collection pleading or letter remained open on one’s computer screen.