On November 10, a New Jersey debt collection law firm pressed the Third Circuit to reverse the district court’s ruling that a four-second review of a debt collection complaint does not constitute “meaningful attorney involvement.”

As we previously reported, in Bock v. Pressler & Pressler, LLP, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey granted plaintiff Daniel Bock, Jr.’s motion for summary judgment, finding that defendant Pressler & Pressler LLP violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) by failing to conduct  a “meaningful review” of a collection action filed in state court.

As background, Pressler originally filed a complaint in New Jersey state court to collect on Bock’s credit card debt.  The state action was settled, but while it was pending, Bock filed a federal action against Pressler.  His federal complaint alleged that Pressler made a false or misleading representation in violation of the FDCPA by filing the state court complaint without meaningful review by an attorney.  While much of the investigation leading up to the filing of the complaint was properly conducted by non-attorneys, the law firm’s computer system showed that Bock’s file was accessed by an attorney for only four seconds before filing of the complaint.  The district court held that “whatever reasonable attorney review may be, a four-second scan is not it.”

At the Third Circuit oral argument, Pressler’s counsel argued that “under this theory, every lawyer is subject to being second-guessed when representing a creditor.”

On the other side, Bock’s counsel faced the panel’s suggestion that “there’s nothing facially false about this complaint.”  Bock’s counsel responded that the attorney signature on the complaint was not really from an attorney.  He averred that “four seconds is the functional equivalent of zero.”

But the Third Circuit panel appeared concerned about the potential impact of a ruling for Bock, including what an appropriate amount of review might be.  “Aren’t we skating on some thin ice?” Judge Chagares asked Bock’s counsel.

In addition to the merits issue, the panel also faced the question of whether the case should be stayed in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s pending decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins.  Bock’s counsel contended that his client faced a suit that should never have been filed, which is enough for standing “regardless of what happens with Spokeo.”

Troutman Sanders will continue to monitor this case and report on the Third Circuit’s ultimate resolution of what level of attorney review is required under the FDCPA.