In what appears to be never-ending litigation, a New Jersey Federal District Court upheld a plaintiff’s summary judgment motion on remand from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, holding that the defendant law firm’s lack of attorney meaningful involvement created a particularized and concrete injury sufficient for the plaintiff to maintain standing to assert his Fair Debt Collection Practices Act claim.
The case is Bock v. Pressler & Pressler and has been ongoing since 2011. Pressler & Pressler (“Pressler”) attempted to collect on a defaulted account against Daniel Bock, Jr., but with no success. The account was then transferred to the firm’s legal department where a Pressler attorney spent approximately four seconds reviewing Bock’s case before determining whether to proceed with suit. The attorney reviewed 673 cases that day and decided to proceed on 663 of them.
Bock filed his federal suit against Pressler, alleging that a four–second review of a complaint was insufficient for an attorney to determine if an account was suit worthy. The District Court granted Bock summary judgment, and the decision was appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
While pending review, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Spokeo, ruling that an injury must be particularized and concrete and that a plaintiff would have to prove actual harm in order to maintain Article III standing to bring a claim. In light of the Spokeo decision, the Third Circuit, inter alia, vacated the summary judgment decision and remanded the case back to the District Court for the sole purpose of determining whether Bock had standing to bring his action.
The District Court found that Bock did in fact establish Article III standing because Pressler’s lack of attorney meaningful review, which was the conduct Congress sought to control by enacting the FDCPA, created a concrete harm. In short, the Court held “[t]he deceptive implication that an attorney was meaningfully involved in the preparation of the collection complaint against Bock violated that substantive right and created a particularized and concrete injury.”
We have followed this matter since its inception in District Court (discussed here), its appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (discussed here), intervention by the CFPB and FTC (discussed here), and now back to the District Court on remand, post-Spokeo.
Pressler also entered into a consent decree with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau during the pendency of this action, wherein the CFPB asserted, among other things, that Pressler failed to maintain a reasonable level of meaningful attorney involvement in its daily collections litigation. We reported on that action here.
There remains the unanswered question of what constitutes attorney meaningful involvement. It is possible Pressler will appeal the District Court’s decision because the Third Circuit did not decide the specific issue of attorney meaningful involvement during the last appeal. However, as stated in the District Court’s original opinion, “ … whatever reasonable attorney review may be, a four-second scan is not it.”
We will continue to monitor this matter until final resolution.