The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas recently ruled that a plaintiff has statutory standing to sue under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, despite the fact that the debt collector was attempting to collect a debt from the plaintiff’s son, not from the plaintiff himself.
The plaintiff’s name is “Christopher O. Smith” (hereinafter “Smith”) and his son’s name is “Christopher O. Smith II.” Smith’s son borrowed money but then defaulted on his debt. Moss Law Firm initiated a lawsuit on behalf of Barclays Bank Delaware to collect the delinquent debt. The case was captioned “Barclays Bank Delaware v. Christopher O Smith.” A credit card statement was appended to the complaint which identified the debtor as “Christopher O. Smith II.”
Smith accepted service of the lawsuit. He alleges that when he later realized that it was not his debt, he informed Moss of the error, but Moss continued to pursue the lawsuit against him. Notably, Smith’s version of the facts differs widely from Moss’s version. According to Moss, as soon as it learned of the error from Smith’s wife, it informed her that it was not trying to collect the debt from him. Moss twice offered to pick up the petition and summons or asked that they be mailed back to Moss, but Smith’s wife refused. Moss immediately instructed the process server not to attempt further service at the address on the petition. Within a month, Moss nonsuited the lawsuit, ending any legal proceedings against Smith.
However, Smith retained an attorney and sued Moss for a violation of the FDCPA. Moss filed a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, asserting that Smith did not have statutory standing to sue because Moss’s debt collection efforts were not directed at him. Based on the allegations in the complaint, the Court found that Smith had statutory standing.
First, the Court distinguished between statutory standing as challenged under Rule 12(b)(6) and jurisdictional standing as would be challenged under Rule 12(b)(1). Moss attempted to factually challenge Smith’s standing by explaining that the facts were different from what Smith alleged. The Court rejected this argument because a statutory standing challenge under Rule 12(b)(6) must accept as true all of Smith’s allegations. A court may only consider additional facts outside the pleadings in a jurisdictional challenge under Rule 12(b)(1). Since Moss did not make a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the Court could not consider outside facts.
Second, the Court found that the facts Smith alleged were sufficient for statutory standing. According to the Court, “Smith allege[d] that Moss sought to collect a debt that Smith did not owe to Barclays; that Moss initiated a lawsuit against Smith to collect this alleged debt; that Smith informed Moss of the error; and that Moss nevertheless continued to pursue the lawsuit against Smith.” This was sufficient to state a claim for violation of the FDCPA, despite Smith not being a debtor on the alleged debt.
This case is significant for several reasons. First, it serves as a reminder of the distinction between statutory standing as challenged under Rule 12(b)(6) and jurisdictional standing as challenged under Rule 12(b)(1). Second, it asserts that a non-debtor, which the debt collector admittedly was not directing debt collection efforts towards, could have statutory standing to sue under the FDCPA. Notably, the Court did make the point that this holding did not “suggest … a view on how the court would decide a motion for summary judgment or how a jury would evaluate the merits of Smith’s claims.”