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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Mortgage debt collection class survives dismissal motion

Courts Debt Collection FDCPA Mortgages

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On February 8, a federal judge for the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Pennsylvania denied a debt collector’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the plaintiffs are not precluded from bringing the claims against the debt collector even though the plaintiffs previously settled similar claims with the lender and loan servicer for their maximum recovery amounts under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). According to the third amended complaint, a pair of named plaintiff homeowners, defaulted on their mortgages in 2010 and worked out a new payment plan with their lender; however, they continued to receive conflicting foreclosure communications from their lender, servicer, and an associated debt collector, which resulted in the payment of allegedly unauthorized fees and expenses. In 2011, the two homeowners filed class action claims against all three entities and in 2016, they settled one claim with the lender and three claims with the servicer.

In response to the third amended complaint, the debt collector filed a motion to dismiss the remaining class claim, which includes “all former or current homeowners” who received communications from the debt collector demanding foreclosure fees and costs that had not yet been incurred. The debt collector argued, among other things, in its dismissal motion that the plaintiffs are not entitled to any further damages for the alleged FDCPA violations because they previously exhausted the $1,000 maximum penalty per borrower permitted by the FDCPA by settling with the mortgage servicer. In denying the motion, the judge disagreed with the debt collector’s argument, noting that it cannot be assumed the settlement with the mortgage servicer was an admission of liability under the FDCPA; therefore, the judge reasoned, the court cannot credit the debt collector “with the full impact of the [servicer’s] settlement funds that maybe were (or maybe were not) allocated to that specific FDCPA claim.” The judge also noted that there is a “major split” on this issue among U.S. district courts.

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