Seventh Circuit Yet Again Reaffirms Spokeo Principle That Bare FDCPA Violation Is Not Actionable

On May 14, 2021, the Seventh Circuit United States Court of Appeals issued a decision reaffirming the rule from “a slew of cases” that, without injury, a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) claim alleging a bare procedural violation is not actionable.  The case—Markakos v. Medicredi, Inc., No. 20-2351—involved an allegation that the plaintiff received two letters from a debt collector that stated “inconsistent debt amounts” for certain medical services provided in 2017.  The first letter sought to collect $1,830.56, whereas the second letter (which was sent in response to a letter from plaintiff disputing the amount owed on the grounds that the services rendered were inadequate) “listed a different amount owed of only $407.00.”  The plaintiff alleged that “she was confused an aggravated” by the two letters but otherwise failed to allege “any way in which the alleged misinformation . . . injured her.”  The Court explained that plaintiff had, in fact, “shown the opposite by admitting that she did not pay anything extra and that she properly ‘disputed the debt as not warranted by the services provided.’”  As a result, the Court held that, on the strength of the Unites States Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo v. Robbins, the district court correctly dismissed her claim for lack of Article III standing.

The Court characterized its resolution of question in this particular case “straightforward,” but acknowledged the ambiguity in Article III standing jurisprudence as a result of the Supreme Court’s “somewhat contradictor[y] decree[]” in Spokeo “one hand that ‘Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation’ but on the other hand that ‘the violation of a procedural right granted by statute can be sufficient in some circumstances to constitute injury in fact.”  In a concurring opinion, Circuit Judge Ripple agreed that the principle of stare decisis compelled dismissal of plaintiff’s complaint, but opined that the statutory violation alleged was “a core substantive violation of the FDCPA” and closing the courthouse doors to plaintiff in this situation “effects a direct and complete frustration of Congress’s attempt to regulate commerce in the manner it has chosen.”  The majority responded to this criticism by noting that plaintiff’s personal and financial situation would be completely unchanged regardless of whether she won or lost her lawsuit: “she has not paid a dime, and she has properly disputed her debt. . . .  If this case went forward and [plaintiff] lost, she would continue disputing her debt based on the inadequacy of the services provided. And if she won, she would do just the same; not a penny would change hands, and not a word or deed would be rescinded.”  For this reason, the majority found her lack of standing “obvious.”  The result and thoughtful response to Judge Ripple’s criticism is another arrow in the quiver of debt collectors seeking respite from FDCPA complaints that do not allege any injury to the litigant.