Everyone agrees that a consumer plaintiff who prevails in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act lawsuit is entitled to get his or her attorney fees and costs paid by the debt collector defendant. But in Marx v. General Revenue Corporation, the question is whether, under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a debt collector can collect costs from an unsuccessful plaintiff. In other words, does the FDCPA apply, or do the rules of civil procedure?
This is a Really Big Deal, because if debt collectors can collect costs from unsuccessful plaintiffs, it will make it riskier to sue debt collectors. Quite apart from the law, the whole point of the FDCPA is to provide a formidable check on debt collection abuses. Damages in these cases are small, so if they cannot recover attorney fees and costs — or if they risk having to pay substantial costs — they will not sue.
If you want people to be able to stop debt collection abuses, then you cannot increase the risk. Doing so will render the FDCPA far less effective as a check on debt collection abuses. If you think consumers and consumer lawyers are running amok, then I suppose you favor the debt collector’s position.
Read Argument preview: Court considers litigation expenses in debt-collection disputes on SCOTUSblog. (Thanks, Graham!)
In response to Nick’s post in which he asked why people do not call a lawyer, several responded that the cost of hiring an attorney was prohibitive.
Let me say this loud and clear: Most consumer lawyers will not charge you for a consultation. Further, most will not charge you for their services unless they win or settle the case in your favor, and then they will take their fee out of the settlement or award, not your pocket.
In Hennepin County, Minnesota, it costs $252 for both parties in a lawsuit (in other words, the plaintiff pays $252 to file a complaint, and the defendant pays $252 to file an answer).
If either party wants a jury, they must pay an additional $75. (Either a judge or jury may decide questions of fact.)
Filing fees are similar throughout Minnesota, and you can find filing fees for any court on the Minnesota Judicial Branch website.
These fees are not exorbitant, but some may not be able to afford $325 for a jury trial. Those who may not be able to afford to pay court filing fees may file an application for fee waiver, also called in forma pauperis. The fee waiver form is available on the Minnesota Judicial Branch website, as well. (In fact, the Minnesota Judicial Branch website is a rich source of information, both for attorneys and individuals representing themselves.)
[photo: Chance Agrella]