A New Jersey consumer has obtained a federal court judgment against debt-collection law firm Pressler and Pressler, LLP, finding that its minimal attorney-review process before it filed a collection complaint against the consumer violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”).
In Bock v. Pressler and Pressler, LLP, a New Jersey consumer, Daniel Bock, Jr., claimed that Pressler made a false or misleading representation under the FDCPA by filing a debt-collection complaint against him without having an attorney perform any meaningful prior review. In fact, virtually all of Pressler’s pre-filing work on the collection claim it filed against Mr. Bock was done by non-lawyers.
More importantly, Pressler’s computer records show that the attorney who signed the collection complaint against Mr. Bock spent a total of only four seconds reviewing the electronic case file before approving the complaint. Moreover, no one at Pressler ever reviewed Mr. Bock’s credit card account (on which the collection claim was based) or the assignment of this alleged debt to Midland Funding LLC, the debt-buyer that Pressler represented.
Based on this undisputed evidence, United States District Court for the District of New Jersey Judge Kevin McNulty held that Pressler violated the FDCPA by filing the collection complaint against Mr. Bock in court and thereby impliedly representing that an attorney had meaningfully reviewed the claims, when this was false. As the court explained:
The claimed misrepresentation here does not relate to the ultimate veracity of the numbered factual allegations of the complaint; it concerns the veracity of the implied representation that an attorney was meaningfully involved in the preparation of the complaint. If, in fact, an attorney who signed the complaint is not involved and familiar with the case against the debtor, then the debtor has been unfairly misled and deceived within the meaning of the FDCPA.
Turning to the facts of the case, the court held that the Pressler attorney’s “rapid look-over of the complaint against Bock, one of 673 complaints he reviewed that day, cannot really be considered a careful review of the complaint, let alone an exercise of the professional skills of a lawyer.” The court thus held that Pressler’s implied representation that an attorney had reviewed the collection complaint before it was filed in court was false and misleading, and therefore violated the FDCPA.
The federal court’s ruling against Pressler may be significant for many New Jersey consumers. As the case facts show, Pressler files hundreds of debt-collection actions every day using the same assembly-line review process that the court found to violate the FDCPA. The thousands of New Jersey consumers who have been sued in these collection actions by Pressler and Pressler may therefore have viable FDCPA claims for money damages against the firm.
By Michael J. Quirk, Esq.