Second Circuit Affirms Judgment in Favor of Law Firm in Meaningful-Attorney-Involvement FDCPA Class Action

March 7, 2023 11:15 pm
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On February 13, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of an Eastern District of New York court and found that the defendant law firm, Mandarich Law Group, LLC (Mandarich), had conducted a meaningful attorney review of the plaintiff debtor’s account prior to mailing her a debt collection letter on the firm’s letterhead. The three-judge panel set forth the decision in a summary order, which does not have precedential effect.

The putative class action arose out of a debt collection letter Mandarich mailed to the plaintiff in March 2019. The plaintiff alleged the letter included language that overshadowed the statutorily-mandated validation notice and falsely represented or implied that an attorney had meaningfully reviewed the letter in violation of multiple provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). As it relates to the meaningful-attorney-involvement claim, the plaintiff alleged that the use of the firm’s letterhead suggested an attorney was involved in the collection of the debt when in fact no attorney had reviewed the account prior to mailing the letter and the letter did not disclose that no attorney was involved in a review of the account. Mandarich moved for summary judgment on all of the plaintiff’s claims, which included the submission of an affidavit from an attorney at the firm that personally reviewed the plaintiff’s account using the firm’s specialized computer platform and in accordance with the firm’s “Attorney Meaningful Involvement Procedure” prior to the mailing of the letter. Through the review process, the attorney concluded that Mandarich’s client owned the plaintiff’s account, that the plaintiff had incurred the debt, that the account did not appear to be the subject of a bankruptcy proceeding, and the debt did not arise out of fraud. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Mandarich in January 2022 and the plaintiff appealed shortly thereafter.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the Mandarich attorney that reviewed her account did not “meaningfully” review it because most of the review was either performed by non-attorneys or was automated. The plaintiff further argued that the entire review process could have taken less than one minute and that the Mandarich attorney did not establish a specific plan to sue in the event the plaintiff failed to pay the debt. The Second Circuit summarily rejected these arguments. Following its prior decision in Miller v. Wolpoff & Abramson, L.L.P., 321 F.3d 292 (2d Cir. 2003), the court noted that it never established a specific minimum period of time that is required to constitute meaningful attorney involvement. Nor has the court established a bright-line test to determine whether an attorney was sufficiently involved in the review of an account. Rather, the Second Circuit has directed courts to weigh various factors, including what information was reviewed, the time spent reviewing the file, and whether any legal judgment was involved in the decision to send the collection letters. Under this criteria, the appellate court agreed with the district court and found that the Mandarich attorney had meaningfully reviewed the plaintiff’s account.

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