Argued March 18, 2015
APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY. (D.C. No. 2-13-cv-01712). District Judge: Honorable Susan D. Wigenton.
Sergei Lemberg, Esq. [ARGUED], LEMBERG LAW, LLC, Stamford, Connecticut, Attorney for Appellant.
Mitchell L. Williamson, Esq. [ARGUED], PRESSLER & PRESSLER, LLP, Parsippany, NJ; Michael J. Peters, Esq., PRESSLER & PRESSLER, LLP, Parsippany, NJ, Attorneys for Appellee Pressler & Pressler.
Lauren M. Burnette, Esq. [ARGUED], Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin, Camp Hill, PA, Attorney for Appellee Midland Funding LLC.
Before: MCKEE, Chief Judge, RENDELL and FUENTES, Circuit Judges.
McKEE, Chief Judge.
We are asked to decide whether a false statement in a communication from a debt collector to a debtor must be material in order to be actionable under a provision of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (" FDCPA" ), 15 U.S.C. § 1692e. We conclude that materiality is required, as it is subsumed within the " least sophisticated debtor" standard that has traditionally governed FDCPA claims. Because we do not find the misstatement at issue in this case material, we will affirm the District Court's grant of summary judgment to Pressler & Pressler and Midland Funding, LLC.
The facts of this case are largely undisputed. Appellant Paula Jensen defaulted on a Bank of America credit card, and her debt was eventually sold to Appellee Midland Funding, LLC (" Midland" ). Midland retained the law firm of Appellee Pressler & Pressler (" Pressler" ) to help collect Jensen's debt. Midland obtained a default judgment against Jensen in the Superior Court of New Jersey in the amount of $5,965.82. Pressler then attempted to collect on that judgment by serving an information subpoena and written questions on Jensen.
The information subpoena and accompanying questions sought personal and financial information from Jensen in aid of collection. It advised that " failure to comply . . . may result in . . . arrest and incarceration." The information subpoena was issued pursuant to Rule 1:9-1 of the Rules Governing the Courts of the State of New Jersey (" New Jersey Rules" ), which allows New Jersey attorneys to issue subpoenas in the name of the clerk of court. Information subpoenas issued under this rule properly bear the signature of the clerk, even though the clerk herself did not sign the subpoena and likely does not even have knowledge of it. The information subpoena here was based on the sample " form" in the Appendix to the New Jersey Rules. That form provides space for two electronic or typed signatures: one for the issuing attorney, and one for the clerk. Because Pressler sought to enforce a judgment from the Superior Court of New Jersey, the Superior Court clerk's name should have appeared on the clerk's signature line.
Instead, Pressler listed " Terrence D. Lee" on the clerk's signature line. Lee had never worked as a clerk of the Superior Court, and although he had been the County Clerk of Warren County, he left that position six years earlier. Ironically, Jensen knew Lee, and she also knew that he was not a clerk of the Superior Court. Roughly one month later, Jensen sent a letter to Pressler explaining that she was aware that Mr. Lee was not the Superior Court clerk and calling the subpoena " fraudulent." However, she also answered the questions that accompanied the information subpoena.
Thereafter, Jensen moved to vacate the state court judgment against her, but her motion was denied. She then filed a putative class action against Pressler and Midland (together, " Appellees" or " Collectors" ) in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, alleging a violation of § 1692e of the FDCPA, which prohibits making false, misleading, or deceptive statements in the collection of consumer debts. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the Collectors and denied Jensen's cross motion for summary judgment. It concluded that, because the misuse of Lee's name was not a material false statement, there could be no liability under § 1692e. See Jensen v. Pressler & Pressler, LLP, No. 13-CV-01712, 2014 WL 1745042, at *5 (D.N.J. Apr. 29, 2014). This appeal followed.
We have not yet had occasion to decide whether § 1692e contains a materiality requirement. For the reasons that follow, we agree with the District Court's conclusion that misstatements must be material to be actionable under § 1692e. Accordingly, we will affirm.
" This Court exercises plenary review over a district court's grant of summary
judgment, applying the same standard employed by the district court." Trinity Indus., Inc. v. Chi. Bridge & Iron Co., 735 F.3d 131, 134 (3d Cir. 2013). Summary judgment should only be granted where, after the close of discovery and viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the movant establishes that no genuine issue of material fact remains. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). " A factual dispute is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." L ...