A Circuit Split is Born: Third Circuit Rejects the Discovery Rule for FDCPA Statute of Limitations
In an en banc opinion issued yesterday, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s holding that the statute of limitations period for an alleged violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (the “FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq., began to run on the date the alleged violation occurred, regardless of when the claimant did, or should have, discovered the violation.
This precedential holding in Rotkiske v. Klemm, et al., represents a new deviation from both the Fourth and the Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeal, who have held that the statute of limitations would not begin to run until the date of discovery of the purported violation. “In our view, the Act [FDCPA] says what it means and means what it says: the statute of limitations runs from ‘the date on which the violation occurs,’” the Court reasoned.
In Klemm, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant law firm filed a collection suit that constituted a violation of the FDCPA. Because the plaintiff had moved, and someone else had accepted service on his behalf at the former address, plaintiff claimed that he was not aware of the collection action until years later. On June 29, 2015, the plaintiff sued the defendant law firm and others, alleging that the debt collection lawsuit violated the FDCPA for various reasons. Defendants moved to dismiss Rotkiske’s FDCPA claim on the basis that the action was time-barred, and the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted dismissal of the action on that basis.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued, in line with the Fourth and Ninth Circuit positions, that the statute was tolled until he did, or reasonably should have, discovered the wrongful collection action. Adopting the district court’s textualist approach, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal, respectfully rejecting the statutory interpretation of the other two circuits on this subject. It is important to note, however, that the Court reinforced the exception of equitable tolling where the defendant’s own fraudulent or misleading conduct concealed the facts that would have permitted the plaintiff to discover the FDCPA violation.
The opinion of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals may be accessed here.