Supreme Court Resolves Circuit Split, Holds FDCPA Claim Accrues on Date of Violation, Not Date of Discovery

The United States Supreme Court recently held that the one-year statute of limitations for an action under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) begins to run on the date of the alleged violation, not the date of discovery.  See Rotkiske v. Klemm, 2019 WL 6703563 (U.S. Dec. 10, 2019).  In 2008, defendant sued plaintiff over unpaid credit card debt.  Defendant attempted service at plaintiff’s former address, and the resident there accepted service.  Defendant later withdrew the action, but refiled in 2009 and again attempted service at the former address, where the resident accepted service.  Defendant obtained a default judgment against plaintiff.  In 2014, plaintiff discovered the judgment and, within one year, brought this action.  Plaintiff claimed that the limitations period for an action on his credit card debt had run before defendant brought its 2008 and 2009 actions, and that defendant’s lawsuit therefore violated the FDCPA because defendant was seeking to collect on a debt on which it had no lawful ability to collect.  The District Court dismissed the action, holding that the limitations period on the FDCPA claim had run in 2010 because 15 U.S.C. 1692k(d) requires any action to be filed “within one year from the date on which the violation occurs.”  The Third Circuit affirmed the decision, creating a circuit split with regard to when the limitations period begins to run.  See, e.g., Mangum v. Action Collection Serv., Inc., 575 F.3d 935 (9th Cir. 2009) (applying the discovery rule to an FDCPA claim).

In a decision authored by Justice Thomas, the Supreme Court affirmed the Third Circuit.  The Court held that the FDCPA’s plain language states that the one-year period begins to run when the violation occurs.  The Court further found that other federal statutes include language stating that the limitations period begins to run “from the date on which the violation occurs or the date of discovery of such violation” and that “[a]textual judicial supplementation is particularly inappropriate when, as here, Congress has shown that it knows how to adopt the omitted language or provision.”  Finally, the Court did not decide plaintiff’s claim that a fraud-specific discovery rule should apply in this case to toll the limitations period, holding that plaintiff failed to preserve this argument on appeal and stating that “[w]e do not decide whether the text of 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(d) permits the application of equitable doctrines.”  In dissent, Justice Ginsburg stated that she agreed that the limitations period generally should run from the date of the violation, but that in this case, the Court should have tolled the limitations period based on the allegation that defendant “knowingly arrang[ed] for service of the complaint against [plaintiff] at an address where [plaintiff] no longer lived, and fil[ed] a false affidavit of service.”

For a copy of the decision, please contact Michael O’Donnell at modonnell@riker.com, Michael Crowley at mcrowley@riker.com, or Anthony Lombardo at alombardo@riker.com.