In O’Rourke v. Palisades Acquisition, LLC, here, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that since the FDCPA protected only consumers (and not third parties), a state court pleading that arguably would have deceived the state court judge in a collection action was not actionable under the FDCPA. In O’Rourke, the debt collector sought but failed to collect on the debt. It eventually sued O’Rourke in state court. Attached to the complaint was an exhibit that closely resembled a credit card statement listing the balance he owed and placing Palisades in the place of the issuer. Unlike most cases filed under the Act, O’Rourke did not claim that the statement was materially deceptive to him or to the unsophisticated consumer. Instead, he claims that the statement is materially false, deceptive, and misleading to a state court judge, specifically one who is viewing it in the context of granting a default judgment. The Court of Appeals found the pleading inactionable under the FDCPA, explaining:
And just as we have crafted standards for the “unsophisticated consumer” and those who have a special relationship with the consumer—such that the Act is still protecting the consumer—from statements that would mislead these consumers. The Act is not similarly interested in protecting third parties. Id.; see also Guerrero v. RJM Acquisitions, LLC, 499 F.3d 926, 934 (9th Cir. 2007) (noting “Congress did not view attorneys as susceptible to the abuses that spurred the need for the legislation”). By drawing the line at communications directed at consumers—“any natural person obligated or allegedly obligated to pay any debt”—and those who stand in their shoes, the Act fits its purpose: protecting consumers. This gives consumers the full breadth of protection that the Act permits and keeps us from reading into the Act whatever implausible ends O’Rourke’s lawyers can conjure up. This also avoids the arbitrary “class designation” of whether the third party has “an extremely consequential role in the debt collection process.” And it keeps us safe from the practical difficulty of parsing claims about whether a communication directed at a third party is actionable. Thus, we read the Act’s “competent lawyer,” Evory, 505 F.3d at 773-75, we would then have to craft a test for whether a communication would confuse or mislead the sophisticated judge, and so on with each group of persons involved in the debt-collection process. The practical futility of judging such claims reinforces the holding of this case: The Act does not extend its protections to third parties who do not stand in the shoes of the consumer protections as extending to consumers and those who stand in the consumer’s shoes and no others. ¶ Because nothing in the Act’s text extends its protections to anyone but consumers and those who have a special relationship with the consumer, we hold that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act does not extend to communications that would confuse or mislead a state court judge.