In Martha A. McNair v. Maxwell & Morgan PC, et al., 2015 WL 5561297, at *4-6 (D.Ariz., 2015), the District Court analyzed how to apply the FDCPA statute of limitations to violations that continue over time.
The Supreme Court has adopted a different approach, however, for hostile work environment claims under Title VII. It has explained that such claims: “are different in kind from discrete acts. Their very nature involves repeated conduct. The ‘unlawful employment practice’ therefore cannot be said to occur on any particular day. It occurs over a series of days or perhaps years and, in direct contrast to discrete acts, a single act of harassment may not be actionable on its own….Such claims are based on the cumulative effect of individual acts….A hostile work environment claim is composed of a series of separate acts that collectively constitute one ‘unlawful employment practice.’…[Thus, p]rovided that an act contributing to the claim occurs within the filing period, the entire time period of the hostile environment may be considered by a court for the purposes of determining liability. Id. at 115-17 (quotation marks and citations omitted).” The Court finds that “the violation” in the FDCPA is similar to “the alleged unlawful employment practice” in Title VII and that the Supreme Court’s guidance is relevant to this case. The Court finds that Defendants’ alleged FDCPA violations are more akin to discrete acts than a continuing course of conduct. . . . All of these alleged wrongs involved Defendants’ attempts to collect the debt Plaintiff owed to the Association, and almost all involved alleged misrepresentations, such as inflating Plaintiff’s debt, failing to account for payments, or charging fees to which the Association was not entitled. These violations are interrelated, but they are not sufficiently linked to be considered an ongoing violation of the FDCPA. For instance, Maxwell sent a letter to Plaintiff on November 23, 2010. Doc. 81-1 at 114. Plaintiff claims that the letter violated the FDCPA by falsely stating she owed $1,466.80 and ignoring her right to certain property exemptions under Arizona law. Doc. 80 at 10. Three years later, on November 6, 2013, Maxwell requested a writ of execution for foreclosure. Doc. 81-2 at 52-53. Plaintiff claims that the request violated the FDCPA by falsely stating she owed $4,791.58, including $1,597.50 in attorneys’ fees. Doc. 80 at 6. Although the 2010 letter and the 2013 request for a writ involve similar facts, they represent discrete actions. One is a letter, the other a court filing; they occurred three years apart; they involved different amounts; and they involved different alleged violations of the FDCPA. Similar distinctions could be made regarding each of Plaintiff’s claims. The alleged wrongs occurred over a span of four years and involved, respectively, a letter, a draft agreement, a filing in justice court, another letter, paperwork filed in justice court, a complaint for foreclosure in superior court, an email, a failure to respond to Plaintiff, and a request for a writ of execution. Each involved different claimed amounts and many included additional, unrelated alleged violations of the FDCPA. Plaintiff’s case is not like Joseph, where the defendant made hundreds of automated collection calls to the plaintiff over a period of 18 months. See 281 F. Supp. 2d at 1161-62. Nor is it similar to a hostile work environment claim which “cannot be said to occur on any particular day,” “is composed of a series of separate acts that collectively constitute one ‘unlawful employment practice,’ ” and may not even rise to the level of an actionable hostile work environment until the cumulative effect of the many wrongs is understood. Morgan, 536 U.S. at 115, 117. Defendants’ actions are each alleged to have violated specific provisions of the FDCPA, occurred on definite days, involved different conduct and different debt amounts, and extended over four years. Defendants’ actions are more like “[d]iscrete acts such as termination, failure to promote, denial of transfer, or refusal to hire,” which may be related but nevertheless do not implicate the continuing-violation doctrine. Id. at 114. The Court also finds the breaks in time between the alleged violations to be significant. Plaintiff does not allege any violation in the year of 2011. Sixteen months elapsed between the fifth and sixth violations recounted above, and almost a year between the seventh and eighth.
Furthermore, the Court finds troubling the notion that every communication regarding a debt starts the limitations period anew. As another court explained, “[i]f plaintiff’s theory were correct,…his cause of action could be kept alive indefinitely because each new communication would start a fresh statute of limitations.” Sierra v. Foster & Garbus, 48 F. Supp. 2d 393, 395 (S.D.N.Y. 1999); see also Nutter v. Messerli & Kramer, P.A., 500 F. Supp. 2d 1219, 1223 (D. Minn. 2007) (finding that “ ‘[n]ew communications . . . concerning an old claim . . . [do] not start a new period of limitations’ ”) (quoting Campos v. Brooksbank, 120 F. Supp. 2d 1271, 1274 (D.N.M. 2000)).In sum, the Court concludes that the continuing-violation doctrine does not save Plaintiff’s claims for violations that occurred before April of 2013. Plaintiff also seeks to apply the discovery rule, arguing that she did not discover her injury until her home was foreclosed in January of 2014. The Court is not persuaded, however, that the discovery rule should apply to this case. In Naas v. Stolman, 130 F.3d 892, 893 (9th Cir. 1997), the Ninth Circuit held that when the alleged violation of the FDCPA is the filing of a lawsuit, “the statute of limitations beg[ins] to run on the filing of the complaint.”5 Plaintiff’s complaint makes clear that every alleged FDCPA violation that occurred more than one year before this case either preceded or occurred as part of a court action. These include Defendants initial filing of the justice court action in 2009 (Doc. 1, ¶ 12) and their later filing of the superior court action in 2012 (id., ¶ 15). The alleged violations either preceded those lawsuits, in which event the filing of the lawsuits would have triggered the limitations period, or occurred as part of the lawsuits (id., ¶¶ 14, 17, 19). Thus, Plaintiff’s discovery rule argument does not save her older claims from the FDCPA’s one-year statute of limitations.