In Lyudmila Maronyan v. Financial Credit Network Inc., 2017 WL 57835, at *3 (C.D.Cal., 2017), Judge Wilson allowed an FDCPA claim to proceed based on pleadings in the state court collection action.
FCN’s statements regarding its entitlement to attorneys’ fees in the state court complaint may in fact be misleading to the least sophisticated debtor. Although one part of FCN’s state court complaint requests attorneys’ fees in the amount of $800, which is the amount authorized by statute and ultimately granted by the state court, another part represents that FCN was “entitled to attorney fees by an agreement or a statute of 25% of principal indebtedness per [California Civil Code Section] 1717.5.” Dkt. 24-2, Exh. 1, 3.3 This request comes directly after FCN stated the amount of principal indebtedness as $7,241. As 25% of $7,241 is $1,810.25, the least sophisticated debtor may very well believe that FCN was potentially entitled to $1,810.25 worth of attorneys’ fees. However, California Civil Code § 1717.5 expressly states that the prevailing party in such an action shall receive attorneys’ fees of either $800 or 25% of the principal obligation, whichever is lesser. Cal. Civ. Code § 1717.5(a). Therefore, a prevailing party would never be entitled to attorneys’ fees in an amount greater than $800, yet FCN’s complaint arguably represents that it would pursue fees of $ 1,810.25. Although a reading of the civil code would inform the debtor that FCN would be limited to $800 in attorneys’ fees, the least sophisticated debtor standard cannot possibly include researching and interpreting certain provisions of the California Civil Code. Thus, the state court complaint filed by FCN and served on the Plaintiff could qualify as a misleading or deceptive communication in violation of the FDCPA, assuming the allegations in the FAC to be true and making all reasonable inferences in favor of the Plaintiff for the purposes of this motion.
The District Court found no Rooker-Feldman impediment, either.
The Rooker Feldman doctrine “applies only when the federal plaintiff both asserts as her injury legal error or errors by the state court and seeks as her remedy relief from the state court judgment.” Kougasian v. TMSL, Inc., 359 F.3d 1136, 1140 (9th Cir. 2004). The Plaintiff does not do so here. Instead, the Plaintiff asserts that FCN appeared to pursue attorneys’ fees in excess of the amount allowed by law. The state court in fact granted attorneys’ fees in the lower amount, consistent with the California statute. The Plaintiff does not allege any error made by the state court, and does not seek relief from the debt found by the state court. Instead, the Plaintiff claims that she was injured because she may have approached the case differently were it not for the misrepresentations of FCN regarding the attorneys’ fees. This claim is completely independent from the final judgment issued by the state court, and in no way does it require this Court to review or alter the state court’s judgment. As a result, the Rooker Feldman doctrine does not bar the Plaintiff’s claims before this Court.