Another Judge Karlton decision. In Davis v. Midland Funding, LLC, 2014 WL 3889971 (E.D.Cal. 2014), Judge Karlton held that it was permissible to ignore the FDCPA’s requirement that a debt arise out of a consumer transaction in situations of identity theft because, well, debt collectors are bad.
The issue presented herein is whether a debt collector that attempts to collect an obligation from the wrong person is subject to the FDCPA, even if there is some possibility that the underlying obligation stemmed from a commercial transaction. A number of prior cases reject defendants’ line of argument. See, e.g., Collins v. Portfolio Recovery Assocs., LLC, No. 2:12–cv–138, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 162624 (E.D.Tenn. Jun. 7, 2013) (“The Court believes that Defendants’ position—that a consumer cannot pursue an FDCPA action where she alleges that she lacks knowledge of the nature of the obligation because of identity theft—is untenable.”); Gonzalez v. Law Firm of Sam Chandra, APC, No. 13–CV–0097–TOR, 2013 WL 4758944, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 126375 (E.D.Wash. Sep.4, 2013) (“Defendants ‘alleged’ that Plaintiff owed a debt when they mailed her ‘dunning’ letters and later garnished her wages using her Social Security number to identify her. The fact that the debt actually belonged to someone else does not strip Plaintiff of a cause of action under the FDCPA.”). Ultimately, the precedents that defendants cite in support of their position are simply unpersuasive. . . . It is therefore at least possible to argue that, even if the FDCPA protects persons dunned for others’ obligations, 15 U.S.C. § 1692a(5) still requires plaintiffs to characterize the nature of the underlying obligation as one incurred for “personal, family, or household purposes.” ¶ Such an interpretation runs afoul of the canon against absurdities, a longstanding principle of statutory interpretation. “All laws should receive a sensible construction. General terms should be so limited in their application as not to lead to injustice, oppression, or an absurd consequence. It will always, therefore, be presumed that the legislature intended exceptions to its language, which would avoid results of this character. The reason of the law in such cases should prevail over its letter.” United States v. Kirby, 7 Wall. 482, 74 U.S. 482, 486–87, 19 L.Ed. 278 (1868). What must be avoided is “[t]o adopt such a construction [as] would put a stop to the ordinary business of life. [ … ] If a literal construction of the words of a statute be absurd, the act must be so construed as to avoid the absurdity. The court must restrain the words.” Holy Trinity Church v. United States, 143 U.S. 457, 460, 12 S.Ct. 511, 36 L.Ed. 226 (1892). Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has cautioned that courts should invoke the canon only “rarely … to override unambiguous legislation.” Barnhart v. Sigmon Coal Co., Inc., 534 U.S. 438, 459, 122 S.Ct. 941, 151 L.Ed.2d 908 (2002). Ultimately, as Justice Kennedy has observed, “[T]his narrow exception to our normal rule of statutory construction does not intrude upon the lawmaking powers of Congress, but rather demonstrates a respect for the coequal Legislative Branch, which we assume would not act in an absurd way.” Public Citizen v. U.S. Dept. of Justice, 491 U.S. 440, 470, 109 S.Ct. 2558, 105 L.Ed.2d 377 (1989) (Kennedy, J., concurring). It would be absurd to hold that a plaintiff who is subject to debt collection efforts for an obligation that he does not owe is ineligible for the FDCPA’s protections simply because he cannot characterize the nature of that obligation.