Collector - April 2021 - 42

IAF

Litigation Retrospective: By the Numbers, By the Book
Federal consumer filings against debt collection agencies have declined in the past four years.
We take a look at a few reasons why.
By Colin Winkler

I

n my various capacities at ACA
International (lead compliance attorney,
corporate counsel, staff liaison to
the Judicial Committee, and primary
administrator for the Industry Advancement
Fund's litigation-support and judicialadvocacy programs), perhaps the most
common refrain I heard from ACA members
during my first year with the association
went something like this: " We're getting sued
more than ever! What can we do? "
To answer that, I'd say: " Let's keep doing
what we've been doing. Together. "
If that sounds crazy, it's not. The accounts
receivable management (ARM) industry's
litigation vexation has improved considerably
in recent years after a huge uptick in the early
21st century. In each of the past four years,
federal consumer filings have declined overall,
and courts have more recently begun to show
that their patience has worn thin with the
petty claims that implicate no actual harm to
a consumer, like so many that flooded courts
in the mid-2000s and early 2010s. We can see
this trend in two ways: First, the data, and
second, the decisions.

BY THE NUMBERS: THE DATA
Between 2001 and 2011, the number of
lawsuits filed in federal court under the Fair
Debt Collection Practices Act increased
by roughly 824%, according to WebRecon
data. Similarly, between 2007 and 2016, the
number of claims filed under the Telephone
Consumer Protection Act increased by a
staggering 34,471%.
Since those peaks in 2011 and 2016,
however, the number of consumer protection
lawsuits filed under both the FDCPA and
TCPA has declined steadily. In 2018, new
FDCPA claims fell by 7.9% compared to 2017,
while new TCPA lawsuits fell by 13.4%. In
2019, new FDCPA claims were down 7.4%

42

FDCPA Litigation, 2001-2019

14,000

12,223

12,000

11,075

10,000

11,365

9,397

11,797
10,594 10,238

10,386

9,784

9,031

8,000

8,342

6,131

6,000
4,000
2,118
1,722
2,000 1,323

2,782

3,206

3,678

4,314

2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019

TCPA Litigation, 2002-2019

5,000

4,840
4,392

4,000

3,668

3,803
3,416

3,049

3,000
2,218

2,000
827

1,000
0

5

4

2

3

7

14

16

44

1,137

351

2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019

Source: WebRecon

and new TCPA claims by 10.2%. And in 2020,
new FDCPA filings (6,876) fell by 17.6%
compared to 2019, while new TCPA suits
(3,302) fell by 3.3% over that same period.
In short, since their peaks in the early
2000s and 2010s, the overall incidence of
FDCPA claims has fallen from its peak by
43.7% and the overall incidence of TCPA
claims has fallen from its peak by 31.8%.
Only FCRA claims have been on the rise
recently, although even those fell by more
than 6% in 2019, reflecting a relatively static
incidence of FCRA filings in recent years.
It's worth noting, however, that these data do
not account for anecdotal evidence suggesting
that the consumer bar has increasingly turned
to class actions as a way to maximize efficiency

of their litigation mills. Fortunately, the U.S.
Supreme Court appears poised to address this
issue in the case of Ramirez v. TransUnion,
which received a grant of certiorari in
December 2020. With the support of the
Industry Advancement Fund, ACA filed an
amicus brief at the Supreme Court to support
TransUnion's position, as well as that advocated
by other businesses and trade associations that
filed their own amici briefs with the court.

BY THE BOOK: THE DECISIONS
As many members know, the Supreme
Court's decision in Spokeo v. Robins
represented something of a reset for courts
across the country that had wrestled
with-or failed to consider-issues of

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