Article Courtesy of The Consumer
Financial Services Blog
By Maurice Wutscher
July 17, 2020
Joining similar rulings by the Eighth and Tenth
Circuits, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently held
that each violation of the FDCPA gives rise to a separate claim governed
by its own statute of limitations period.
On April 16, 2016, the homeowner plaintiffs received a notice from a law
firm retained by their homeowners association (HOA) stating the
homeowners failed to pay $77.09 in HOA assessments and a demand for
$1,000 to satisfy both the HOA assessments and the costs and attorneys’
The homeowners disputed the debt and mailed a letter to the law firm
with copies of cancelled checks. The law firm acknowledged that the
disputed payments had been received, but asserted that the homeowners
still owed the costs and attorneys’ fees.
The homeowners and law firm exchanged several letters with the
homeowners denying making any late payments and the law firm insisting
that late fees, costs, interest, and attorneys’ fees were owed.
On May 18, 2016, following another demand for payment, the homeowners
delivered a letter to the law firm “requesting that [it] stop contacting
us about this claim” and stating that the [homeowners] would consider
“any further attempt to collect a debt against us or record a lien on
our property [as] harassment[.]”
In January 2017, the homeowner hand-delivered a payment at the annual
HOA meeting and was told to leave. The homeowner later received a notice
that he had been banned from the HOA’s premises for one year.
In February 2017, the homeowners received another letter from the law
firm acknowledging receipt of the January 2017 payment, but noted as
outstanding the accumulated fees and costs associated with the original
disputed payment from 2016.
On March 10, 2017, the homeowners responded to the February letter,
writing that “in our correspondence to you on this matter, we had
requested that you stop contacting us about that claim . . . As both my
wife and I dispute the debt referenced in your most recent letter, I am
now requesting once again that you stop all communications with my wife
and myself concerning this debt.” The homeowners received additional
correspondence from the law firm on March 14, 2017, including an updated
ledger of the homeowners’ account showing that a fee had been added for
preparation of the February letter.
In January 2018, the homeowners requested to attend the annual meeting
and was told by the law firm that the homeowner would not be allowed to
attend, and that “this whole thing would not have happened if you would
just pay your bills.”
On Feb. 6, 2018, the homeowners received an updated ledger from the law
firm and although this correspondence purported to provide the
homeowners with “verification of your account as you requested,” the
homeowners deny having made any such request for verification.
On April 5, 2018, the homeowners filed a complaint against the law firm
brought under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C.
§ 1692 et seq. In their complaint, the homeowners alleged that the law
firm violated various provisions of the FDCPA by engaging in unfair debt
collection practices and by improperly communicating with the homeowners
after they had disputed the debt and had made a written request that the
law firm cease further communications. The law firm responded by seeking
dismissal of the complaint as untimely or, in the alternative, for
The trial court granted the law firm’s motion to dismiss the complaint
based on the statute of limitations holding that the entire complaint
was time-barred because the more recent violations that the homeowners
alleged were of the “same type” as other violations that occurred
outside the one-year limitations period.
The homeowners appealed.
The sole question on appeal was whether the trial court erred in
concluding that all the homeowners’ claims were barred by the FDCPA’s
statute of limitations.
The homeowners argued that the trial court erred in dismissing all their
claims as time-barred because two of the alleged violations occurred
less than one year from the date they filed suit. According to the
homeowners, under the language of 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(d), a new statute of
limitations arose with each “violation” of the FDCPA.
In response, the law firm argued that the first alleged violation of the
FDCPA occurred outside the limitations period and all later
communications by the law firm arose from its attempt to collect the
The Fourth Circuit first acknowledged that under the FDCPA, claims must
be brought “within one year from the date on which the violation
occurs.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(d). Moreover, the Court noted, nothing in the
FDCPA suggests that “similar” violations should be grouped together and
treated as a single claim for purposes of the FDCPA’s statute of
limitations. To the contrary, the Court has long held that a “separate
violation” of the FDCPA occurs “every time” an improper communication,
threat, or misrepresentation is made. United States v. Nat’l Fin. Servs.,
Inc., 98 F.3d 131, 141 (4th Cir. 1996). Accordingly, the Court concluded
that Section 1692k(d) establishes a separate one-year limitations period
for each violation of the FDCPA.
In coming to its ruling, the Fourth Circuit noted this interpretation
avoids creating a safe harbor for unlawful debt collection activity
where no matter how frequent or abusive such collection efforts became,
the debtor would be left entirely without a remedy simply because the
debtor did not timely pursue the first violation.
Finally, the Court observed that two other federal appellate courts have
also concluded that the FDCPA’s limitations period runs anew from the
date of each violation. See Demarais v. Gurstel Chargo, P.A., 869 F.3d
685, 694 (8th Cir. 2017); Llewellyn v. Allstate Home Loans, Inc., 711
F.3d 1173, 1188 (10th Cir. 2013). As these courts have recognized, it
simply “does not matter that the debt collector’s violation restates
earlier assertions — if the plaintiff sues within one year of the
violation, [the suit] is not barred by § 1692k(d).” Demarais, 869 F.3d
at 694; see also Llewellyn, 711 F.3d at 1188.
Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit vacated the trial court’s judgment and
remanded the case for further proceedings.