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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit decides a second Indiana case today, a 2-1 opinion re "judicial districts" under the FDCPA

In MARK SUESZ, individually and on behalf of a class v. MED‐1 SOLUTIONS, LLC (SD Ind., Lawrence), a 25-page, 2-1 opinion with the dissent beginning on p. 16, Judge Flaum writes:

Defendant‐appellee Med‐1 Solutions bought the medical debt of Mark Suesz and filed a collection action in the Marion County Small Claims Court for Pike Township. Med‐1 obtained a favorable judgment, but Suesz then filed suit in federal district court seeking damages under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The FDCPA contains a venue provision requiring debt collectors to bring suit in the “judicial district” where the contract was signed or where the consumer resides. Suesz asserts that Med‐1 violated this provision because he lives in a neighboring county and the debt was incurred in a township other than Pike. The district court dismissed Suesz’s claim after finding Marion County Small Claims Courts were not judicial districts for the purposes of the FDCPA. We agree, and affirm the dismissal of Suesz’s complaint. * * *

At any rate, we see no reason to depart from our existing approach in § 1692i cases. That requires us to undertake a detailed examination of the structure of Indiana’s judiciary before we can determine what units are FDCPA judicial districts.

B. The Indiana court system [from p. 6-8 the opinion outlines the structure of the Indiana court system] * * *

The Indiana General Assembly established not just township and city courts by statute, but also the superior courts. It would be an absurd result if the superior court were considered a separate judicial district from the circuit court, as the superior courts are the handmaiden to the circuit court, together creating the trial court of general jurisdiction in the counties. We thus decline Suesz’s invitation to look to the origins of the court as a dispositive factor in our FDCPA analysis.

As we have seen, the township courts are not FDCPA judicial districts, either in form or in function. We therefore AFFIRM the district court’s dismissal of Suesz’s complaint.

POSNER, Circuit Judge, dissenting.
The panel majority, in affirming the dismissal of this suit, understandably relies heavily on Newsom v. Friedman, 76 F.3d 813 (7th Cir. 1996). But Newsom is unsound and should be overruled. It interpreted the same provision of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act that we’re asked to interpret in this case, but, like this case, it did so without reference to the Act’s purpose. It treated statutory interpretation as a purely semantic activity— as it can be when the statutory language is extremely clear; but when it is not, the purpose of the statute can’t be ignored, as it was in Newsom and is again today. Echoing Newsom, the opinion in the present case says that it “simply construe[s the term ‘judicial district’] according to its common meaning,” consistent with the principle that “Congress intends to adopt the common law definition of statutory terms.” But there is no “common meaning” of judicial district, let alone a “common law meaning.” And why would Congress want to give a statutory term a common law meaning, anyway?

Posted by Marcia Oddi on October 31, 2013 09:54 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions