If
a law firm sends a letter seeking to collect the correct amount, from the
correct consumer, on behalf of the correct creditor, can the consumer still
sue, claiming the firm violated the FDCPA because no attorney was “meaningfully
involved” in preparing the letter?  The
Sixth Circuit recently held the answer is “no” in Buchholz v. Meyer Njus
Tanick,P.A.,
_F.3d_, 2020 WL 35431  (6th
Cir. 2020), because the consumer suffered no “concrete injury” as a result of
the letter and therefore lacked standing to pursue the claim in federal
court.  The Buchholz decision should
provide powerful support for creditors rights attorneys who are fighting
against “meaningful involvement” claims.
The
plaintiff in Buchholz, a Michigan resident, received two letters from a
Minneapolis-based law firm, defendant Meyer Njus Tanick, PA (“MNT”) regarding
accounts he owed to Synchrony Bank.  Id.
at *1.  Both letters allegedly included a
“pre-populated or stock signature” of Karna Harms, who plaintiff claimed was
MNT’s only Michigan-based attorney.  Id.
Buchholz alleged that given the high volume of letters processed by Harms and
the other MNT attorneys, no attorney could engage in a “in a meaningful review of
the underlying accounts prior to determining whether to send the collection
letters.”  Id.  According to Buchholz, sending the letter on
firm letterhead created the impression that an attorney “has reviewed the file
and made the professional considered determination to send the letter.”  Id. Importantly, however, Buchholz did not
claim these were not his accounts, or that the letters contained in any
inaccuracies.
The
Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision to dismiss the complaint
for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, because Buchholz lacked standing under
Article III of the Constitution.  As the
Court noted: “Not all disputes have a home in federal court.  Article III limits the judicial power to
resolving actual ‘Cases’ and ‘Controversies,’ not theoretical questions.”  Id. at *2. 
Plaintiffs are required to show they suffered a “concrete” injury, i.e.,
an injury that is “real and not abstract.” 
Id.  That injury must also be
“fairly traceable” to the challenged conduct of the defendant.  Id.
The
Buchholz Court rejected the argument that plaintiff had standing to sue because
he allegedly suffered undue “anxiety” that he would be sued if he did not
promptly pay.  Id. at *5.  “In other words, Buchholz is anxious about
the consequences of his decision to not pay the debts that he does not dispute
he owes.”  Id. at *6.  This type of “self-inflicted” injury does not
confer standing.  Id.
The
Sixth Circuit also rejected the notion that Buchholz had standing to sue based
the defendants’ alleged “procedural violation” of failing to conduct a
meaningful attorney review before sending the letters.  The Court stated:
“[E]ven
assuming MNT violated the statute by misrepresenting that an attorney had
reviewed Buchholz’s debts, we find ourselves, like we were in Hagy, unable to identify
any harm to come from that violation. Buchholz gives us no reason to believe he
did not owe the debts. He does not allege, for example, that the statute of
limitations has expired, that res judicata precludes MNT from collecting the
debts, or even that MNT miscalculated the amounts he allegedly owes. . . .We
are at a loss for how MNT’s letters caused any harm, much less harm that
Congress intended to prevent when it enacted the FDCPA.”
Id.
at *9.  In sum, because Buchholz was
unable to show he suffered the type of harm that Congress tried to prevent when
it passed the FDCPA, or harm that was cognizable at common law, the Sixth
Circuit held the district court had correctly dismissed his complaint for lack
of Article III standing. Id. at *10.
The
Buchholz decision contains a well-reasoned application of the Supreme Court’s
Article III jurisprudence, but perhaps more-importantly, the outcome of the
case just makes sense.  The FDCPA does
not give a consumer a license to sue the attorney retained by his creditor just
because the consumer disagrees with the procedure they think the attorney used
when preparing a letter for his client. 
If the contents of the letter are accurate, then the FDCPA has not been
violated. Well done, Sixth Circuit.  Well
done.