76 F.3d 813 (7th Cir. 1996), 95-1453, Newsom v. Friedman

Docket Nº:95-1453.
Citation:76 F.3d 813
Party Name:Dawn M. NEWSOM, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Lawrence FRIEDMAN, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:February 05, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 813

76 F.3d 813 (7th Cir. 1996)

Dawn M. NEWSOM, on behalf of herself and all others

similarly situated, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Lawrence FRIEDMAN, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 95-1453.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

February 5, 1996

Argued Oct. 23, 1995.

Page 814

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 815

Daniel A. Edelman (argued), Cathleen M. Combs, J. Eric Vander Arend, Michelle A. Weinberg, O. Randolph Bragg, Tara L. Goodwin, Cathleen C. Cohen, Edelman & Combs, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Barry L. Kroll (argued), David E. Morgans, Hall Adams, III, Williams & Montgomery, Chicago, IL, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before CUMMINGS, RIPPLE, and MANION, Circuit Judges.

MANION, Circuit Judge.

Lawrence Friedman is a Chicago attorney who specializes in collecting debts. He filed suit against Dawn Newsom in the first municipal district of the Circuit Court of Cook County. The court where he filed was located in the Daley Center in downtown Chicago. Friedman obtained a default judgment and initiated collection proceedings. Because Newsom resided in the third municipal district located in a suburb of Chicago, she filed this suit against Friedman (on behalf of herself and similarly situated debtors) claiming violations under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692i ("FDCPA"). The FDCPA requires that such collection suits be filed in the judicial district where the debtor resides or where the debt was incurred. The district court concluded the suit was properly filed and granted Friedman his motion to dismiss. Newsom appeals and we affirm.

I. Background

Ms. Dawn Newsom, who resides in Schaumburg, Illinois, received medical services at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital in DuPage County. Newsom apparently never paid her bill, and the hospital subsequently hired Lawrence Friedman, a Chicago attorney who specializes in debt collection, to recover the debt. Friedman filed a debt collection action in the Circuit Court of Cook County, in the first municipal department

Page 816

district in the downtown Chicago courthouse at Daley Center, and obtained a default judgment when Newsom failed to contest the claim. Friedman subsequently filed a wage garnishment action in the same court, at which point Newsom filed this federal class action suit alleging Friedman's actions violated the FDCPA. The FDCPA requires that debt collection actions be filed in the "judicial district or similar legal entity" where the debtor resides or where the transaction occurred. According to Newsom, Friedman was required to file the debt collection in the third municipal department district of the Circuit Court of Cook County, where she resides. She argues that a municipal department district is a "judicial district" under the federal act.

Friedman moved to dismiss, claiming that the FDCPA provision requiring that debt collection actions be filed in the "judicial district or similar legal entity" only required that he file the action in the Circuit Court of Cook County, which is coterminous with the boundaries of Cook County. He claimed he was not required to file in any administrative subdistrict within the Circuit Court. The district court granted Friedman's motion. Although the court thought the phrase "judicial district or similar legal entity" was ambiguous, based on its legislative history and on district court decisions in other federal circuits, it concluded that in Illinois the phrase means circuit court. Because Friedman had filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County, the district court concluded, no violation of the FDCPA had occurred.

II. Analysis

We review the district court's dismissal for failure to state a claim de novo. Jenkins v. Heintz, 25 F.3d 536, 537 (7th Cir.1994), aff'd, --- U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 1489, 131 L.Ed.2d 395 (1995). This court has previously reviewed the history and purpose of the FDCPA. Id. at 538. Briefly stated, Congress tipped the balance between debtor and debt collector to correct what it determined were abuses in debt collection practices. Id. at 538. Among other provisions, the forum restrictions in section 1692i require debt collectors to file debt collection lawsuits in the "judicial district or similar legal entity" where the debtor resides or where the debt arose. 15 U.S.C. § 1692i(a)(2)(A), (B) (1982).

The district court examined this phrase and decided it was ambiguous. In the absence of any federal appellate direction, the district court resorted to an examination of decisions from other federal district and state courts along with an analysis of the legislative history of the act and an interpretation of the intent of Congress. 1 A court may examine legislative history when it encounters language in a statute that is undeniably ambiguous, but it should be the final option. A court's first obligation when construing the meaning of a law enacted by Congress is to consider the statutory language itself. See, e.g., United States v. Hudspeth, 42 F.3d 1015, 1022 (7th Cir.1994) ("we may turn to the legislative history to interpret a statute only when the statute is ambiguous"), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 2252, 132 L.Ed.2d 260 (1995). See also, e.g., id. at n. 13 (citing Supreme Court decisions critical of legislative history analysis); Sundstrand Corp. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 17 F.3d 965, 967-69 (7th Cir.) (discussing cases critical of legislative history analysis), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 83, 130 L.Ed.2d 36 (1994); Matter of...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP