Weiss v. Regal Collections, 03-4033.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
Citation385 F.3d 337
Docket NumberNo. 03-4033.,03-4033.
PartiesRichard WEISS, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Appellant v. REGAL COLLECTIONS; Lancer Investments, Inc.
Decision Date29 September 2004
385 F.3d 337
Richard WEISS, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Appellant
REGAL COLLECTIONS; Lancer Investments, Inc.
No. 03-4033.
United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.
Argued May 28, 2004.
Filed September 29, 2004.
As Amended September 29, 2004.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, Alfred M. Wolin, J.

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William J. Pinilis, (Argued), Gabriel H. Halpern, PinilisHalpern, LLP, Morristown, N.J., for Appellant.

Bruce D. Greenberg, (Argued), Lite DePalma Greenberg & Rivas, LLC, Newark, N.J., for Appellees.

Before SCIRICA, Chief Judge, FISHER and ALARCON,* Circuit Judges.

SCIRICA, Chief Judge.

At issue is whether a putative class representative's claim is mooted by a Rule 68 offer of judgment so as to defeat federal subject matter jurisdiction in a suit requesting class-wide relief. This appeal reflects the tension between two rules of civil procedure-Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 and Fed.R.Civ.P. 68-and whether they can be harmonized when the only individual relief requested by the representative plaintiff has been satisfied through an offer of judgment.1 The District Court granted defendants' motion to dismiss on grounds of mootness. We will reverse and remand.

I. Facts

On October 25, 2000, defendant bill collector Regal Collections mailed a letter to Richard Weiss demanding payment of a debt allegedly owed to Citibank. Contending that certain statements in the letter constituted unfair debt collection practice in violation of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692, Weiss filed a federal class action complaint on February 21, 2001, seeking statutory damages on behalf of himself and a putative nationwide class. On March 2, 2001, Weiss filed an amended complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief under the FDCPA, and adding Lancer Investments as a co-defendant.

On April 16, 2001, before filing an answer, and before Weiss moved to certify a class, defendants made a Fed.R.Civ.P. 682 offer of judgment to Weiss in the amount of $1000 plus attorney fees and expenses-the maximum amount an individual may recover under the FDCPA. The offer of

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judgment provided no relief to the class and offered neither injunctive nor declaratory relief. Weiss declined to accept the offer of judgment. Defendants then filed a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), arguing Weiss's claim was rendered moot because the Rule 68 offer provided him the maximum damages available under the statute.3 For this reason, defendants contended the District Court no longer had subject matter jurisdiction over Weiss's claims. The District Court agreed and dismissed the class action complaint.

II. Discussion

On appeal, Weiss asserts the Rule 68 offer did not provide the maximum possible recovery because the complaint requested declaratory and injunctive relief, and sought recovery for a putative nationwide class. As such, Weiss argues his claim was not rendered moot by the Rule 68 offer, and the District Court erred in dismissing the class action complaint.4 Despite Weiss's assertion, the FDCPA does not permit private actions for declaratory or injunctive relief. The principal question, therefore, is whether defendants' Rule 68 offer mooted the claim.

Article III of the United States Constitution limits the jurisdiction of the federal courts to "cases and controversies." U.S. Const. art. III § 2; Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 94, 88 S.Ct. 1942, 20 L.Ed.2d 947 (1968). When the issues presented in a case are no longer "live" or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome, the case becomes moot and the court no longer has subject matter jurisdiction. County of Los Angeles v. Davis, 440 U.S. 625, 631, 99 S.Ct. 1379, 59 L.Ed.2d 642 (1979). An offer of complete relief will generally moot the plaintiff's claim, as at that point the plaintiff retains no personal interest in the outcome of the litigation. Rand v. Monsanto Co., 926 F.2d 596, 598 (7th Cir.1991) ("Once the defendant offers to satisfy the plaintiff's entire demand, there is no dispute over which to litigate and a plaintiff who refuses to acknowledge this loses outright, under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), because he has no remaining stake.") (internal citation omitted); see also 13A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Fed. Practice and Procedure: Jurisdiction 2d § 3533.2, at 236 (2d ed. 1984) ("Even when one party wishes to persist to judgment, an offer to accord all of the relief demanded may moot the case.").


As a threshold matter, we hold defendant's Rule 68 offer of judgment, in the amount of $1,000 plus reasonable costs and fees provided the maximum statutory relief available to Weiss individually under the FDCPA. The FDCPA allows a plaintiff to recover "any actual damage sustained"5 as a result of the debt collector's violation of the FDCPA, as well as "such additional damages as the court may allow, but not exceeding $1,000," and "the costs of the action, together with a reasonable attorney's fees determined by the court." 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(1), (2)(A), (3).

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The FDCPA contains no express provision for injunctive or declaratory relief in private actions. See 15 U.S.C. § 1692k (listing damages and counsel fees as remedies, but not declaratory or injunctive relief).6 Most courts have found equitable relief unavailable under the statute, at least with respect to private actions. See Crawford v. Equifax Payment Servs., Inc., 201 F.3d 877, 882 (7th Cir.2000) (noting that all private actions under the FDCPA are for damages); Bolin v. Sears Roebuck & Co., 231 F.3d 970, 977 n. 39 (5th Cir.2000) ("[A]lthough this circuit has not definitively ruled on the issue, courts uniformly hold that the FDCPA does not authorize equitable relief."); Sibley v. Fulton DeKalb Collection Servs., 677 F.2d 830, 834 (11th Cir.1982) (noting that equitable relief is not available to an individual under the Act.)7

The remedies under the FDCPA differ depending on who brings the action.8 Compare 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a) (damage remedies for private litigants) with 15 U.S.C. § 16921 (administrative enforcement by Federal Trade Commission). The statute authorizes damages for civil liability, but permits only the Federal Trade Commission to pursue injunctive or declaratory relief. See 15 U.S.C. § 16921.9 Some trial courts have interpreted this statutory structure to preclude injunctive or declaratory relief in private actions. See Zanni v. Lippold, 119 F.R.D. 32, 33-34 (C.D.Ill.1988) ("`The FDCPA specifically authorizes the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to seek injunctive relief ... and defendant persuasively argues that this is a strong indication of Congress' intent to limit private actions to damage claims.'") (quoting Strong v. Nat'l Credit Mgmt. Co., 600 F.Supp. 46 (E.D.Ark.1984)); see also Washington v. CSC Credit Servs., 199 F.3d 263, 268 (5th Cir.2000) ("[Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the] affirmative grant of power to the FTC to pursue injunctive relief, coupled with the absence of a similar grant to private litigants, when they are expressly granted the right to obtain damages and other relief, persuasively demonstrates that Congress vested the power to obtain injunctive relief solely

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with the FTC."). Because the statute explicitly provides declaratory and equitable relief only through action by the Federal Trade Commission, we believe the different penalty structure demonstrates Congress's intent to preclude equitable relief in private actions.

For these reasons, we hold injunctive and declaratory relief are not available to litigants acting in an individual capacity under the FDCPA. Therefore, the Rule 68 offer provided all the relief available to Weiss as an individual plaintiff acting in his personal capacity.

Of course, the Rule 68 offer did not provide the maximum damages to the putative class. For class actions, the maximum relief under the FDCPA is greater. The FDCPA authorizes additional recovery for non-named class members "without regard to a minimum individual recovery, not to exceed the lesser of $500,000 or 1 per centum of the net worth of the debt collector." 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(2)(B). Because defendants' Rule 68 offer included no relief for the putative class, either under the provisions of the FDCPA or through the aggregation of class claims, we address the mootness question in that context.


The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are designed to be interdependent. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 1 ("These rules govern the procedure in ... all suits of a civil nature...."); Canister Co. v. Leahy, 182 F.2d 510, 514 (3d Cir.1950) ("[The Rules] must be considered in relation to one another."). Whenever possible we should harmonize the rules. In the event of an unreconcilable conflict, then one rule of procedure may have to take precedence over another.

As discussed, under traditional mootness principles, an offer for the entirety of a plaintiff's claim will generally moot the claim. We have held a class action may be dismissed when the named plaintiff's claim is rendered moot before filing a motion for class certification. See Brown v. Phila. Hous. Auth., 350 F.3d 338, 343 (3d Cir.2003) ("[W]hen claims of the named plaintiffs become moot before class certification, dismissal of the action is required.") (quoting Lusardi v. Xerox Corp., 975 F.2d 964, 974 (3d Cir.1992)). Defendants argue this action is moot because they submitted the Fed.R.Civ.P. 68 offer for complete individual relief before Weiss filed a motion for class certification.

The question of mootness in the class action context is not a simple one. See Lusardi, 975 F.2d at 974 ("[S]pecial mootness rules apply in the class action context, where the named plaintiff purports to represent an interest that extends beyond his own."). Nonetheless, it appears to be settled that once a class has been certified, mooting a class representative's...

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