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11th Cir. Holds Debtor Cannot Use State Law to Revive Time-Barred FDCPA Claim

FDCPAThe U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, in an unpublished opinion, affirmed a trial court order dismissing a consumer’s lawsuit holding that Georgia’s renewal statute, O.C.G.A. § 9-2- 61, did not save a claim that is otherwise time-barred under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

A copy of the opinion in Edwards v. Solomon & Solomon P.C. is available at:   Link to Opinion.

On April 26, 2019, a consumer filed a complaint against a debt collector in Georgia state court alleging various violations of the FDCPA, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq.  The debt collector removed the case to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.  The consumer then voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice under Rule 41(a)(1)(A) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

On Nov. 27, 2019, the consumer refiled the complaint in Georgia state court and the debt collector again removed the case to federal court.  The debt collector moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure claiming that the FDCPA’s one-year statute of limitations barred the alleged claims.

As you may recall, the FDCPA provides that “[a]n action to enforce any liability created by this subchapter may be brought in any appropriate United States district court without regard to the amount in controversy, or in any other court of competent jurisdiction, within one year from the date on which the violation occurs.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(d). 

Here, the debt collector argued that the FDCPA’s statute of limitations barred the claims because the alleged violations occurred on May 1, 2018, May 25, 2018, and July 23, 2018, more than one year before the consumer filed the second lawsuit

In response, the consumer asserted that Georgia’s renewal statute, O.C.G.A. § 9-2-61, served to save his otherwise time-barred claims.  The trial court dismissed the case finding that the FDCPA one-year statute of limitations controlled because “where Congress has set a specific statute of limitations, it cannot be extended by operation of state law.” 

This appealed followed.

The consumer argued that Georgia’s renewal statute should control despite the FDCPA’s clear one-year statute of limitations.

Georgia’s renewal statute provided in relevant part that: “[w]hen any case has been commenced in either a state or federal court within the applicable statute of limitations and the plaintiff discontinues or dismisses the same, it may be recommenced in a court of this state or in a federal court either within the original applicable period of limitations or within six months after the discontinuance or dismissal, whichever is later.”

The Eleventh Circuit noted that the appeal turned solely on this one issue because if the renewal statute does not control, then the FDCPA’s one-year statute of limitations barred the consumer’s claims.

The Eleventh Circuit had little trouble rejecting the consumer’s argument because the “case law is clear that, where Congress has set an express statute of limitations, state law cannot otherwise extend it.”  This same general principal applies to the FDCPA.  In enacting the FDCPA, “Congress specifically provided for a one-year limitations period for FDCPA claims.” 

The Court held that incorporating Georgia’s renewal statute into the FDCPA as the consumer seeks, “would undermine the uniform application of this federal limitation.” Thus, the Eleventh Circuit held “that Georgia’s renewal statute does not extend the FDCPA’s one-year statute of limitations.”

The consumer also argued the Eleventh Circuit should apply the same rationale that is enunciated in Arias v. Cameron, 776 F.3d 1262 (11th Cir. 2015), to this case. Arias held that it was not an abuse of a trial court’s discretion to permit a plaintiff to voluntarily dismiss their state law tort claim that the defendants had removed to federal court, even where the dismissal might prejudice the defendants by eliminating their statute of limitations defense. 

The Eleventh Circuit determined that Arias did not help the consumer here because it involved a state law tort claim where the state legislature enacted the statute of limitations, not a federal claim like this FDCPA claim where Congress set a specific limitation period. 

Thus, because the Georgia renewal statute does not apply to federal claims “where Congress expressly set a limitations period, such as the FDCPA,” the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the complaint.

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Ernest Wagner practices in Maurice Wutscher's Commercial Litigation and Consumer Litigation groups, and leads the firm’s Insurance Recovery and Advisory group. Based in Chicago, he also supports the firm’s litigation matters in its Florida office. Ernest has substantial experience in various types of commercial and insurance recovery litigation. He has conducted more than 35 jury trials, and more than 150 arbitrations for plaintiffs and defendants. He has also successfully represented clients in numerous appeals, in various jurisdictions. Ernest earned his Juris Doctor from Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, Georgia, and his Bachelor of the Arts from the University of Iowa. For more information, see https://mauricewutscher.com/attorneys/ernest-p-wagner/

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