March 14, 2013
On February 26, 2013, the Supreme Court announced its decision in Marx v. General Revenue Corp., which concerns the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or “FDCPA,” and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The FDCPA authorizes a judge to award costs and reasonable attorneys fees to a defendant if the judge determines that the plaintiff brought his or her FDCPA lawsuit in bad faith and for the purpose of harassing the defendant. The question in Marx was whether, where there is no finding of bad faith or harassment, a prevailing defendant in an FDCPA case can nevertheless obtain an award of costs under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d), which generally allows an award of costs (but not attorneys’ fees) to a prevailing party in civil litigation “[u]nless a federal statute, these [federal] rules, or a court order provides otherwise.”
In an opinion delivered by Justice Thomas, the Court held by a vote of 7-2 that the FDCPA does not conflict with Rule 54(d), and a district court therefore retains discretion to award costs to a prevailing defendant without having to find that the plaintiff brought the case in bad faith and for the purpose of harassment. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer and Alito joined Justice Thomas’s majority opinion. Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justice Kagan.
To discuss the case, we have Charles Keckler, who serves on the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation.