The Fourth Circuit recently affirmed a bankruptcy court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) claims, holding that the defendant’s conduct—filing proofs of claim based on time-barred debts—does not violate the FDCPA. See In re Dubois, 2016 WL4474156 (4th Cir. Aug. 25, 2016). In the case, each of the two plaintiffs filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, and the defendant filed proofs of claim in the plaintiffs’ cases. The plaintiffs then each filed an adversary complaint against the defendant, both objecting to the defendant’s claims as being time-barred and further alleging that defendant violated the FDCPA by filing proofs of claim on stale debts. On the defendant’s motion to dismiss, the bankruptcy court found that filing a proof of claim does not constitute debt collection activity within the meaning of the FDCPA, and granted the defendant’s motion.
On appeal, the Fourth Circuit acknowledged that filing or threatening to file a lawsuit to collect a time-barred debt violates the FDCPA. Moreover, it disagreed with the bankruptcy court and held that filing a proof of claim is an attempt to collect a debt, and therefore a debt collection activity regulated by the FDCPA. Nonetheless, it rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments that filing a proof of claim on a time-barred debt in a bankruptcy proceeding violates the FDCPA because, when the statute of limitations does not extinguish debts, a time-barred debt falls within the Bankruptcy Code’s broad definition of a claim and the Bankruptcy Code permits such a filing. Therefore, it affirmed the dismissal.