We've previously written about the Eleventh Circuit's confusing Dionne decisions, which dealt with whether an FLSA claim is "moot" if the defendant has tendered all money the plaintiff claims he is owed. This week, in Zinni v. ER Solutions, Inc. the Eleventh Circuit issued another decision on the "mootness" issue, this time in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA") context.
There, Zinni was seeking $1,000, which is the maximum amount of damages permitted under the FDCPA, plus attorneys fees and costs. After the case was filed, the defendant offered to pay Zinni $1,001, which represented the maximum damages plus one additional dollar. As part of the offer, the defendant also offered to pay Zinni the reasonable attorneys' fees and costs he had incurred. It sounds like the defendant had offered full relief, and that the case would be moot, right? Judge Ryskamp thought so, and dismissed the case.
The Eleventh Circuit disagreed, and reversed on the grounds that full relief would include a judgment in favor of Zinni, against the defendant. From this logic, it appears that the only way for a defendant to moot an FDCPA (or, presumably, FLSA) claim would be to serve a Rule 68 offer of judgment in the full amount of monetary damages plus attorneys' fees/costs.
I can't say that I understand the logic of this decision. Let's say a defendant tenders a check in the amount of maximum damages, plus fees and costs, and the plaintiff cashes the check. Per Zinni, the case is not moot, so the plaintiff could theoretically still go to trial. But, what would the trial be about? Whether the plaintiff is entitled to a judgment, even though the defendant now owes the plaintiff no money? Perhaps the Eleventh Circuit will have occasion to address that question in the future. In the meantime, it would appear to me that it just got more difficult to "moot" statutory claims (including FLSA claims) in the Eleventh Circuit.