Monday, June 12, 2006

Seventh Circuit Holds Only Prevailing Party Is Entitled to Attorney Fees Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

Per Dechert v. Cadle Co., 441 F.3d 474 (7th Cir. Mar. 16, 2006):

. . . We cannot find a case under [the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act] in which the issue is discussed, though plenty of cases under it assume that only a prevailing party is entitled to an award of attorneys' fees and costs. E.g., Zagorski v. Midwest Billing Services, Inc., 128 F.3d 1164, 1166 (7th Cir.1997) (per curiam). The assumption is sound. As we noted in the Palmetto case, supra, 375 F.3d at 547, the Supreme Court has “encouraged consistent interpretation” of federal fee-shifting provisions, “across the federal statutes,” as allowing an award of attorneys' fees and costs only to a prevailing party. There is nothing to rebut the presumption-which we have called “conclusive ··· absent a clearly contrary indication,” id.-in a case under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. There is no ambiguity in “successful action to enforce ··· liability” for actual or statutory damages. Both Crabill and Nagle concluded, with respect to the materially identical language in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“successful action to enforce any liability under this section,”15 U.S.C. § 1681o(a)(2)), that a “successful action” is indeed one in which the plaintiff was a prevailing party within the meaning that Buckhannon and the other decisions that we have cited assign to that term.


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