October 27, 2015
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois, Eastern Division No. 14 C 8625 - Harry
D. Leinenweber, Judge. No. 14 C 8924 John Robert Blakey,
Kanne and Rovner, Circuit Judges, and Bruce, District Judge.
issue in this appeal is whether a wage-garnishment action
under Illinois law is a "legal action" on a debt
against a consumer under the venue provision of the Fair Debt
Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"). We hold that
such actions are not against the consumer and therefore
affirm the dismissals made by the respective district courts
in this consolidated appeal.
Robert Jackson and Jeanette Etro's (collectively,
"Plaintiffs") respective complaints against
Defendant Blitt & Gaines, PC. ("B&G"), a
debt collector, are similar in all material aspects. In both
cases, Plaintiffs purportedly owed a debt, the creditor filed
suit in Cook County seeking to collect on that debt, and
after each Plaintiff failed to appear in court, a Cook County
Circuit Court entered a default judgment against each of
them. In each case then, B&G filed an affidavit for a
wage deduction ("wage-garnishment action") in the
First Municipal District in downtown Chicago and obtained a
summons against Plaintiffs' respective employers. Both
Plaintiffs allege it was this final act that violated the
FDCPA's venue provision, 15 U.S.C. § 1692i(a)(2),
because B&G should have filed the affidavits in the Sixth
Municipal District in Markham, Illinois-the municipal
district closest to Plaintiffs -and not in the First
filed their respective complaints in 2014, and B&G moved
to dismiss them on the basis that B&G's filing of an
affidavit for a wage deduction did not constitute a
"legal action" against a "consumer"
within the meaning of the FDCPA. The district courts agreed
and granted B&G's respective motions. This
consolidated appeal followed.
review of a district court's decision to grant a motion
to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6) is de novo. Reynolds v. CB Sports Bar,
Inc., 623 F.3d 1143, 1146 (7th Cir. 2010). When
reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim,
"[w]e construe the complaint in the light most favorable
to the plaintiff, accepting as true all well-pleaded facts
alleged, and drawing all possible inferences in her
favor." Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074,
1081 (7th Cir. 2008). To survive such a motion, a complaint
must "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).
purpose of the FDCPA is "to eliminate abusive debt
collection practices by debt collectors." 15 U.S.C.
§ 1692(e). With that goal in mind, Congress enacted 15
U.S.C. § 1692i, which is aimed at preventing the abusive
practice of debt collectors filing claims against consumers
in improper venues. See S. Rep. No. 95-382, at 5
(1977), reprinted in 1977 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1695, 1699. Plaintiffs
have filed their complaints pursuant to this provision, which
provides in relevant part that "[a]ny debt collector who
brings any legal action on a debt against any
consumer shall... bring such action only in the judicial
district or similar legal entity-(A) in which such consumer
signed the contract sued upon; or (B) in which such consumer
resides at the commencement of the action." 15 U.S.C.
§ 1692i(a)(2) (emphasis added). Violating this provision
makes the debt collector liable to the consumer for statutory
and actual damages, in addition to attorney's fees. 15
U.S.C. § 1692k.
parties here do not dispute that: (1) Plaintiffs qualify as a
"consumer" under the FDCPA and (2) B&G is a
"debt collector" under the FDCPA. The sole issue on
appeal here is whether B&G's wage-garnishment actions
constituted a "legal action ... against any
consumer" under § 1692L
all questions of statutory interpretation, we start with the
text of the statute to ascertain its plain meaning.
Hughey v. United States, 495 U.S. 411, 415 (1990).
To do so, we "must look to the particular statutory
language at issue, as well as the language and design of the
statute as a whole." K Mart Corp. v. Cartier,
Inc., 486 U.S. 281, 291 (1988). "It is a
fundamental canon of statutory construction that, unless
otherwise defined, words will be interpreted as taking their
ordinary, contemporary, common meaning." Sandifer v.
U.S. Steel Corp., 134 S.Ct. 870, 876 (2014) (internal
quotation marks omitted). That means we look to the meaning
of the word at the time the statute was enacted, Perrin
v. United States, 444 U.S. 37, 42 (1979), often by
referring to dictionaries, see Sandifer, 134 S.Ct.
FDCPA does not define a "legal action, " so we must
determine its "ordinary, contemporary, [and] common
meaning" at the time the provision was enacted-in 1977.
The Black's Law Dictionary in effect then also does not
define "legal action." It does, however, provide
the following definition for "action" under the
heading "Practice": "It includes all the
formal proceedings in a court of justice attendant
upon the demand of a right made by one person of another in
such court, including an adjudication upon the right and its
enforcement or denial by the court." (4th Ed. 1951)
(emphasis added). In other words, an action in legal practice
means all formal judicial proceedings.
Ninth Circuit in defining "legal action" in a
different context found that "literally thousands of
cases have used the term to refer to litigation, " which
lead it to conclude that the term's common usage refers
to "litigation or judicial proceedings."
S&M Inv. Co. v. Tahoe Reg'l Planning Agency, 911
F.2d 324, 327 (9th Cir. 1990) (emphasis added). The same
circuit relied on this interpretation to hold that
"legal action" in § 1692i means "all
judicial proceedings, including those in enforcement of a
previously-adjudicated right." Fox v. Citicorp
Credit Svcs., Inc.,15 F.3d 1507, ...