Rotkiske v. Klemm

In 2008, Klemm & Associates filed a debt collection lawsuit against plaintiff Kevin Rotkiske, served the complaint on a stranger at an address where Mr. Rotkiske no longer lived, and then withdrew the lawsuit. Klemm & Associates’ managing attorney then moved to another law firm, which, in 2009, filed another lawsuit against Mr. Rotkiske, again served a stranger at an address where Mr. Rotkiske did not live, and obtained a default judgment. Because he had never been served, Mr. Rotkiske did not learn of the lawsuit or judgment until 2014, when he applied for a mortgage and was rejected because of the outstanding judgment.

Less than a year later, Mr. Rotkiske filed a case against Paul Klemm and the law firms, alleging that they violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) by serving the complaint at an address they knew he did not occupy. Although Mr. Rotkiske filed his suit within one year of learning of the lawsuit and judgment against him, the district court held that his claim was barred by the FDCPA’s statute of limitations, which provides that actions must be brought “within one year from the date on which the violation occurs,” 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(d). According to the district court, that statute of limitations required Mr. Rotkiske to have brought his claim by 2010—more than four years before he learned of his injury.

Mr. Rotkiske appealed to the Third Circuit, arguing that the discovery rule tolls the FDCPA’s statute of limitations. Before the panel issued a decision, the Third Circuit sua sponte decided to hear the case en banc.  Serving as co-counsel for Mr. Rotkiske before the en banc court, Public Citizen took the lead in briefing and argument. The Third Circuit, however, held that the FDCPA’s statute of limitations begins to run on the date on which the alleged FDCPA violation occurs, not the date on which the violation is discovered.

Mr. Rotkiske petitioned the Supreme Court for review, which affirmed the Third Circuit’s decision.