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Oliva v. Blatt, Hasenmiller, Leibsker & Moore, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

July 14, 2015

RONALD OLIVA, Plaintiff,
v.
BLATT, HASENMILLER, LEIBSKER & MOORE, LLC, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ELAINE E. BUCKLO, District Judge.

Ronald Oliva ("Oliva") claims that Defendant violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act's ("FDCPA") venue provision, 15 U.S.C. § 1691i(a)(2), when it filed a credit card collection suit against him in a judicial district where he neither resided nor signed the underlying debt contract.

Defendant counters that it was lawful to sue Oliva in the Cook County Circuit Court's first district because he made purchases there using his credit card. Alternatively, Defendant argues that its decision to sue Oliva in the wrong judicial district resulted from a bona fide error-namely, its reliance on Newsom v. Friedman, 76 F.3d 813 (7th Cir. 1996), which the Seventh Circuit overruled seven months after Defendant filed its collection suit against Oliva. See Suesz v. Med-1 Solutions, LLC, 757 F.3d 636 (7th Cir. 2014) (en banc), cert. denied, 135 S.Ct. 756 (2014).

The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, I grant Defendant's motion and deny Plaintiff's cross motion.

I.

The following facts are undisputed. In 2002, Oliva opened an HSBC MasterCard account, which he used to make purchases in the City of Chicago during his time as a student at DePaul University (from which he graduated in 2005) and during his subsequent employment with CDW at its downtown office (where he worked until August 2015). Oliva lived and worked in the City of Chicago almost continuously from 2002 until he moved back home to Orland Park, Illinois in August 2013.

At an unspecified time, Oliva fell behind on his credit card payments. Towards the end of 2012, HSBC charged off Oliva's account, which had a final balance of $8, 205.20. Capitol One subsequently bought Oliva's account and later sold it to Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC ("PRA").

On December 10, 2013, PRA filed a collection suit against Oliva in the Cook County Circuit Court's first judicial district located in the Richard J. Daley Center ("Daley Center") in downtown Chicago. See Portfolio Recovery Assoc., LLC v. Oliva, No. 13 M1168468 (Ill. Cir. Ct.). Oliva lived in Orland Park- which falls within the Cook County Circuit Court's fifth district-when the collection suit was filed. Oliva retained counsel, but never challenged venue in the collection suit or personally appeared at the Daley Center for any hearings. Indeed, Oliva admits that the Daley Center was a more convenient forum for him than the Bridgeview courthouse, the closest Cook County Circuit Court to his residence. See Dkt. No. 29 at ¶ 12.

Blatt, Hasenmiller, Leibsker & Moore ("BHLM" or "Defendant") represented PRA in the collection suit. In deciding where to file suit, Defendant relied on Newsom v. Friedman, 76 F.3d 813 (7th Cir. 1996), which held that the Cook County Circuit Court is a single "judicial district" for purposes of the FDCPA's venue provision even though the court is subdivided into six districts.[1] As long as a debtor lived in Cook County or signed the underlying debt contract there, Newsom allowed debt collectors to file suit in any of the Cook County Circuit Court's six districts. Defendant's standard practice after Newsom was to file every collection suit against a Cook County resident in the Daley Center even if the debtor, like Oliva, lived in the suburbs.

On July 2, 2014, while Defendant's collection suit against Oliva was pending, the Seventh Circuit overruled Newsom and held that "the correct interpretation of judicial district or similar legal entity' in § 1692i [the FDCPA's venue provision] is the smallest geographic area that is relevant for determining venue in the court system in which the case is filed." Suesz v. Med-1 Solutions, LLC, 757 F.3d 636, 638 (7th Cir. 2014) (en banc), cert. denied, 135 S.Ct. 756 (2014). The upshot of Suesz is that Defendant may now file collection suits against Cook County residents only in the Circuit Court district where the debtor lives or where the debt contract was signed.

On July 10, 2014, only eight days after the Seventh Circuit decided Suesz, PRA voluntarily dismissed its collection suit against Oliva and refunded the $186 appearance fee his attorneys had paid.

About one month later, Oliva filed a FDCPA suit alleging that Defendant violated the statute's venue provision when it filed a collection suit against him at the Daley Center rather than at the Cook County courthouse closet to his residence. This is one of twenty-eight retroactive Suesz cases that Oliva's attorneys have filed against Defendant since August 2014. See Dkt. No. 25-1 n.1 (collecting cases).

Oliva freely admits that his FDCPA suit is attorney driven. When asked why it mattered to him that the collection suit was filed at the Daley Center rather than at the county courthouse closest to his residence, Oliva testified, "I would say it only ...


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