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Gillespie v. Blitt & Gaines, P.C.

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

July 23, 2015

PATRICK GILLESPIE, Plaintiff,
v.
BLITT & GAINES, P.C., Defendant

          For Patrick Gillespie, Plaintiff: Paul Mathew Bach, LEAD ATTORNEY, Ahmad Tayseer Sulaiman, First, Daniel John McGarry, Matthew H. Hector, Mohammed Omar Badwan, Sulaiman Law Group, Ltd., Oak Brook, IL.

         For Blitt & Gaines, P.C., Defendant: Michael L. Starzec, LEAD ATTORNEY, Blitt and Gaines, P.C., Wheeling, IL.

Page 1030

         Memorandum Opinion and Order

         GARY SCOTT FEINERMAN, United States District Judge.

         On November 15, 2013, Blitt & Gaines, P.C., a debt collection law firm, sued Patrick Gillespie in state court on behalf of its client, Citibank, N.A., over an alleged $3,200 debt. Doc. 1-1. Blitt filed the suit in the Richard J. Daley Center Courthouse in Chicago, Illinois, which is part of the First Municipal District of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. Doc. 27 at 1; Doc. 35; Doc. 1-1 at 2. Gillespie,

Page 1031

though, lived in River Grove, Illinois, which lies in the Fourth Municipal District. Doc. 27 at 1; Doc. 35; Doc. 1-2 at 2. Gillespie did not appear in the collection suit, and Blitt obtained a default judgment. Doc. 27 at 1; Doc. 35.

         The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (" FDCPA" ) requires debt collectors to file collection actions in the " judicial district or similar legal entity" where the contract was signed or where the debtor resides. 15 U.S.C. § 1692i(a)(2). When Blitt sued Gillespie in November 2013, Newsom v. Friedman, 76 F.3d 813 (7th Cir. 1996), explicitly permitted a debt collector to file a collection suit in a municipal district of the Cook County Circuit Court other than the one where the debtor resided. Id. at 819 (holding that because " the Municipal Department districts are neither defined as judicial districts, nor ... function as judicial districts," they " do not fit within the definition of 'judicial district' as employed by the FDCPA" ). Just two weeks before Blitt filed its suit, in fact, a panel of the Seventh Circuit, " see[ing] no reason to depart from [the court's] existing approach in § 1692i cases," adhered to Newsom. Suesz v. Med-1 Solutions, LLC, 734 F.3d 684, 686 (7th Cir. 2013).

         Six months later, however, the Seventh Circuit reversed course, vacating the panel opinion in Suesz ; overruling Newsom ; holding that " the correct interpretation of 'judicial district or similar legal entity' in § 1692i is the smallest geographic area that is relevant for determining venue in the court system in which the case is filed" ; and, critically for this case, giving its new interpretation of § 1692i retroactive effect, even though debt collectors " ha[d] relied on Newsom to allow them to choose venue anywhere in the appropriate county." Suesz v. Med-1 Solutions, LLC, 757 F.3d 636, 638, 649 (7th Cir. 2014) (en banc). For Blitt, this was very bad luck or, depending on your perspective, proof that karma exists. Taking advantage of this opportunity for litigation arbitrage, Gillespie promptly sued under the FDCPA. Doc. 1. His lawyers--bereft of shame or, again depending on your perspective, serving as karma's logistics department--have brought twenty-one other suits against Blitt and dozens more against other debt collectors, all for collection suits initiated prior to the en banc decision in Suesz. Doc. 26 at 10-11 & nn.9 & 11.

         In light of Suesz, Blitt admitted that it had violated § 1692i by filing in the First Municipal District and therefore conceded that the Gillespie was entitled to summary judgment as to liability. Doc. 22; 3/10/2015 Tr. (Doc. 36-1) at 2-3. Now before the court is Blitt's motion for summary judgment as to damages, which contends that under the particular facts and circumstances of this case, Gillespie's damages should be nil. Doc. 26.

         The FDCPA allows the recovery of actual damages and statutory damages. See 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a). At the hearing where Blitt conceded liability, Gillespie represented that he would be seeking only statutory damages, as well as attorney fees and costs:

THE COURT: ... The plaintiff, by agreement of the parties, is granted summary judgement ... solely as to liability on the FDCPA claim. And then the only issue is damages.
And what's the plaintiff looking for here?
MS BLACH: We're looking for statutory [damages] of $1,000 and reasonable ...

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