Today the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit released its opinion in VanderKodde v. Mary Jane M. Elliott, P.C., a lawsuit brought by Westbrook Law PLLC in 2017 alleging widespread unlawful practices by prominent Michigan collection law firms Mary Jane M. Elliott, P.C. and Berndt & Associates, P.C., along with their clients, large debt buyers Midland Funding, LLC and LVNV Funding, LLC. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants routinely added unlawful and grossly excessive amounts of interest to judgments they obtained against Michigan consumers in state district courts, and that this practice violated the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
We believe tens of thousands of Michigan consumers have been affected by this practice and that millions of dollars may have been unlawfully collected from them.
At the trial court level, the defendants raised a procedural defense based on the “Rooker-Feldman doctrine,” which disallows federal district courts from acting as appeals courts for state-court judgments. The district court agreed and dismissed the lawsuit. We appealed the dismissal to the Sixth Circuit.
By its opinion today, the Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the lawsuit, effectively reinstating the case and allowing it to proceed. The court emphasized that the plaintiffs in our case were complaining of unlawful conduct of the defendants independent from any state-court judgment: their calculation of judgment interest at an excessive rate and their subsequent attempts to collect excessive debt amounts through garnishments.
The VanderKodde case reflects the importance of class action litigation where thousands of consumers have been harmed by a routine practice by a debt collector or financial institution. While many individual class members may have suffered only small harms, the total amount unlawfully collected by the defendants through this practice may have been enormous. We intend through the VanderKodde lawsuit to pursue justice and compensation for all those harmed.