(Slip Opinion

)

OCTOBER TERM, 2009 Syllabus

1

NO'fE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
Syllabus

JERMAN

v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, KRAMER & ULRICH LPA ET AL.

CERTIORARITO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT No. 08-1200. Argued January 13, 2010-Decided April 21, 2010 The Fail' Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 u. S. C. §1692 et seq., imposes civil liability on "debt collector[s]" for certain prohibited debt collection practices. A debt collector who "fails to comply with any [FDCPA] provision .. ~with respect to any person is liable to such person" for "actual damage[s]," costs, "a reasonable attorney's fee as determined by the court," and statutory "additional damages." §1692k(a). In addition, violations ofthe FDCPA are deemed unfair or deceptive acts or practices under the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act), §41 et seq., which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). See §1692l. A debt collector who acts with "actual knowledge or knowledge fairly implied on the basis of objective circumstances that such act is [prohibited under the FDCPA]" is subject to civil penalties enforced by the FTC. §§45(m)(1)(A); C). A debt col( lector is not liable in any action brought under the FDCPA, however, if it "shows by a preponderance of evidence that the violation was not intentional and resulted from a bona fide error notwithstanding the maintenance of procedures reasonably adapted to avoid any such error." §1692k(c). Respondents, a law firm and one of its attorneys (collectively Carlisle), filed a lawsuit in Ohio state court on behalf of a mortgage company to foreclose a mortgage on real property owned by petitioner Jerman. The complaint included a notice that the mortgage debt would be assumed valid unless Jerman disputed it in writing. Jerman's lawyer sent a letter disputing the debt, and, when the mortgage company acknowledged that the debt had in fact been paid, Carlisle withdrew the suit. -Ierman then filed this action, contending that by sending the notice requiring her to dispute the debt in writ-

(b) Additional support for this reading is found in the statute's context and history. (a) A violation resulting from a debt collector's misinterpretation of the legal requirements of the FDCPA cannot be "not intentional" under §1692k(c). It is a common maxim that "ignorance of the law will not excuse any person. which are expressly incorporated into the FDCPA. Pp. At that time. the three Federal Courts of Appeals to have considered the question interpreted the TlLA provision as referring It Vt(c) . See.interpretation of the FDCPA.. KRAJ'vlER & ULRICH LPA Syllabus ing. Congress copied the pertinent portions of the bona fide error defense from the Truth in Lending Act (TILA). 7 Pet. 6-12. is more obviously tailored to the concern at issue (excusing civil liability when the FDCPA's prohibitions are uncertain) than the bona fide error defense. either civilly or criminally. §§45(m)(1)(A). The FDCPA's separate protection from liability for "any act done or omitted in good faith in conformity with any [FTC] advisory opinion. Held: The bona fide error defense in §1692k(c)does not apply to a violation resulting from a debt collector's mistaken interpretation of the legal requirements of the FDCPA Pp. United States. Carlisle had violated §1692g(a)of the FDCPA. acknowledging a division of authority on the question.4. Thurston. 111. the administrative-penalty provisions of the FTC Act. Inc.McNEILIE. 125-126_ Section 1692k(c)'srequirement that a debt collector maintain "procedures reasonably adapted to avoid any such error" also more naturally evokes procedures to avoid mistakes like clerical or factual errors. it has often done so more explicitly than here. v. 6-30. Trans World Airlines. including violations resulting from a mistaken . while reserving the more onerous administrative penalties for debt collectors whose intentional actions reflected knowledge that the conduct was prohibited.it is fair to infer that Congress permitted injured consumers to recover damages for "intentional" conduct. e. held that Carlisle had violated §1692g(a)but ultimately granted Carlisle summary judgment under §1692k(c)'s "bona fide error" defense. Moreover. in enacting the FDCPA in 1977. but extends to mistakes oflaw. Given the ( absence of similar language in §1692k(c). Congress also did not confine FDCPA liability to "willful" violations. apply only when a debt collector acts with "actual knowledge or knowledge fairly implied on the basis of objective circumstances" that the FDCPA prohibited its action.g." §1692k(e). which governs the contents of notices to debtors. C). S. 411. When Congress has intended to provide a mistake-of-law defense to civil liability. The District Court. In particular. RINI. §164o.(c).2 JERMAN v. a term more often understood in the civil context to exclude mistakes of law. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. 469 U. holding that the defense in § 1692k(c)is not limited to clerical or factual errors. 40. CARLISLE." Barlow v..

or expressly exclude.. 538 F. Heintz. Code. joined. and Congress has not expressly included mistakes of law in any of the parallel bona fide error defenses elsewhere in the U. (c)Today's decision does not place umnanageable burdens on debtcollecting lawyers. THOMAS.. to exclude errol'S of legal judgment. pp. Carlisle and its amici have not shown that "the result [will be] so absurd as to warrant" disregarding the weight of textual authority. INSBURG. 13-22. filed a concurring opinion. for instance. which had no occasion to address the overall scope of the FDCPA bona fide error defense... C. The FDCPA contains several provisions expressly guarding against abusive lawsuits. filed a J. _ Syllabus (2010) 3 to clerical errors. Absent such a showing. 292. S. to comply with the law and standards of professional conduct. J. dissenting opinion. To the extent lawyers face liability for mistaken interpretations of the FDCPA. supra. Pp. Carlisle's reading is not supported by Heintz v. Lawyers have recourse to the bona fide error defense in §1692k(c) when a violation results from a qualifying factual error.. and STEVENS. To the extent the FDCPA imposes some constraints on a lawyer's advocacy on behalf of a client. but not in the FDCPA. arguments that the FDCPA strikes an undesirable balance in assigning the risks of legal misinterpretation are properly addressed to Congress. given the prior uniform judicial interpretation of that provision. curring in part and concurring in the judgment. 3d 469. J. in which RoBERTS. filed an opinion conJ. and gives courts discretion in calculating additional damages and attorney's fees. reversed and remanded. and BREYER. legal errors. SCALIA. J. at 295. and there is no reason to suppose Congress disagreed with those interpretations when it incorporated TILA's language into the FDCPA. Although in 1980 Congress amended the defense in TlLA. in which AuTO.. it is not obvious that amendment changed the scope of the TILA defense in a way material here. G J BREYER. J. S.delivered the opinion of the Court. 514 U.. joined. . and which did not depend on the premise that a misinterpretation of the requirements of the FDCPA would fall under that provision. Jenkins. it is not unique. S.J. 291. SOTOMAYOR. Numerous state consumer protection and debt collection statutes contain bona fide error defenses that are either silent as to.Cite as: 559 U. KENNEDY. lawyers have a duty.22-30. It is also unclear why Congress would have intended the FDCPA's defense to be broader than TILA's.

S. 91 Stat. JERMAN. Section 813(c) of the Act. S. to ensure that debt collectors who abstain from such practices are not competitively disadvantaged. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA or Act) imposes civil liability on "debt collector[s]" for certain prohibited debt collection practices. We conclude it does not. ETAL. §1692(e). 15 U. 08-1200 KAREN L. The Act regulates interactions between consumer debtors . and to promote consistent state action to protect consumers. ONWRITOFCERTIORARI TOTHEUNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FORTHESIXTH CIRCUIT [April 21. KRAMER & ULRICH LPA. before the preliminary print goes to press. 2010] JUSTICESOTOMAYOR delivered the opinion of the Court." This case presents the question whether the "bona fide error" defense in § 1692k(c) applies to a violation resulting from a debt collector's mistaken interpretation of the legal requirements of the FDCP A. 874. Supreme Court of the United States. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions. D. C. 15 U. I A Congress enacted the FDCPA in 1977. in order that corrections may be made.Cite as: 559 U. C. SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES No. to eliminate abusive debt collection practices. S. C. MCNELLIE. PETITIONER u. §1692k(c). RINI. Washington. provides that a debt collector is not liable in an action brought under the Act if she can show "the violation was not intentional and resulted from a bona fide error notwithstanding the maintenance of procedures reasonably adapted to avoid any such error. CARLISLE. of any typographical or other formal errors. 20543. _ (2010) 1 Opinion of the Court NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports.

S. debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another. §41 et seq. CARlJSLE. or. 858 (2009) (amending 16 CFR §1." plus costs and "a reasonable attorney's fee as determined by the court. "the lesser of $500. amount." 15 U. S. S. The FDCPA also provides that "any debt collector who fails to comply with any provision of th[e] [Act] with respect to any person is liable to such person. 74 Fed. Reg. See generally §§1692b-1692j.. §§1692d(I). §1692c(a)(1). or using obscene or profane language or violence or the threat thereof.r _.communicating with consumers at an "unusual time or place" likely to be inconvenient to the consumer.000 or 1 per centum of the net worth of the debt collector. KRAMER & ULRICH LPA Opinion of the Court and "debt collector[s].riyate lawsuits." Ibid.000 per day. 291. (6). See §16921.. C. Heintz v.98(d». and are enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Successful plaintiffs are entitled to "actual damage[s]." §§1692a(5). MCNELLIE. or legal status. With some exceptions not relevant here. The Act is enforced through administrative actiQIl and I2. Jenkins. a debt collector who acts with "actual knowledge or knowledge fairly implied on the basis of objective circumstances that such act is [prohibited under the FDCPA]" is subject to civil penalties of up to $16. 15 U." defined to include any person who "regularly collects . §§45(m)(I)(A). §1692k(a). In awarding additional damages.000 for individual actions. §1692e(2)(A)." subject to a statutory cap of $1. the court must consider "the frequency and persistence of [the debt collector's] noncompliance.. for class actions. A court may also award "additional damages.. C. (C). (2). rear»5ti$I$ '"". RINI. the Act prohibits debt collectors from making false representations as to a debt's character.292-293 (1995)." §1692k(a)(2). If / . Among other things." "the nature of such noncompliance. As a result. violations of the FDCPA are deemed to be unfair or deceptive acts or practices under the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act). 514 U." and "the extent to which such noncompli- f7k.2 JERMAN v.

Carlisle withdrew the foreclosure lawsuit. Foster (collectively Carlisle). at issue here. Jerman's lawyer sent a letter disputing the debt. The complaint included a "Notice. _ (2010) 3 Opinion of the Court ance was intentional. contending that Carlisle violated §1692g by stating that her debt would be L+fL . Inc. Kramer & Ulrich.. provides that "[a] debt collector may not be held liable in any action brought under [the FDCPA] if the debt collector shows by a preponderance of evidence that the violation was not intentional and resulted from a bona fide error notwithstanding the maintenance of procedures reasonably adapted to avoid any such error. When Countrywide acknowledged that Jerman had. P. B Respondents in this case are a law firm. Section 1692k(c). Rini." §1692k(b). in fact." The Act also states that none of its provisions imposing liability shall apply to "any act done or omitted in good faith in conformity with any advisory opinion of the [Federal Trade] Commission. Jerman. In April 2006. stating that the mortgage debt would be assumed to be valid unless Jerman disputed it in writing. Adrienne S." §1692k(e). and Carlisle sought verification from Countrywide. McNellie. The Act contains two exceptions to provisions imposing liability on debt collectors. s. Carlisle filed a complaint in Ohio state court on behalf of' a client. and one of its attorneys. Carlisle sought foreclosure of a mortgage held by Countrywide in real property owned by petitioner Karen L. already paid the debt in full. Jerman then filed her own lawsuit seeking class certification and damages under the FDCPA. Countrywide Home Loans." later served on Jerman. L. A. Carlisle.Cite as: 559 U.

the District Court held that Carlisle had violated §1692g by requiring Jerman to dispute the debt in writing. "a statement that unless the consumer. and held that the plain language of §1692g does not impose an "in writing" requirement on consumers.McNELLIE. Noting that a parallel bona fide error defense in the l Section 1692g(a)(3)requires a debt collector. or any portion thereof. Bridgeport Financial. CARLISLE. inter alia. 2d 720. Supp. Harrison. within five days of an "initial communication" about the collection of a debt. 2d 107.695-697 (ND Ohio 2007). Noting that district courts within the Sixth Circuit had reached different results. Supp. at 725. which held a consumer's dispute of a debt under §1692g must be in writing to be effective.! While acknowledging a division of authority on the question.. Inc. Acknowledging that the Courts of Appeals are divided regarding the scope of the bona fide error defense. 950 F. 502 F. 538 F. 1080-1082 (CA9 2005)." Id. • . 2d 686. 464 F. The Court of Appeals found "nothing unusual" about attorney debt collectors maintaining "procedures" within the meaning of §1692k(c) to avoid mistakes of law. Id. See 464 F.. 3d 469 (2008). 3d 1078. to send the consumer a written notice containing. resulted from a bona fide error. for instance. however. and that the "majority view is that the defense is available for clerical and factual errors only. and distinguishing one unpublished Sixth Circuit decision which Carlisle suggested approved a form with an in-writing requirement. RINI. 722-725 (ND Ohio 2006).. Supp." 2 The District Court distinguished. 430 F. The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed. disputes the validity of the debt. at 473-476 (internal quotation marks omitted). 2d." the Sixth Circuit nonetheless held that §1692k(c) extends to "mistakes of law. concluding that §1692k(c) shielded it from liability because the violation was not intentional. the debt will be assumed to be valid by the debt collector.2 The court ultimately granted summary judgment to Carlisle. Graziano v. 112 (CA3 1991). and occurred despite the maintenance of procedures reasonably adapted to avoid any such error. within thirty days after receipt of the notice.4 JERMAN v. the court adopted the reasoning from Camacho v. at 476. KRAMER & ULRICH LPA Opinion of the Court assumed valid unless she disputed it in writing.

at 112 (reading §1692g(a)(3)to require that "any dispute. with Picht v. 677 F. Global Credit Servs. Because this case involves only an alleged misinterpretation of the requirements of the FDCPA. 538 F. we need not. Compare Brief for Petitioner 47-49. Servs. S. must be in writing"). 2d 1037. Hawks. 1038 (CAS1984) (per curiam). 3d 446. 779 (CA9 1982). the court observed that Congress has amended the FDCPA several times since 1977 without excluding mistakes of law from §1692k(c). and do not.. S. G. the Court of Appeals did not address whether Carlisle's inclusion of the "in writing" requirement violated §1692g. 236 F. with Brief for Respondents 60-62. Compare Johnson v. 2d 775. 72S F. reach those other questions. Riddle. 3d 1107. and Hulshieer v. Compare Graziano. 538 F. C. at 476.2. C.g. 15 u. 3d.. to be effective. The Courts of Appeals have also expressed different views about whether 15 U.. and now reverse the judgment of the Sixth Circuit.. . 1121 (CAlO 2002) (concluding that §1692k(c) applies where a debt collector's misinterpretation of a Utah dishonored check statute resulted in a violation of §1692f(1). supra. supra. Corp. Inc. Jon R. "disputes need not be made in writing"). Ltd. as that question was not presented in the petition for certiorari. _ (2009). 4 Compare. S. at 1082 (under §1692g(a)(3).3d. §1640(c). expressly excludes legal errors." 557 U. C. at 476 (case below). with Baker v. which prohibits collection of any amount not "permitted by law").. n. 538 F. S.451-452 (CA8 2001) (stating that §1692k(c) does not preclude FDCPA liability resulting from a creditor's mistaken legal interpretation of a Minnesota garnishment statute). _ (2010) 5 Opinion of the Court Truth in Lending Act (TILA). §1692k(c) applies to violations of the FDCPA resulting from a misinterpretation of the requirements of state law. 3 Because the question was not raised on appeal. 3d. with Camacho.Cite as: 559 U. at 472.3 We granted certiorari to resolve the conflict of authority as to the scope of the FDCPA's bona fide error defense. We likewise express no view about whether inclusion of an "in writing" requirement in a notice to a consumer violates §1692g. e. The parties disagree about whether §1692k(c) applies when a violation results from a debt collector's misinterpretation of the legal requirements of state law or federal law other than the FDCPA. 305 F.

Jerman contends that when a debt collector intentionally commits the act giving rise to the violation (here. 199 (1991) ("The general rule that ignorance of the law or a mistake of law is no defense to criminal prosecution is deeply rooted in the American legal system"). United States. argue that nothing in the statutory text excludes legal errors from the category of "bona fide error[s]" covered by §1692k(c) and note that the Act refers not to an unintentional "act" but rather an unintentional "violation. see also Cheek v . to read §1692k(c) to 0 encompass "all types of error. I aJJ £j_ . S. in contrast. either civilly or criminally." including mistakes of law. 411 (1833) (opinion for the Court by Story. KRAMER & ULRICH LPA RINI. a j vel b~ ~I now> 11> ." Post. Opinion of the Court II A • The parties disagree about whether a "violation" resulting from a debt collector's misinterpretation of the legal requirements of the FDCPA can ever be "not intentional" under §1692k(c)." The latter term. therefore. on grounds that this case involves the scope of a statutory exception to liability. rather than a provision "delineat[ing] a category of prohibited conduct. J. evinces Congress' intent to~. 498 U. they contend.--. impose liability only when a party knows its conduct is unlawful. ~ We decline to adopt the expansive reading of §1692k(c) that Carlisle proposes. We have long recognized the "common maxim. that ignorance of the law will not excuse any person. That is a distinction without a J.5 Our law is therefore no stranger to the 5The dissent discounts the relevance of the principle here. 7 Pet.AJ'1er. CARI1SLE. Me NELLIE. familiar to all minds. I[ Brief for Respondents 7. Carlisle urges us. .). 192. 404. a misunderstanding about what the Act requires cannot render the violation "not intentional. f. United States." given the general rule that mistake or ignorance of law is no defense.~ V I"\. Carlisle and the dissent. sending a notice that included the "in writing" language).6 JERMAN u.)." Barlow v. at 15 (opinion of KENNEDY.

S. the "only mistake. As there had been no "accident" or "mistake" offact. respect with age. The dissent implies Barlow is too old to be relevant. instead invoking the "common maxim. United States.Cite as: 559 U. 149. §84. . 526 (1999). if there hard] been any. 556 U." was mislabeled under the prevailing meaning of that term and thus was subject to forfeiture "unless the [petitioner] c[ould] bring himself within the exceptio[n]. But at least in the context of stare decisis. 498 U. See Montejo v. 2. even if "entirely compatible with good faith." Id. S. [wa]s a mistake oflaw. American Dental Assn. this Court has suggested precedents tend to gain." 7 Pet.. S. that ignorance of the law will not excuse any person. had any intention to supersede the common principle. at 409-410. we addressed a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 authorizing compensatory and punitive damages for "intentional difference. if it shall be made appear .. But the Court declined to resolve the case on the ground of the shipper's intent. 510 U. and not from any intention to defraud the revenue. [wa]s not wholly free from the suspicion of an intention to overreach .. Louisiana. Ratzlaf v. In Kolstad v. see also Act of Mar. in this enactment. familiar to all minds." Id. see also Cheek v. entered as "refined sugars. by passing oft. as our precedents have made clear for more than 175 years. S. as refined sugar's. at 13). In any event. ..." Ibid. 1799.. an exception under which "said forfeiture shall not be incurred. _ (2010) 7 Opinion of the Court possibility that an act may be "intentional" for purposes of civil liability... what he well knew were not admitted to be such." 7 Pet. at 406. for instance. at 410-411. S. happened by mistake or accident. As recently as 1994 this Court cited it for the "venerable principle" that ignorance of the law generally is no defense. The Court concluded that the shipment at issue. 694." Ibid. at 411. even if the actor lacked actual knowledge that her conduct violated the law... United States. 192.. not lose. 527 U. 1 Stat. 199 (1991) (citing Barlow for a similar proposition). ~ _ (2009) (slip op. either civilly or criminally. the statute included. Post. The Court observed that the shipper's conduct. Barlow involved a statute providing for forfeiture of any goods entered "by a false denomination" in the office of a customs collector "for the benefit of drawback or bounty upon the exportation". however. Notwithstanding the existence of a statutory exception-which did not expressly exclude legal errors from the category of "mistakels]" made without "intention to defraud" -the Court saw "not the least reason to suppose that the legislature. Justice Story's opinion for a unanimous Court in Barlow is hardly a relic. at 16. that such false denomination . 135.

he is often subject to liability notwithstanding the invasion was made under an erroneous belief as to some . he intentionally breaks the law in the only sense in which the law ever considers intent"). §1981a. Co. Prosser and Keeton on Law of Torts 110 (5th ed."that "[i]fa man intentionally adopts certain conduct in certain circumstances known to him." Likely for this reason. such as where an employer is "unaware of the relevant federal prohibition" or acts with the "distinct beliefthat its discrimination is lawful. KRA1\!1ER & ULRI CH LP A Opinion of the Court • discrimination. S. in interpreting criminal statutes. ." 527 U. RINI.. and that conduct is forbidden by the law under those circumstances.McNELLIE.9 (2007). it has often done so more explicitly than here. R." §1981a(b)(1)." 42 U. & D. when Congress has intended to provide a mistake-of-law defense to civil liability. we have not consistently required knowledge that the offending conduct is unlawful. 1984) ("[IJfone intentionally interferes with the interests of others.g. in the context of a statute imposing liability for "intentiona[l] violat[ions]. Keeton. Safeco Ins. Burr. 47. But even in that context. the FTC Act's administrative-penalty provisions-which. at 536-537. 246. C. 255. United States. Owen. See. as noted above... 57-58. legal matter that would have justified the conduct"). n. Congress expressly incorporated into the FDCPA-apply only when a debt collector acts with "actual knowledge or knowledge fairly implied on the basis of objective circumstances" that its action was "prohibited by 6Different considerations apply. 257 (1907) (observing. 551 U. and Comment e (1963-1964) (intentional tort of trespass can be committed despite the actor's mistaken belief that she has a legal right to enter the property). of America v. e. We observed that in some circumstances "intentional discrimination" could occur without giving rise to punitive damages liability. Dobbs. In particular. but limiting punitive damages to conduct undertaken "with malice or with reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of an aggrieved individual. See also W.. 2·06 U.8 JERMAN v. S. CARLISLE. of course. Restatement (Second) of Torts §164. S. D. Ellis v. S. Keeton.

§§45(m)(l)(A). Trans World Airlines. a term more often understood in the civil context to excuse mistakes of law. Thurston. "we have generally taken it [when used as a statutory condition of civil liability] to cover not only knowing violations of a standard. Cf. S._ (2010) 9 Opinion ofthe Court [the FDCPA]. C. 524 U. S." 15 u.r . 125-126 (1985) (civil damages for "willful violations" of Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 require a showing that the employer "knew or showed reckless disregard for the matter of whether its conduct was prohibited" (internal quotation marks omitted». 57 (2007) (although "'willfully'" is a "'word of many meanings" dependent on context. 191 (1998». 29 U. S. Burr. Co. 469 U. 47. v. 17 U. of America v. including violations resulting from mistaken interpretation of the FDCPA. cf. Safeco Ins. United States. (C). it is a fair inference that Congress chose to permit injured consumers to recover actual damages. Congress also did not confine liability under the FDCPA to "willful" violations.Citeas: 559U.. S. §260 (authorizing courts to reduce liquidated damages under the Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947 if an employer demonstrates that "the act or omission giving rise to such action was in good faith and that he had reasonable grounds for believing that his act or omission was not a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938"). Given the absence of similar language in §1692k(c). 551 U.g. the dissent missteps in relying on Thurston and McLaugh- fTc -Ac. 184. lll. For this reason. while reserving the more onerous penalties of the FTC Act for debt collectors whose intentional actions also reflected "knowled e fairly implied on the basis of objective circumstances" that the conduct was prohibited. §1203(c)(5)(A) (provision of Digital Millennium Copyright Act authorizing court to reduce damages where "the violator was not aware and had no reason to believe that its acts constituted a violation"). See. fees. e. Inc. S. and modest statutory damages for "intentional" conduct. C. but reckless ones as well" (quoting Bryan v. S. costs. .

192 (1998) ('''[T]he knowledge requisite to knowing violation of a statute is factual knowledge as distinguished from knowledge of the law" (quoting Boyce Motor Lines. The dissent reaches a contrary conclusion based on the interaction of the words "violation" and "not intentional" in §1692k(c). United States. the dissent's categorical rule is at . 246. at 2-3. Inc. 128. at 57. See. The dissent's theory draws no distinction between "knowing. supra. 206 U. See Bryan v. reference to a "knowing" or "intentional" "violation" or cognate terms has not necessarily implied a defense for legal errors. v." "intentional. Ellis v. applicable to the many scores of civil and criminal provisions throughout the U. 563 (1971) (statute imposing criminal liability on those who "'knowingly violat[eJ''' regulations governing transportation of corrosive chemicals does not require "proof of [the defendant's] knowledge of the law"). Post. 486 U.. supra. Code that employ such a combination of terms. 337. S. International Minerals & Chemical Corp. Richland Shoe Co. 558.." or "willful" and would abandon the care we have traditionally taken to construe such words in their particular statutory context. S. But even in the criminal context. More fundamentally. United States v. The dissent advances a novel interpretative rule under which the combination of a "mens rea requirement" and the word '"violation''' (as opposed to language specifying "the conduct giving rise to the violation") creates a mistake-of-law defense.. 402 U. dissenting». CARliSLE. e. S. 524 U. at 3. S. RINT. 184. S. United States." Post. 257 (1907) (rejecting argument that criminal penalty applicable to those who "intentionally violate" a statute "requires knowledge of the law"). J. cf. S. 559. n. 6. 255. 133 (1988). as both cases involved the statutory phrase "willful violation. at 2-3. United States.. Safeco. Such a rule would be remarkable in its breadth. Post. 342 U.10 JERMAN v. 345 (1952) (Jackson. KRAMER & ULRICH LPA Opinion of the Court lin v. MCNELLIE.g.

Cite as: 559 U. United States. S. S. 12. might be. Liparota v. in International Minerals. 397 (CAl 1955) (Magruder. at 398). which refers to 'Indeed. Concluding that a mistake-of-law defense is available under a provision that specifies particular conduct undertaken while" 'knowing'" that food stamp coupons had been" 'used in any manner in violation of [law]. and International Minerals. 563. The dissenting opinion in International Minerals quoted extensively portions of the St. S. United States. Post. read to excuse mistakes of law. supra. violations. dissenting). is also inapposite. Johns· bury. and evidently rejected. at 3.. supra. In so doing. in which we rejected a mistake-of-law defense when a statute imposed liability for a "knowing violation" or on those who "knowingly violat[e]" the law. in International Minerals. the Court rejected a mistake-of-law defense for a statute that applied to those who "knowingly violat[e]" certain regulations. the statute in Liparota bears a closer resemblance to the administrative penalty provision in §45(m)(I)(A). S. Id. C.'" 402 U. 2d 393. concurring». 563. at 4." Post. See supra. rather than willful. Even if the dissent is correct that the phrase "intentional violation. n. the FDCPA juxtaposes the term "not intentional" "violation" in § 1692k(c) with the more specific language of §45(m)(1)(A). at 559. at 3 (KENNEDY.. the Court faced.. S. _ (2010) 11 Opinion of the Court odds with precedents such as Bryan. however. at 566 (Stewart.Indeed.. 402 U.. J. Cf. the distinction the dissent would draw today between the term "'violation''' and a reference to "the conduct giving rise to the violation. says little about the meaning of a "not intentional" "violation" in 15 U." in the civil context. C. As noted.. v." The dissent posits that the word "intentional. we expressly acknowledged the contrary view adopted by one lower court opinion that knowledge of the regulations was necessary. at 192. Johnsbury Trucking Co. at 8-9. at 562 (citing St. J. 419 (1985). post. at 428. dissenting) (quoting St. 471 U. at 559.'" 471 U. I . S." standing alone in a civil liability statute.. supra. 220 F. §1692k(c). requires a higher showing of mens rea than "willful" and thus that it should be easier to avoid liability for intentional. Johnsbury concurrence that reached its result by contrasting a statute making it an offense '" "knowingly" to sell adulterated milk'" with one that makes it an offense '''knowingly [to] violat[e] a regulation. J.

inter alia. finds nothing unusual in attorney debt collectors maintaining procedures to avoid legal error. from the requirement that a debt collector maintain "procedures reasonably adapted to avoid any such error. We draw additional support for the conclusion that bona fide errors in §1692k(c) do not include mistaken interpretations of the FDCPA. the kind of internal controls a debt collector might adopt to ensure its employees do not communicate with consumers at the wrong time of day. §1692c(a)(I). We do not dispute that some entities may maintain procedures to avoid legal errors. at 18. . McNEillE. §1692f. like the Court of Appeals. 538 F. Post. See Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 16-18. The dissent." Webster's Third New International Dictionary 1807 (1976). §1692e(2). particularly in the context of a comprehensive and complex federal statute such as the FDCPA that imposes openended prohibitions on. or make false representations as to the amount of a debt. at 476. the statutory phrase is more naturally read to apply to processes that have mechanical or other such "regular orderly" steps to avoid mistakes-for instance. "actual knowledge or knowledge fairly implied on the basis of objective circumstances" that particular conduct was unlawful." §1692e. But legal reasoning is not a mechanical or strictly linear process. In that light. Such procedures are more likely to avoid error than those applicable to legal reasoning. we find force in the suggestion by the Government (as amicus curiae supporting Jerman) that the broad statutory requirement of procedures reasonably designed to avoid "any" bona fide error indicates that the relevant procedures are ones that help to avoid errors like clerical or factual mistakes. The dissent's reading gives short shrift to that textual distinction.RMAN v." The dictionary defines "procedure" as "a series of steps followed in a regular orderly definite way. CARLISLE. KRAMER & ULRlCH LPA Opinion of the COUlt RIN!. deceptive.12 JE. For this reason. 3d. or "unfair" practices. "false.

In our view. the existence of a separate provision that. at 13) ("In reading a statute we must not look merely to a particular clause.." Brief for National Association of Retail Collection Attorneys as Amicus Curiae 18-19 (NARCABrief)" Even if that is true. the context and history of the FDCPA provide further reinforcement for construing that provision not to shield violations resulting from misinterpretations of the requirements of the Act. Mukasey. by its plain terms. is more obviously tailored to the concern at issue (excusing civilliability when the Act's prohibitions are uncertain) weighs against stretching the language of the bona fide error SOne of Carlisle's amici suggests the FTC safe harbor would provide a more categorical immunity than §1692k(c). S. as receipt of such advice would prevent them from claiming good-faith immunity for violations and would potentially trigger civil penalties for knowing violations under the FTC Act.. _ (2010) 13 Opinion of the Court Even if the text of §1692k(c). e. As described above.Cite as: 559 U S. Debt collectors would rarely need to consult the FTC if §1692k(c) were read to offer immunity for good-faith reliance on advice from private counseL Indeed. debt collectors might have an affirmative incentive not to seek an advisory opinion to resolve ambiguity in the law. the Court of Appeals' reading is at odds with the role Congress evidently contemplated for the FTC in resolving ambiguities in the Act. but consider in connection with it the whole statute" (internal quotation marks omitted». we need not conclude that the FTC safe harbor would be rendered entirely superfluous to reason that the existence of that provision counsels against extending the bona fide error defense to serve an overlapping function. _ (2008) (slip op. . to maintain "procedures reasonably adapted to avoid any such error.g. See Dada v ." §1692k(e). leaves room for doubt.obviating the need. 1. 554 D." More importantly. read in isolation. Congress included in the FDCPA not only the bona fide error defense but also a separate protection from liability for "any act done or omitted in good faith in conformity with any advisory opinion of the [FTC].

. 757-758 (CA2 1975) (concludingthat the bona fide error defense in §1640(c)was unavailable despite creditor's reliance. . 2d 749.2d 860. was the first of several statutes collectively known as the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA) that now include the FDCPA. was judgmental with respect to legal requirements of the Act and not clerical in nature"). the three Federal Courts of Appeals to consider the question interpreted TILA's bona fide error defense as referring to clerical errors.[Section] 1640(c) offers no shelter from liability for the defendant. . Logan Furniture Mart. 522 F. fied at 15 U. TILA. Inc. As enacted in 1968.CrA . on a pamphlet issued by the Federal Reserve Board). 157 (cadi. in selecting language for credit contract forms. 1167(CA7 1974)(. Palmer v. 503 F. These practical concerns. the FTC safe harbor is a realistic way for debt collectors and their lawyers to seek guidance on the numerous timesensitive legal issues that arise in litigation.. do not change our understanding of the statutory text itself or the likely intent of the enacting Congress. whose error . no such cburt interpreted TILA to extend to violations resulting from a mistaken legal interpretation of that Act. in light of contemporary administrative practice. S. §130(c) of TILA provided an affirmative defense that was in pertinent part identical to the provision Congress later enacted into the FDCPA: "A creditor may not be held liable in any action brought under [TILA] if the creditor shows by a preponderance of evidence that the violation was not intentional and resulted from a bona fide error notwithstanding the maintenance of procedures reasoriably adapted to avoid any such error. W T. to which we return below.. 2d 1161. 10 We 9 Carlisle raises concerns about whether. Wilson. Haynes v. 861 (CA9 c. 146. McNEUlE. Grant Co. §1640(c». During the 9·year period between the enactment of TILA and passage of the FDCPA.? Any remaining doubt about the proper interpretation of §1692k(c) is dispelled by evidence of the meaning attached to the language Congress copied into the FDCPA's bona fide error defense from a parallel provision in an existing statute. C. RINI.14 JERMAN v." 82 Stat. KRAMER & ULRICH LPA Opinion of the Court defense to accommodate Carlisle's expansive reading. CARliSLE. 502 F. lOSee lues v. 82 Stat.

S. S. aff'd. 1973). relying first on several District Court opinions extending the defense to good-faith legal errors. 928. But even assuming Congress would have looked to district court." not subsequently followed. New Hampshire Motor Transp. the Louisiana Supreme Court concluded only that a lender's mistaken interpretation of state usury law did not "amoun[t] to an intentional violation of [TlLA's] disclosure requirements. _ (2010) 15 Opinion of the Court have often observed that when "judicial interpretations have settled the meaning of an existing statutory provision. See. Carlisle contends the meaning ofTILA's defense was unsettled at the time of the FDCPA's enactment. with Herman & MacLean v.. 364. S. 274 So. S. 500 F.g. 2d 1296. W. Jones. Orleans Motors. 384-386. But in that case. 1298 (CA5 1976) (per curiam) (referring to §1640(c)as the "so-called clerical error defense"). 2d 150 (La.. 370 (2008).. 524 U. Assn. e. at 2 (SCAliA. The Louisiana court had no occasion to address the question analogous to the one we consider today: whether TILA's bona fide error defense extended to violations resulting from mistaken interpretation of TlLA itself See n. at 161. See.. the intent to incorporate its . there is no reason to suppose that 1974)(similar). 21 (1983) (concluding that Congress had "ratified" the "well-established judicial interpretation" of a statute by leaving it intact during a comprehensive revision. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co.. as a general matter. 544 (ND Ga. Supp. see also Rowe v. 537 F. 531. 1972). v... J concurring in part and concurring in judgment). and n.Cite as: 559 U. 4. see also Starks v.g." Id. opinions in discerning the meaning of the statutory language. 552 U. rather than court of appeals. 645 (1998). Inc. 365 F. e. Welmaker v.." Bragdon v. 372 F. While the interpretations of three Federal Courts of Appeals may not have "settled" the meaning of TILA's bona fide error defense.. supra. Supp. Inc.2d 1182 (CA5 1974). 931 (ED La. Grant Co. judicial interpretations as well.that had adopted a contrary view). 375. repetition of the same language in a new statute indicates. . 624. These precedents therefore do not convince us that Congress would have ascribed a different meaning to the statutory language it chose for the FDCPA Compare post. applicable Circuit precedent had cast some doubt on those decisions by the time the FDCPA was enacted. Huddleston. .) (distinguishing Thrift Funds on this basis). Turner v. T. Carlisle also relies on the holding in Thrift Funds of Baton Rouge. 459 U. notwithstanding "[t]wo early district court decisions.. Abbott.

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