Of FCRA’s many remedy provisions, parties frequently focus their attention on 15 U.S.C. § 1681n(a), which includes provisions that allow plaintiffs to recover actual damages, statutory damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees. Rarely, however, do parties or courts look at a neighboring provision, 15 U.S.C. § 1681n(c). That provision allows either party to seek attorney’s fees in response to FCRA filings made in bad faith or for purposes of harassment.
In Celestine v. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., the defendant did pay attention to that fee shifting provision. No. 17-CV-20915, 2018 U.S Dist. LEXIS 183306 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 24, 2018). It moved for $166,942, the total cost of defending against the suit, arguing that the case was brought in bad faith because the plaintiff knew that his claim lacked any basis in fact or law. The Magistrate Judge assigned to the case agreed, finding that the plaintiff’s complaint was frivolous.
Ultimately, however, the Magistrate Judge reduced the attorney fee award to $27,367.20, adjusting the attorney’s fees sought based on time spent by multiple attorneys doing similar tasks and time spent by attorneys doing clerical tasks. Even this reduced award is significant, and should remind both plaintiffs and defendants of the importance of exercising good faith in litigation—in particular, litigation involving FCRA.