Judge Dow of the Federal Court for the Northern District of Illinois dismissed without prejudice a bona fide error defense in a putative Fair Debt Collection Act class-action for failure to plead facts akin to the “first paragraph in any newspaper story.” The Court ruled that a bona fide error defense raises a claim of mistake, and therefore must be pled with factual particularity under Rule 9.
The Court held:
Notwithstanding the “disfavored” status of motions to strike and the “liberal pleading standard” in Fed. R. Civ. P. 8, the Court concludes that the motion is well taken. Because the defense at issue deals with an alleged “mistake” — a “bona fide error” in the statutory parlance — Defendant is obligated to comply with both Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 and 9(b). The standard under Rule 9(b) requires parties to state the circumstances of a mistake with “particularity.” As the Seventh Circuit has explained, Rule 9(b) mandates that parties allege at the pleading stage “the who, what, when, where, and how of the mistake.” GE Capital Corp. v. Lease Resolution Corp., 128 F.3d 1074, 1078 (7th Cir. 1997). Defendant correctly points out that Rule 9(b) permits pleaders to allege matters such as intent and knowledge in a more general manner. However, the remaining factual details of an alleged mistake — for example, who made the mistake and when and how it occurred — must be set out with “particularity” in the pleading. Although Defendant has added some detail to its original effort to plead its affirmative defense, there still is work to do before the Court reasonably can conclude that Defendant has complied with its obligation to provide “the first paragraph of any newspaper story” (GE Capital Corp., 128 F.3d at 1078) setting forth with particularity Defendant’s version of the circumstances supporting the defense, as Rule 9(b) and the Seventh Circuit case law require.
To read the full opinion click here Konewko vs. Dickler, Kahn, Slowikowski & Zavell, Ltd.
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