Submitted March 29, 2018
Appeals from the United States District Court for the
Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No.
1:14-cv-08271 - Matthew F. Kennelly, Judge.
Bauer, Flaum, and Manion, Circuit Judges.
MANION, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Portalatin allegedly owed $1, 330.75 in consumer debt. In
October 2013 the law firm of Blatt, Hasenmiller, Leibsker
& Moore, LLC ("Blatt") on behalf of its client
Midland Funding, LLC ("Midland") filed a
debt-collection suit against Portalatin in downtown Chicago
at the Richard J. Daley Center Courthouse, which serves the
Circuit Court of Cook County's First Municipal District.
Our then-governing precedent interpreting the Fair Debt
Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA") allowed Blatt to
file suit against Portalatin in that forum even though at the
time of filing she lived in the Fourth Municipal District,
served by the Maywood Courthouse.
July 2014, we overruled our precedent and held the FDCPA
requires debt collectors to file suits in the smallest
venue-relevant geographic unit where the debtor signed the
contract or resides at commencement of suit. Suesz v.
Med-1 Solutions, 757 F.3d 636, 638 (7th Cir. 2014). This
meant Blatt should have filed Midland's suit in the
Fourth Municipal District where Portalatin lived. Blatt
quickly complied with Suesz, but because we made our
ruling retroactive, Blatt's earlier filing was frozen in
place for purposes of FDCPA liability. As a result,
Portalatin sued Blatt and Midland for violating the FDCPA,
and she sued Midland for violating the Illinois Consumer
Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act
Portalatin settled with Midland and expressly abandoned all
claims against Blatt except her claim for FDCPA statutory
damages. Blatt moved for relief on various grounds, including
an argument that Portalatin's settlement with Midland
mooted her claim for FDCPA statutory damages against Blatt.
The district court denied these motions. The jury awarded
Portalatin $200 in statutory damages against Blatt. For this
achievement, the court awarded Portalatin $69, 393.75 in
attorney's fees and $772.95 in costs against Blatt. Blatt
appeals. We conclude the settlement with Midland mooted
Portalatin's claim for FDCPA statutory damages against
Blatt. As a result, the district court should have dismissed
her claim, and she is not entitled to attorney's fees or
costs from Blatt.
FDCPA requires a debt collector in the circumstances relevant
here to bring a legal action "only in the judicial
district or similar legal entity" where the debtor
signed the contract or resides at commencement of the action.
15 U.S.C. § 1692i(a)(2). In 1996, we interpreted
"judicial district" to mean (in Illinois) a Circuit
Court, and not its municipal subdivisions. Newsom v.
Friedman, 76 F.3d 813, 818-19 (7th Cir. 1996),
overruled by Suesz, 757 F.3d 636. In particular, we
held the Circuit Court of Cook County, and not its municipal
subdivisions, was a "judicial district."
Id. This meant a debt collector could file suit in
downtown Chicago so long as the debtor resided anywhere in
Cook County at commencement of the action.
October 2013, Midland, through Blatt, filed an action against
Iwona Portalatin in the Circuit Court of Cook County's
First Municipal District (in downtown Chicago) to recover
credit card debt. Portalatin lived in the Fourth Municipal
District at filing. There is no dispute that both Midland and
Blatt are debt collectors under the FDCPA. In April 2014, the
state court entered default judgment for Midland for $1,
July 2014, we overruled Newsom and held
"judicial district or similar legal entity" in
§ 1692i means "the smallest geographic area that is
relevant for determining venue in the court system in which
the case is filed," and we made that holding
retroactive. Suesz, 757 F.3d at 638, 649-50. Blatt
claims it "changed the venues for filing collection
actions" and "was conforming to this Court's
new interpretation of the FDCPA's venue provision the day
after the Suesz decision came down."
(Appellant's Br., No. 17-3335 at 15-17.) Portalatin does
not dispute this claim.
October 2014, Portalatin sued Blatt and Midland in federal
court. She claimed they violated the FDCPA by suing her in
the wrong forum, and she sought statutory damages,
actual damages, costs, and attorney's
fees from them under the FDCPA. She also claimed Midland
violated the ICFA, and she sought actual damages, punitive
damages, costs, and attorney's fees from Midland under
the ICFA. Portalatin and Midland settled for $5, 000 plus
release of the underlying debt of $1, 330.75. The settlement
agreement did not apportion any of the settlement funds to
any particular claims, although it did say each party bears
its own costs and attorney's fees. In August 2015, the
district court entered summary judgment for Portalatin on
Blatt's affirmative defense, concluding Blatt was not
entitled to the bona fide error defense in 15 U.S.C.
September 2015, Portalatin expressly abandoned her claim for
actual damages against Blatt; her attorney stated in open
court that they were only seeking statutory damages.
moved for dismissal, arguing the settlement with Midland
mooted Portalatin's claims against Blatt under the
single-satisfaction rule. In November 2015, the district
court denied that motion. So Portalatin and Blatt went to
trial later that month solely for statutory damages.
Portalatin asked for $1, 000, the maximum statutory damages.
The jury awarded her $200. Blatt then moved to alter or amend
the judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e) or to grant relief from
the judgment pursuant to Rule 60(b)(5) on the grounds that
the award for statutory damages must be set off or deemed
satisfied by Portalatin's settlement with Midland. The
district court denied that motion as well.
2017, we held that a debt collector who violated the FDCPA
cannot avoid liability on the ground it relied on
Newsom as controlling precedent. Oliva v. Blatt,
Hasenmiller, Leibsker & Moore, 864 F.3d 492, 494
(7th Cir. 2017), cert. denied, 138 S.Ct. 1283
(2018). We confined the bona fide error safe harbor
provided by § 1692k(c) to factual and clerical errors,
and excluded legal errors. Id. at 499. We noted that
although defendant had no safe-harbor defense,
plaintiff's damages might still be limited by the
statute: "[I]n determining damages for a violation where
the safe harbor is not available, the court 'shall
consider, among other relevant factors … the extent to
which such noncompliance was intentional.'"
Id. at 500.
October 2017, the district court awarded Portalatin $69,
393.75 in attorney's fees and $772.95 in costs against
Blatt, because she prevailed by winning $200 at trial.
pursues two appeals, consolidated before us. It challenges
the statutory-damages award, arguing Portalatin received all
possible compensation through her settlement with Midland,
thus mooting her action against Blatt. Alternatively, it
argues it is entitled to a setoff based on the settlement
agreement. Blatt also challenges the award of attorney's
fees and costs, arguing it falls with the mootness of the
statutory-damages claim. Blatt also argues the district court
failed to consider the most critical factor in calculating
the award: Portalatin's level of success. Blatt claims
the district ...