Jerman v. Carlisle, McNellie, Rini, Kramer & Ulrich LPA , 559 U.S. 573 ( 2010 )


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  • (Slip Opinion)              OCTOBER TERM, 2009                                       1
    
                                           Syllabus
    
             NOTE: 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.
    
    CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR
                      THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
    
        No. 08–1200. Argued January 13, 2010—Decided April 21, 2010
    The Fair 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 of the 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 Com
      mission (FTC). See §1692l. A debt collector who acts with “actual
      knowledge or knowledge fairly implied on the basis of objective cir
      cumstances 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 er
      ror.” §1692k(c).
         Respondents, a law firm and one of its attorneys (collectively Car
      lisle), filed a lawsuit in Ohio state court on behalf of a mortgage com
      pany 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. Jer
      man’s lawyer sent a letter disputing the debt, and, when the mort
      gage company acknowledged that the debt had in fact been paid, Car
      lisle withdrew the suit. Jerman then filed this action, contending
      that by sending the notice requiring her to dispute the debt in writ
    2               JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                         KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                                 Syllabus 
    
    
        ing, Carlisle had violated §1692g(a) of the FDCPA, which governs the
        contents of notices to debtors. The District Court, acknowledging a
        division of authority on the question, held that Carlisle had violated
        §1692g(a) but ultimately granted Carlisle summary judgment under
        §1692k(c)’s “bona fide error” defense. The Sixth Circuit affirmed,
        holding that the defense in §1692k(c) is not limited to clerical or fac
        tual errors, but extends to mistakes of law.
    Held: The bona fide error defense in §1692k(c) does not apply to a viola
     tion resulting from a debt collector’s mistaken interpretation of the
     legal requirements of the FDCPA. Pp. 6–30.
        (a) A violation resulting from a debt collector’s misinterpretation of
     the legal requirements of the FDCPA cannot be “not intentional” un
     der §1692k(c). It is a common maxim that “ignorance of the law will
     not excuse any person, either civilly or criminally.” Barlow v. United
     States, 
    7 Pet. 404
    , 411. When Congress has intended to provide a
     mistake-of-law defense to civil liability, it has often done so more ex
     plicitly than here. In particular, the administrative-penalty provi
     sions of the FTC Act, which are 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 the FDCPA prohibited its action. §§45(m)(1)(A), (C). Given the
     absence of similar language in §1692k(c), it is fair to infer that Con
     gress permitted injured consumers to recover damages for “inten
     tional” conduct, including violations resulting from a mistaken inter
     pretation of the FDCPA, while reserving the more onerous
     administrative penalties for debt collectors whose intentional actions
     reflected knowledge that the conduct was prohibited. Congress also
     did not confine FDCPA liability to “willful” violations, a term more of
     ten understood in the civil context to exclude mistakes of law. See,
     e.g., Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Thurston, 
    469 U.S. 111
    , 125–126.
     Section 1692k(c)’s requirement that a debt collector maintain “proce
     dures reasonably adapted to avoid any such error” also more natu
     rally evokes procedures to avoid mistakes like clerical or factual er
     rors. Pp. 6–12.
        (b) Additional support for this reading is found in the statute’s con
     text and history. The FDCPA’s separate protection from liability for
     “any act done or omitted in good faith in conformity with any [FTC]
     advisory opinion,” §1692k(e), is more obviously tailored to the con
     cern at issue (excusing civil liability when the FDCPA’s prohibitions
     are uncertain) than the bona fide error defense. Moreover, in enact
     ing the FDCPA in 1977, Congress copied the pertinent portions of the
     bona fide error defense from the Truth in Lending Act (TILA),
     §1640(c). At that time, the three Federal Courts of Appeals to have
     considered the question interpreted the TILA provision as referring
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    ____ (2010)                    3
    
                                    Syllabus
    
      to clerical errors, and there is no reason to suppose Congress dis
      agreed with those interpretations when it incorporated TILA’s lan
      guage into the FDCPA. Although in 1980 Congress amended the de
      fense in TILA, but not in the FDCPA, to exclude errors of legal
      judgment, it is not obvious that amendment changed the scope of the
      TILA defense in a way material here, given the prior uniform judicial
      interpretation of that provision. It is also unclear why Congress
      would have intended the FDCPA’s defense to be broader than TILA’s,
      and Congress has not expressly included mistakes of law in any of
      the parallel bona fide error defenses elsewhere in the U. S. Code.
      Carlisle’s reading is not supported by Heintz v. Jenkins, 
    514 U.S. 291
    , 292, which had no occasion to address the overall scope of the
      FDCPA bona fide error defense, and which did not depend on the
      premise that a misinterpretation of the requirements of the FDCPA
      would fall under that provision. Pp. 13–22.
         (c) Today’s decision does not place unmanageable burdens on debt
      collecting lawyers. The FDCPA contains several provisions expressly
      guarding against abusive lawsuits, and gives courts discretion in cal
      culating additional damages and attorney’s fees. Lawyers have re
      course to the bona fide error defense in §1692k(c) when a violation
      results from a qualifying factual error. To the extent the FDCPA im
      poses some constraints on a lawyer’s advocacy on behalf of a client, it
      is not unique; lawyers have a duty, for instance, to comply with the
      law and standards of professional conduct. Numerous state con
      sumer protection and debt collection statutes contain bona fide error
      defenses that are either silent as to, or expressly exclude, legal er
      rors. To the extent lawyers face liability for mistaken interpretations
      of the FDCPA, Carlisle and its amici have not shown that “the result
      [will be] so absurd as to warrant” disregarding the weight of textual
      authority. Heintz, supra, at 295. Absent such a showing, arguments
      that the FDCPA strikes an undesirable balance in assigning the risks
      of legal misinterpretation are properly addressed to Congress.
      Pp. 22–30.
    
    538 F.3d 469
    , reversed and remanded.
    
      SOTOMAYOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS,
    C. J., and STEVENS, THOMAS, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined.
    BREYER, J., filed a concurring opinion. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion con
    curring in part and concurring in the judgment. KENNEDY, J., filed a
    dissenting opinion, in which ALITO, J., joined.
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                                 Opinion of the Court
    
         NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the
         preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to
         notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Wash
         ington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order
         that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
    
    
    SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
                                       _________________
    
                                       No. 08–1200
                                       _________________
    
    
     KAREN L. JERMAN, PETITIONER v. CARLISLE, MC-
    
       NELLIE, RINI, KRAMER & ULRICH LPA, ET AL. 
    
     ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF 
    
                APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
    
                                     [April 21, 2010]
    
    
      JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR delivered the opinion of the Court.
      The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA or Act)
    imposes civil liability on “debt collector[s]” for certain
    prohibited debt collection practices. Section 813(c) of the
    Act, 
    15 U.S. C
    . §1692k(c), 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.”
    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 FDCPA. We conclude it does not.
                                 I
    
                                A
    
       Congress enacted the FDCPA in 1977, 91 Stat. 874, to
    eliminate abusive debt collection practices, to ensure that
    debt collectors who abstain from such practices are not
    competitively disadvantaged, and to promote consistent
    state action to protect consumers. 
    15 U.S. C
    . §1692(e).
    The Act regulates interactions between consumer debtors
    2          JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                    KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                       Opinion of the Court 
    
    
    and “debt collector[s],” defined to include any person who
    “regularly collects . . . debts owed or due or asserted to be
    owed or due another.” §§1692a(5), (6). Among other
    things, the Act prohibits debt collectors from making false
    representations as to a debt’s character, amount, or legal
    status, §1692e(2)(A); communicating with consumers at an
    “unusual time or place” likely to be inconvenient to the
    consumer, §1692c(a)(1); or using obscene or profane lan
    guage or violence or the threat thereof, §§1692d(1), (2).
    See generally §§1692b–1692j; Heintz v. Jenkins, 
    514 U.S. 291
    , 292–293 (1995).
       The Act is enforced through administrative action and
    private lawsuits. With some exceptions not relevant here,
    violations of the FDCPA are deemed to be unfair or decep
    tive acts or practices under the Federal Trade Commission
    Act (FTC Act), 
    15 U.S. C
    . §41 et seq., and are enforced by
    the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). See §1692l. As a
    result, a debt collector who acts with “actual knowledge or
    knowledge fairly implied on the basis of objective circum
    stances that such act is [prohibited under the FDCPA]” is
    subject to civil penalties of up to $16,000 per day.
    §§45(m)(1)(A), (C); 74 Fed. Reg. 858 (2009) (amending 16
    CFR §1.98(d)).
       The FDCPA also provides that “any debt collector who
    fails to comply with any provision of th[e] [Act] with re
    spect to any person is liable to such person.” 
    15 U.S. C
    .
    §1692k(a). Successful plaintiffs are entitled to “actual
    damage[s],” plus costs and “a reasonable attorney’s fee as
    determined by the court.” Ibid. A court may also award
    “additional damages,” subject to a statutory cap of $1,000
    for individual actions, or, for class actions, “the lesser of
    $500,000 or 1 per centum of the net worth of the debt
    collector.” §1692k(a)(2). In awarding additional damages,
    the court must consider “the frequency and persistence of
    [the debt collector’s] noncompliance,” “the nature of such
    noncompliance,” and “the extent to which such noncompli
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    ____ (2010)            3
    
                          Opinion of the Court
    
    ance was intentional.” §1692k(b).
       The Act contains two exceptions to provisions imposing
    liability on debt collectors. Section 1692k(c), at issue here,
    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 rea
        sonably adapted to avoid any such error.”
    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 [Fed
    eral Trade] Commission.” §1692k(e).
                                 B
      Respondents in this case are a law firm, Carlisle,
    McNellie, Rini, Kramer & Ulrich, L. P. A., and one of its
    attorneys, Adrienne S. Foster (collectively Carlisle). In
    April 2006, Carlisle filed a complaint in Ohio state court
    on behalf of a client, Countrywide Home Loans, Inc.
    Carlisle sought foreclosure of a mortgage held by Coun
    trywide in real property owned by petitioner Karen L.
    Jerman. The complaint included a “Notice,” later served
    on Jerman, stating that the mortgage debt would be as
    sumed to be valid unless Jerman disputed it in writing.
    Jerman’s lawyer sent a letter disputing the debt, and
    Carlisle sought verification from Countrywide. When
    Countrywide acknowledged that Jerman had, in fact,
    already paid the debt in full, Carlisle withdrew the fore
    closure lawsuit.
      Jerman then filed her own lawsuit seeking class certifi
    cation and damages under the FDCPA, contending that
    Carlisle violated §1692g by stating that her debt would be
    4             JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                       KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                          Opinion of the Court 
    
    
    assumed valid unless she disputed it in writing.1 While
    acknowledging a division of authority on the question, the
    District Court held that Carlisle had violated §1692g by
    requiring Jerman to dispute the debt in writing. 
    464 F. Supp. 2d 720
    , 722–725 (ND Ohio 2006).2 The court
    ultimately granted summary judgment to Carlisle, how
    ever, concluding that §1692k(c) shielded it from liability
    because the violation was not intentional, resulted from a
    bona fide error, and occurred despite the maintenance of
    procedures reasonably adapted to avoid any such error.
    
    502 F. Supp. 2d 686
    , 695–697 (ND Ohio 2007). The Court
    of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed. 
    538 F.3d 469
    (2008). Acknowledging that the Courts of Appeals are
    divided regarding the scope of the bona fide error defense,
    and that the “majority view is that the defense is available
    for clerical and factual errors only,” the Sixth Circuit
    nonetheless held that §1692k(c) extends to “mistakes of
    law.” Id., at 473–476 (internal quotation marks omitted).
    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., at
    476. Noting that a parallel bona fide error defense in the
    ——————
      1 Section 1692g(a)(3) requires a debt collector, within five days of an
    
    “initial communication” about the collection of a debt, to send the
    consumer a written notice containing, inter alia, “a statement that
    unless the consumer, within thirty days after receipt of the notice,
    disputes the validity of the debt, or any portion thereof, the debt will be
    assumed to be valid by the debt collector.”
      2 The District Court distinguished, for instance, Graziano v. Harrison,
    
    
    950 F.2d 107
    , 112 (CA3 1991), which held a consumer’s dispute of a
    debt under §1692g must be in writing to be effective. Noting that
    district courts within the Sixth Circuit had reached different results,
    and distinguishing one unpublished Sixth Circuit decision which
    Carlisle suggested approved a form with an in-writing requirement, the
    court adopted the reasoning from Camacho v. Bridgeport Financial,
    Inc., 
    430 F.3d 1078
    , 1080–1082 (CA9 2005), and held that the plain
    language of §1692g does not impose an “in writing” requirement on
    consumers. See 
    464 F. Supp. 2d
    , at 725.
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                              Opinion of the Court
    
    Truth in Lending Act (TILA), 
    15 U.S. C
    . §1640(c), ex
    pressly excludes legal errors, the court observed that
    Congress has amended the FDCPA several times since
    1977 without excluding mistakes of law from §1692k(c).
    
    538 F. 3d
    , at 476.3
      We granted certiorari to resolve the conflict of authority
    as to the scope of the FDCPA’s bona fide error defense,4
    557 U. S. ___ (2009), and now reverse the judgment of the
    Sixth Circuit.
    
    
    
    ——————
       3 Because the question was not raised on appeal, the Court of Appeals
    
    did not address whether Carlisle’s inclusion of the “in writing” re
    quirement violated §1692g. 
    538 F. 3d
    , at 472, n. 2. We likewise ex
    press no view about whether inclusion of an “in writing” requirement in
    a notice to a consumer violates §1692g, as that question was not pre
    sented in the petition for certiorari. Compare Graziano, supra, at 112
    (reading §1692g(a)(3) to require that “any dispute, to be effective, must
    be in writing”), with Camacho, supra, at 1082 (under §1692g(a)(3),
    “disputes need not be made in writing”).
       4 Compare, e.g., 
    538 F. 3d
    , at 476 (case below), with Baker v. G. C.
    
    Servs. Corp., 
    677 F.2d 775
    , 779 (CA9 1982), and Hulshizer v. Global
    Credit Servs., Inc., 
    728 F.2d 1037
    , 1038 (CA8 1984) (per curiam).
       The Courts of Appeals have also expressed different views about
    whether 
    15 U.S. C
    . §1692k(c) applies to violations of the FDCPA
    resulting from a misinterpretation of the requirements of state law.
    Compare Johnson v. Riddle, 
    305 F.3d 1107
    , 1121 (CA10 2002) (con
    cluding that §1692k(c) applies where a debt collector’s misinterpreta
    tion of a Utah dishonored check statute resulted in a violation of
    §1692f(1), which prohibits collection of any amount not “permitted by
    law”), with Picht v. Jon R. Hawks, Ltd., 
    236 F.3d 446
    , 451–452 (CA8
    2001) (stating that §1692k(c) does not preclude FDCPA liability result
    ing from a creditor’s mistaken legal interpretation of a Minnesota
    garnishment statute). The parties disagree about whether §1692k(c)
    applies when a violation results from a debt collector’s misinterpreta
    tion of the legal requirements of state law or federal law other than the
    FDCPA. Compare Brief for Petitioner 47–49, with Brief for Respon
    dents 60–62. Because this case involves only an alleged misinterpreta
    tion of the requirements of the FDCPA, we need not, and do not, reach
    those other questions.
    6             JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                       KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                          Opinion of the Court 
    
    
                                 II 
    
                                 A
    
       The parties disagree about whether a “violation” result
    ing from a debt collector’s misinterpretation of the legal
    requirements of the FDCPA can ever be “not intentional”
    under §1692k(c). Jerman contends that when a debt
    collector intentionally commits the act giving rise to the
    violation (here, sending a notice that included the “in
    writing” language), a misunderstanding about what the
    Act requires cannot render the violation “not intentional,”
    given the general rule that mistake or ignorance of law is
    no defense. Carlisle and the dissent, in contrast, 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 uninten
    tional “act” but rather an unintentional “violation.” The
    latter term, they contend, evinces Congress’ intent to
    impose liability only when a party knows its conduct is
    unlawful. Carlisle urges us, therefore, to read §1692k(c) to
    encompass “all types of error,” including mistakes of law.
    Brief for Respondents 7.
       We decline to adopt the expansive reading of §1692k(c)
    that Carlisle proposes. We have long recognized the
    “common maxim, familiar to all minds, that ignorance of
    the law will not excuse any person, either civilly or crimi
    nally.” Barlow v. United States, 
    7 Pet. 404
    , 411 (1833)
    (opinion for the Court by Story, J.); see also Cheek v.
    United States, 
    498 U.S. 192
    , 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”).5 Our law is therefore no stranger to the
    ——————
        5 The
            dissent discounts the relevance of the principle here, 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.”
    Post, at 15 (opinion of KENNEDY, J.). That is a distinction without a
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                              Opinion of the Court
    
    possibility that an act may be “intentional” for purposes of
    civil liability, even if the actor lacked actual knowledge
    that her conduct violated the law. In Kolstad v. American
    Dental Assn., 
    527 U.S. 526
     (1999), for instance, we ad
    dressed a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 author
    izing compensatory and punitive damages for “intentional
    ——————
    difference, as our precedents have made clear for more than 175 years.
    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”; the statute
    included, however, an exception under which “said forfeiture shall not
    be incurred, if it shall be made appear . . . that such false denomination
    . . . happened by mistake or accident, and not from any intention to
    defraud the revenue.” 7 Pet., at 406; see also Act of Mar. 2, 1799, §84, 1
    Stat. 694. The Court concluded that the shipment at issue, entered as
    “refined sugars,” 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].” 7 Pet., at 409–410. As there had
    been no “accident” or “mistake” of fact, the “only mistake, if there ha[d]
    been any, [wa]s a mistake of law.” Id., at 410–411. The Court observed
    that the shipper’s conduct, even if “entirely compatible with good faith,
    [wa]s not wholly free from the suspicion of an intention to overreach . . .
    by passing off, as refined sugars, what he well knew were not admitted
    to be such.” Id., at 411. But the Court declined to resolve the case on
    the ground of the shipper’s intent, instead invoking the “common
    maxim, familiar to all minds, that ignorance of the law will not excuse
    any person, either civilly or criminally.” Ibid. Notwithstanding the
    existence of a statutory exception—which did not expressly exclude
    legal errors from the category of “mistake[s]” made without “intention
    to defraud”—the Court saw “not the least reason to suppose that the
    legislature, in this enactment, had any intention to supersede the
    common principle.” Ibid.
        The dissent implies Barlow is too old to be relevant. Post, at 16. But
    at least in the context of stare decisis, this Court has suggested prece
    dents tend to gain, not lose, respect with age. See Montejo v. Louisi
    ana, 
    556 U.S.
    ___, ___ (2009) (slip op., at 13). In any event, Justice
    Story’s opinion for a unanimous Court in Barlow is hardly a relic. As
    recently as 1994 this Court cited it for the “venerable principle” that
    ignorance of the law generally is no defense. Ratzlaf v. United States,
    
    510 U.S. 135
    , 149; see also Cheek v. United States, 
    498 U.S. 192
    , 199
    (1991) (citing Barlow for a similar proposition).
    8              JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
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                           Opinion of the Court 
    
    
    discrimination,” 
    42 U.S. C
    . §1981a, but limiting punitive
    damages to conduct undertaken “with malice or with
    reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of an
    aggrieved individual,” §1981a(b)(1). We observed that in
    some circumstances “intentional discrimination” could
    occur without giving rise to punitive damages liability,
    such as where an employer is “unaware of the relevant
    federal prohibition” or acts with the “distinct belief that its
    discrimination is lawful.” 527 U. S., at 536–537. See also
    W. Keeton, D. Dobbs, R. Keeton, & D. Owen, Prosser and
    Keeton on Law of Torts 110 (5th ed. 1984) (“[I]f one inten
    tionally interferes with the interests of others, he is often
    subject to liability notwithstanding the invasion was made
    under an erroneous belief as to some . . . legal matter that
    would have justified the conduct”); Restatement (Second)
    of Torts §164, 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).6
       Likely for this reason, when Congress has intended to
    provide a mistake-of-law defense to civil liability, it has
    often done so more explicitly than here. In particular, the
    FTC Act’s administrative-penalty provisions—which, as
    noted above, Congress expressly incorporated into the
    FDCPA—apply only when a debt collector acts with “ac
    tual knowledge or knowledge fairly implied on the basis of
    objective circumstances” that its action was “prohibited by
    ——————
       6 Different considerations apply, of course, in interpreting criminal
    
    statutes. Safeco Ins. Co. of America v. Burr, 
    551 U.S. 47
    , 57–58, n. 9
    (2007). But even in that context, we have not consistently required
    knowledge that the offending conduct is unlawful. See, e.g., Ellis v.
    United States, 
    206 U.S. 246
    , 255, 257 (1907) (observing, in the context
    of a statute imposing liability for “intentiona[l] violat[ions],” that “[i]f a
    man intentionally adopts certain conduct in certain circumstances
    known to him, and that conduct is forbidden by the law under those
    circumstances, he intentionally breaks the law in the only sense in
    which the law ever considers intent”).
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                          Opinion of the Court
    
    [the FDCPA].” 
    15 U.S. C
    . §§45(m)(1)(A), (C). Given the
    absence of similar language in §1692k(c), it is a fair infer
    ence that Congress chose to permit injured consumers to
    recover actual damages, costs, fees, and modest statutory
    damages for “intentional” conduct, including violations
    resulting from mistaken interpretation of the FDCPA,
    while reserving the more onerous penalties of the FTC Act
    for debt collectors whose intentional actions also reflected
    “knowledge fairly implied on the basis of objective circum
    stances” that the conduct was prohibited. Cf. 
    29 U.S. C
    .
    §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”); 
    17 U.S. C
    . §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”).
       Congress also did not confine liability under the FDCPA
    to “willful” violations, a term more often understood in the
    civil context to excuse mistakes of law. See, e.g., Trans
    World Airlines, Inc. v. Thurston, 
    469 U.S. 111
    , 125–126
    (1985) (civil damages for “willful violations” of Age Dis
    crimination 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” (inter
    nal quotation marks omitted)); cf. Safeco Ins. Co. of Amer
    ica v. Burr, 
    551 U.S. 47
    , 57 (2007) (although “ ‘willfully’ ”
    is a “ ‘word of many meanings’ ” dependent on context, “we
    have generally taken it [when used as a statutory condi
    tion of civil liability] to cover not only knowing violations
    of a standard, but reckless ones as well” (quoting Bryan v.
    United States, 
    524 U.S. 184
    , 191 (1998)). For this reason,
    the dissent missteps in relying on Thurston and McLaugh
    10         JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                    KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                       Opinion of the Court 
    
    
    lin v. Richland Shoe Co., 
    486 U.S. 128
    , 133 (1988), as both
    cases involved the statutory phrase “willful violation.”
    Post, at 3.
       The dissent reaches a contrary conclusion based on the
    interaction of the words “violation” and “not intentional”
    in §1692k(c). Post, at 2–3. But even in the criminal con
    text, cf. n. 6, supra, reference to a “knowing” or “inten
    tional” “violation” or cognate terms has not necessarily
    implied a defense for legal errors. See Bryan v. United
    States, 
    524 U.S. 184
    , 192 (1998) (“ ‘[T]he knowledge requi
    site to knowing violation of a statute is factual knowledge
    as distinguished from knowledge of the law’ ” (quoting
    Boyce Motor Lines, Inc. v. United States, 
    342 U.S. 337
    ,
    345 (1952) (Jackson, J., dissenting)); United States v.
    International Minerals & Chemical Corp., 
    402 U.S. 558
    ,
    559, 563 (1971) (statute imposing criminal liability on
    those who “ ‘knowingly violat[e]’ ” regulations governing
    transportation of corrosive chemicals does not require
    “proof of [the defendant’s] knowledge of the law”); Ellis v.
    United States, 
    206 U.S. 246
    , 255, 257 (1907) (rejecting
    argument that criminal penalty applicable to those who
    “intentionally violate” a statute “requires knowledge of the
    law”).
       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 mis
    take-of-law defense. Post, at 2–3. Such a rule would be
    remarkable in its breadth, applicable to the many scores of
    civil and criminal provisions throughout the U. S. Code
    that employ such a combination of terms. The dissent’s
    theory draws no distinction between “knowing,” “inten
    tional,” or “willful” and would abandon the care we have
    traditionally taken to construe such words in their par
    ticular statutory context. See, e.g., Safeco, supra, at 57.
    More fundamentally, the dissent’s categorical rule is at
                          Cite as: 
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    ____ (2010)                       11
    
                               Opinion of the Court
    
    odds with precedents such as Bryan, supra, at 192, and
    International Minerals, supra, at 559, 563, in which we
    rejected a mistake-of-law defense when a statute imposed
    liability for a “knowing violation” or on those who “know
    ingly violat[e]” the law.7
       The dissent posits that the word “intentional,” in the
    civil context, requires a higher showing of mens rea than
    “willful” and thus that it should be easier to avoid liability
    for intentional, rather than willful, violations. Post, at 4.
    Even if the dissent is correct that the phrase “intentional
    violation,” standing alone in a civil liability statute, might
    be read to excuse mistakes of law, the FDCPA juxtaposes
    the term “not intentional” “violation” in §1692k(c) with the
    more specific language of §45(m)(1)(A), which refers to
    ——————
      7 Indeed,    in International Minerals, the Court faced, and evidently
    rejected, the distinction the dissent would draw today between the term
    “ ‘violation’ ” and a reference to “the conduct giving rise to the violation.”
    Post, at 3. As noted, in International Minerals, the Court rejected a
    mistake-of-law defense for a statute that applied to those who “know
    ingly violat[e]” certain regulations. 402 U. S., at 559, 563. In so doing,
    however, we expressly acknowledged the contrary view adopted by one
    lower court opinion that knowledge of the regulations was necessary.
    Id., at 562 (citing St. Johnsbury Trucking Co. v. United States, 
    220 F.2d 393
    , 397 (CA1 1955) (Magruder, C. J., concurring)). The dissent
    ing opinion in International Minerals quoted extensively portions of the
    St. 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 regula
    tion.’ ” 402 U. S., at 566 (Stewart, J., dissenting) (quoting St. Johns
    bury, supra, at 398).
       Liparota v. United States, 
    471 U.S. 419
     (1985), is also inapposite. Cf.
    post, at 3 (KENNEDY, J., dissenting). 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],’ ” 471 U. S., at 428, n. 12, says little
    about the meaning of a “not intentional” “violation” in 
    15 U.S. C
    .
    §1692k(c). Indeed, the statute in Liparota bears a closer resemblance to
    the administrative penalty provision in §45(m)(1)(A). See supra, at
    8–9.
    12         JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                    KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                       Opinion of the Court 
    
    
    “actual knowledge or knowledge fairly implied on the basis
    of objective circumstances” that particular conduct was
    unlawful. The dissent’s reading gives short shrift to that
    textual distinction.
       We draw additional support for the conclusion that bona
    fide errors in §1692k(c) do not include mistaken interpre
    tations of the FDCPA, from the requirement that a debt
    collector maintain “procedures reasonably adapted to
    avoid any such error.” The dictionary defines “procedure”
    as “a series of steps followed in a regular orderly definite
    way.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 1807
    (1976). In that light, the statutory phrase is more natu
    rally read to apply to processes that have mechanical or
    other such “regular orderly” steps to avoid mistakes—for
    instance, 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)(1), or
    make false representations as to the amount of a debt,
    §1692e(2). The dissent, like the Court of Appeals, finds
    nothing unusual in attorney debt collectors maintaining
    procedures to avoid legal error. Post, at 18; 
    538 F. 3d
    , at
    476. We do not dispute that some entities may maintain
    procedures to avoid legal errors. But legal reasoning is
    not a mechanical or strictly linear process. For this rea
    son, we find force in the suggestion by the Government (as
    amicus curiae supporting Jerman) that the broad statu
    tory 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. Such procedures are more likely to
    avoid error than those applicable to legal reasoning, par
    ticularly in the context of a comprehensive and complex
    federal statute such as the FDCPA that imposes open
    ended prohibitions on, inter alia, “false, deceptive,”
    §1692e, or “unfair” practices, §1692f. See Brief for United
    States as Amicus Curiae 16–18.
                         Cite as: 
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    ____ (2010)                  13
    
                             Opinion of the Court
    
       Even if the text of §1692k(c), read in isolation, leaves
    room for doubt, the context and history of the FDCPA
    provide further reinforcement for construing that provi
    sion not to shield violations resulting from misinterpreta
    tions of the requirements of the Act. See Dada v. Mu
    kasey, 
    554 U.S. 1
    , __ (2008) (slip op., at 13) (“In reading a
    statute we must not look merely to a particular clause, but
    consider in connection with it the whole statute” (internal
    quotation marks omitted)). As described above, Congress
    included in the FDCPA not only the bona fide error de
    fense 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].” §1692k(e). In our view,
    the Court of Appeals’ reading is at odds with the role
    Congress evidently contemplated for the FTC in resolving
    ambiguities in the Act. Debt collectors would rarely need
    to consult the FTC if §1692k(c) were read to offer immu
    nity 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, 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.8 More importantly, the existence of a
    separate provision that, by its plain terms, is more obvi
    ously tailored to the concern at issue (excusing civil liabil
    ity when the Act’s prohibitions are uncertain) weighs
    against stretching the language of the bona fide error
    ——————
      8 One  of Carlisle’s amici suggests the FTC safe harbor would provide
    a more categorical immunity than §1692k(c), obviating the need, e.g., to
    maintain “procedures reasonably adapted to avoid any such error.”
    Brief for National Association of Retail Collection Attorneys as Amicus
    Curiae 18–19 (NARCA Brief). Even if that is true, we need not con
    clude that the FTC safe harbor would be rendered entirely superfluous
    to reason that the existence of that provision counsels against extend
    ing the bona fide error defense to serve an overlapping function.
    14             JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                        KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                           Opinion of the Court 
    
    
    defense to accommodate Carlisle’s expansive reading.9
       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. TILA, 82 Stat. 146, was the first of several stat
    utes collectively known as the Consumer Credit Protection
    Act (CCPA) that now include the FDCPA. As enacted in
    1968, §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 reasona
    bly adapted to avoid any such error.” 82 Stat. 157 (codi
    fied at 
    15 U.S. C
    . §1640(c)).
       During the 9-year period between the enactment of
    TILA and passage of the FDCPA, the three Federal Courts
    of Appeals to consider the question interpreted TILA’s
    bona fide error defense as referring to clerical errors; no
    such court interpreted TILA to extend to violations result
    ing from a mistaken legal interpretation of that Act.10 We
    ——————
      9 Carlisle   raises concerns about whether, in light of contemporary
    administrative practice, the FTC safe harbor is a realistic way for debt
    collectors and their lawyers to seek guidance on the numerous time
    sensitive legal issues that arise in litigation. These practical concerns,
    to which we return below, do not change our understanding of the
    statutory text itself or the likely intent of the enacting Congress.
        10 See Ives v. W. T. Grant Co., 
    522 F.2d 749
    , 757–758 (CA2 1975)
    
    (concluding that the bona fide error defense in §1640(c) was unavailable
    despite creditor’s reliance, in selecting language for credit contract
    forms, on a pamphlet issued by the Federal Reserve Board); Haynes v.
    Logan Furniture Mart, Inc., 
    503 F.2d 1161
    , 1167 (CA7 1974) (“[Section]
    1640(c) offers no shelter from liability for the defendant, whose error
    . . . was judgmental with respect to legal requirements of the Act and
    not clerical in nature”); Palmer v. Wilson, 
    502 F.2d 860
    , 861 (CA9
                         Cite as: 
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    ____ (2010)                    15
    
                              Opinion of the Court
    
    have often observed that when “judicial interpretations
    have settled the meaning of an existing statutory provi
    sion, repetition of the same language in a new statute
    indicates, as a general matter, the intent to incorporate its
    . . . judicial interpretations as well.” Bragdon v. Abbott,
    
    524 U.S. 624
    , 645 (1998); see also Rowe v. New Hamp
    shire Motor Transp. Assn., 
    552 U.S. 364
    , 370 (2008).
    While the interpretations of three Federal Courts of Ap
    peals may not have “settled” the meaning of TILA’s bona
    fide error defense, there is no reason to suppose that
    ——————
    1974) (similar).
       Carlisle contends the meaning of TILA’s defense was unsettled at the
    time of the FDCPA’s enactment, relying first on several District Court
    opinions extending the defense to good-faith legal errors. See, e.g.,
    Welmaker v. W. T. Grant Co., 
    365 F. Supp. 531
    , 544 (ND Ga. 1972).
    But even assuming Congress would have looked to district court, rather
    than court of appeals, opinions in discerning the meaning of the statu
    tory language, applicable Circuit precedent had cast some doubt on
    those decisions by the time the FDCPA was enacted. See, e.g., Turner
    v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., 
    537 F.2d 1296
    , 1298 (CA5 1976) (per
    curiam) (referring to §1640(c) as the “so-called clerical error defense”).
    Carlisle also relies on the holding in Thrift Funds of Baton Rouge, Inc.
    v. Jones, 
    274 So. 2d 150
     (La. 1973). But in that case, 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
    [TILA’s] disclosure requirements.” Id., at 161. The Louisiana court
    had no occasion to address the question analogous to the one we con
    sider today: whether TILA’s bona fide error defense extended to viola
    tions resulting from mistaken interpretation of TILA itself. See n. 4,
    supra; see also Starks v. Orleans Motors, Inc., 
    372 F. Supp. 928
    , 931
    (ED La.) (distinguishing Thrift Funds on this basis), aff’d, 
    500 F.2d 1182
     (CA5 1974). 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, at 2 (SCALIA, J.,
    concurring in part and concurring in judgment), with Herman &
    MacLean v. Huddleston, 
    459 U.S. 375
    , 384–386, and n. 21 (1983)
    (concluding that Congress had “ratified” the “well-established judicial
    interpretation” of a statute by leaving it intact during a comprehensive
    revision, notwithstanding “[t]wo early district court decisions,” not
    subsequently followed, that had adopted a contrary view).
    16            JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                       KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                          Opinion of the Court 
    
    
    Congress disagreed with those interpretations when it
    enacted the FDCPA. Congress copied verbatim the perti
    nent portions of TILA’s bona fide error defense into the
    FDCPA. Compare 
    15 U.S. C
    . §1640(c) (1976 ed.) with
    §813(c), 91 Stat. 881. This close textual correspondence
    supports an inference that Congress understood the statu
    tory formula it chose for the FDCPA consistent with Fed
    eral Court of Appeals interpretations of TILA.11
       Carlisle and the dissent urge reliance, consistent with
    the approach taken by the Court of Appeals, on a 1980
    amendment to TILA that added the following sentence to
    that statute’s bona fide error defense: “Examples of a bona
    fide error include, but are not limited to, clerical, calcula
    tion, computer malfunction and program[m]ing, and print
    ing errors, except that an error of legal judgment with
    respect to a person’s obligations under [TILA] is not a
    bona fide error.” See Truth in Lending Simplification and
    Reform Act, §615, 94 Stat. 181. The absence of a corre
    
    ——————
       11 That only three Courts of Appeals had occasion to address the ques
    
    tion by the time the FDCPA was enacted does not render such an
    inference unreasonable. Contra, post, at 1–2 (opinion of SCALIA, J.).
    Whether or not we would take that view when such an inference serves
    as a court’s sole interpretative guide, here our conclusion also relies on
    common principles of statutory interpretation, as well as the statute’s
    text and structure. Moreover, the inference is supported by the fact
    that TILA and the FDCPA were enacted as complementary titles of the
    CCPA, a comprehensive consumer-protection statute.              While not
    necessary to our conclusion, evidence from the legislative record dem
    onstrates that some Members of Congress understood the relationship
    between the FDCPA and existing provisions of the CCPA. See, e.g., 123
    Cong. Rec. 10242 (1977) (remarks of Rep. Annunzio) (civil penalty
    provisions in House version of bill were “consistent with those in the
    [CCPA]”); Fair Debt Collection Practices Act: Hearings on S. 656 et al.
    before the Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs of the Senate Committee
    on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, 95th Cong., 1st Sess., 51, 707
    (1977) (statement of Rep. Wylie) (describing “[c]ivil liability provisions”
    in the House bill as “the standard provisions that attach to all the titles
    of the [CCPA]”).
                          Cite as: 
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    ____ (2010)                    17
    
                              Opinion of the Court
    
    sponding amendment to the FDCPA, Carlisle reasons, is
    evidence of Congress’ intent to give a more expansive
    scope to the FDCPA defense. For several reasons, we
    decline to give the 1980 TILA amendment such interpreta
    tive weight. For one, it is not obvious that the amendment
    changed the scope of TILA’s bona fide error defense in a
    way material to our analysis, given the uniform interpre
    tations of three Courts of Appeals holding that the TILA
    defense does not extend to mistakes of law.12 (Contrary to
    
    ——————
      12 Although  again not necessary to our conclusion, evidence from the
    legislative record suggests some Members of Congress understood the
    amendment to “clarif[y]” the meaning of TILA’s bona fide error defense
    “to make clear that it applies to mechanical and computer errors,
    provided they are not the result of erroneous legal judgments as to the
    act’s requirements.” S. Rep. No. 96–73, pp. 7–8 (1979); see also Lock
    hart, 
    153 A. L
    . R. Fed. 211–212, §2[a] (1999) (amendment “was in
    tended merely to clarify what was then the prevailing view, that the
    bona fide error defense applies to clerical errors, not including errors of
    legal judgment”) (relying on S. Rep. No. 96–368, p. 32 (1979)).
       The concurring and dissenting opinions perceive an inconsistency
    between these references to clerical errors, as well as similar references
    in the pre-FDCPA precedents interpreting TILA, n. 10, supra, and
    reading the FDCPA’s bona fide error defense to include factual mis
    takes. Post, at 2–4, and n. 2 (opinion of SCALIA, J.); post, at 20
    (KENNEDY, J., dissenting). The quoted legislative history sources,
    however, while stating expressly that the TILA defense excludes legal
    errors, do not discuss a distinction between clerical and factual errors.
    Similarly, the cited cases interpreting TILA do not address a distinction
    between factual and clerical errors; rather, the courts were presented
    with claims that the defense applied to mistakes of law or other nonfac
    tual errors that the courts found not to be bona fide. See Ives, 
    522 F. 2d
    , at 756–757; Haynes, 
    503 F. 2d
    , at 1166–1167; Palmer, 
    502 F. 2d
    ,
    at 861. While factual mistakes might, in some circumstances, consti
    tute bona fide errors and give rise to violations that are “not inten
    tional” within the meaning of §1692k(c), we need not and do not decide
    today the precise distinction between clerical and factual errors, or
    what kinds of factual mistakes qualify under the FDCPA’s bona fide
    error defense. Cf. generally R. Hobbs, National Consumer Law Center,
    Fair Debt Collection §7.2 (6th ed. 2008 and Supp. 2009) (surveying case
    law on scope of §1692k(c)).
    18            JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                       KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                          Opinion of the Court 
    
    
    the dissent’s suggestion, post, at 21, this reading does not
    render the 1980 amendment surplusage. Congress may
    simply have intended to codify existing judicial interpreta
    tions to remove any potential for doubt in jurisdictions
    where courts had not yet addressed the issue.) It is also
    unclear why Congress would have intended the FDCPA’s
    defense to be broader than the one in TILA, which pre
    sents at least as significant a set of concerns about impos
    ing liability for uncertain legal obligations. See, e.g., Ford
    Motor Credit Co. v. Milhollin, 
    444 U.S. 555
    , 566 (1980)
    (TILA is “ ‘highly technical’ ”). Our reluctance to give
    controlling weight to the TILA amendment in construing
    the FDCPA is reinforced by the fact that Congress has not
    expressly included mistakes of law in any of the numerous
    bona fide error defenses, worded in pertinent part identi
    cally to §1692k(c), elsewhere in the U. S. Code. Compare,
    e.g., 
    12 U.S. C
    . §4010(c)(2) (bona fide error defense in
    Expedited Funds Availability Act expressly excluding “an
    error of legal judgment with respect to [obligations under
    that Act]”) with 
    15 U.S. C
    . §§1693m(c), 1693h(c) (bona
    fide error provisions in the Electronic Fund Transfer Act
    that are silent as to errors of legal judgment).13 Although
    
    ——————
      13 The Government observes that several federal agencies have con
    
    strued similar bona fide error defenses in statutes they administer to
    exclude errors of law. See Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 28–
    30. The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, for instance,
    has promulgated regulations specifying that the bona fide error defense
    in the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974, 
    12 U.S. C
    .
    §2607(d)(3), does not apply to “[a]n error of legal judgment,” 24 CFR
    §3500.15(b)(1)(ii) (2009). While administrative interpretations of other
    statutes do not control our reading of the FDCPA, we find it telling that
    no agency has adopted the view of the Court of Appeals. Of course,
    nothing in our opinion today addresses the validity of such regulations
    or the authority of agencies interpreting bona fide error provisions in
    other statutes to adopt a different reading. See National Cable &
    Telecommunications Assn. v. Brand X Internet Services, 
    545 U.S. 967
    ,
    982–983 (2005).
                     Cite as: 
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    ____ (2010)          19
    
                         Opinion of the Court
    
    Carlisle points out that Congress has amended the
    FDCPA on several occasions without expressly restricting
    the scope of §1692k(c), that does not suggest Congress
    viewed the statute as having the expansive reading Car
    lisle advances, particularly as not until recently had a
    Court of Appeals interpreted the bona fide error defense to
    include a violation of the FDCPA resulting from a mistake
    of law. See Johnson v. Riddle, 
    305 F.3d 1107
    , 1121–1124,
    and nn. 14–15 (CA10 2002).
       Carlisle’s reliance on Heintz, 
    514 U.S. 291
    , is also un
    availing. We held in that case that the FDCPA’s defini
    tion of “debt collector” includes lawyers who regularly,
    through litigation, attempt to collect consumer debts. Id.,
    at 292. We addressed a concern raised by the petitioner
    (as here, a lawyer collecting a debt on behalf of a client)
    that our reading would automatically render liable “any
    litigating lawyer who brought, and then lost, a claim
    against a debtor,” on the ground that §1692e(5) prohibits a
    debt collector from making any “ ‘threat to take action that
    cannot legally be taken.’ ” Id., at 295. We expressed skep
    ticism that §1692e(5) itself demanded such a result. But
    even assuming the correctness of petitioner’s reading of
    §1692e(5), we suggested that the availability of the bona
    fide error defense meant that the prospect of liability for
    litigating lawyers was not “so absurd” as to warrant im
    plying a categorical exemption unsupported by the statu
    tory text. Ibid. We had no occasion in Heintz to address
    the overall scope of the bona fide error defense. Our dis
    cussion of §1692e(5) did not depend on the premise that a
    misinterpretation of the requirements of the Act would fall
    under the bona fide error defense. In the mine-run law
    suit, a lawyer is at least as likely to be unsuccessful be
    cause of factual deficiencies as opposed to legal error.
    Lawyers can, of course, invoke §1692k(c) for violations
    resulting from qualifying factual errors.
       Carlisle’s remaining arguments do not change our view
    20          JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                     KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                        Opinion of the Court 
    
    
    of §1692k(c). Carlisle perceives an inconsistency between
    our reading of the term “intentional” in that provision and
    the instruction in §1692k(b) that a court look to whether
    “noncompliance was intentional” in assessing statutory
    additional damages. But assuming §1692k(b) encom
    passes errors of law, we see no conflict, only congruence, in
    reading the Act to permit a court to adjust statutory dam
    ages for a good-faith misinterpretation of law, even where
    a debt collector is not entitled to the categorical protection
    of the bona fide error defense. Carlisle is also concerned
    that under our reading, §1692k(c) would be unavailable to
    a debt collector who violates a provision of the FDCPA
    applying to acts taken with particular intent because in
    such instances the relevant act would not be uninten
    tional. See, e.g., §1692d(5) (prohibiting a debt collector
    from “[c]ausing a telephone to ring . . . continuously with
    intent to annoy, abuse, or harass”). Including mistakes as
    to the scope of such a prohibition, Carlisle urges, would
    ensure that §1692k(c) applied throughout the FDCPA. We
    see no reason, however, why the bona fide error defense
    must cover every provision of the Act.
       The parties and amici make arguments concerning the
    legislative history that we address for the sake of com
    pleteness. Carlisle points to a sentence in a Senate Com
    mittee Report stating that “[a] debt collector has no liabil
    ity . . . if he violates the act in any manner, including with
    regard to the act’s coverage, when such violation is unin
    tentional and occurred despite procedures designed to
    avoid such violations.” S. Rep. No. 95–382, p. 5 (1977); see
    also post, at 4–6 (opinion of SCALIA, J.) (discussing report).
    But by its own terms, the quoted sentence does not unam
    biguously support Carlisle’s reading. Even if a bona fide
    mistake “with regard to the act’s coverage” could be read
    in isolation to contemplate a mistake of law, that reading
    does not exclude mistakes of fact. A mistake “with regard
    to the act’s coverage” may derive wholly from a debt collec
                          Cite as: 
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    ____ (2010)                     21
    
                               Opinion of the Court
    
    tor’s factually mistaken belief, for example, that a particu
    lar debt arose out of a nonconsumer transaction and was
    therefore not “covered” by the Act. There is no reason to
    read this passing statement in the Senate Report as con
    templating an exemption for legal error that is the product
    of an attorney’s erroneous interpretation of the FDCPA—
    particularly when attorneys were excluded from the Act’s
    definition of “debt collector” until 1986. 100 Stat. 768.
    Moreover, the reference to “any manner” of violation is
    expressly qualified by the requirements that the violation
    be “unintentional” and occur despite maintenance of ap
    propriate procedures. In any event, we need not choose
    between these possible readings of the Senate Report, as
    the legislative record taken as a whole does not lend
    strong support to Carlisle’s view.14 We therefore decline to
    ——————
      14 For instance, an amendment was proposed and rejected during the
    Senate Banking Committee’s consideration of the FDCPA that would
    have required proof that a debt collector’s violation was “knowin[g].”
    Senator Riegle, one of the Act’s primary sponsors, opposed the change,
    explaining that the bill reflected the view that “certain things ought not
    to happen, period. . . . [W]hether somebody does it knowingly, willfully,
    you know, with a good heart, bad heart, is really quite incidental.” See
    Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, Markup
    Session: S. 1130—Debt Collection Legislation 60 (July 26, 1977) (here
    inafter Markup); see also ibid. (“We have left a way for these disputes
    to be adj[u]dicated if they are brought, where somebody can say, I
    didn’t know that, or my computer malfunctioned, something happened,
    I didn’t intend for the effect to be as it was”). To similar effect, a House
    Report on an earlier version of the bill explained the need for new
    legislation governing use of the mails for debt collection on grounds
    that existing statutes “frequently require[d]” a showing of “specific
    intent[,] which is difficult to prove.” H. R. Rep. No. 95–131, p. 3 (1977).
    Elsewhere, to be sure, the legislative record contains statements more
    supportive of Carlisle’s interpretation. In particular, a concern was
    raised in the July 26 markup session that the TILA bona fide error
    defense had been interpreted “as only protecting against a mathemati
    cal error,” and that the FDCPA defense should “go beyond” TILA to
    “allow the courts discretion to dismiss a violation where it was a
    technical error.” Markup 20. In response, a staffer explained that the
    22            JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                       KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                          Opinion of the Court 
    
    
    give controlling weight to this isolated passage.
                                  B
       Carlisle, its amici, and the dissent raise the additional
    concern that our reading will have unworkable practical
    consequences for debt collecting lawyers. See, e.g., Brief
    for Respondents 40–41, 45–48; NARCA Brief 4–16; post, at
    5–14. Carlisle claims the FDCPA’s private enforcement
    provisions have fostered a “cottage industry” of profes
    sional plaintiffs who sue debt collectors for trivial viola
    tions of the Act. See Brief for Respondents 40–41. If debt
    collecting attorneys can be held personally liable for their
    reasonable misinterpretations of the requirements of the
    Act, Carlisle and its amici foresee a flood of lawsuits
    against creditors’ lawyers by plaintiffs (and their attor
    neys) seeking damages and attorney’s fees. The threat of
    such liability, in the dissent’s view, creates an irreconcil
    able conflict between an attorney’s personal financial
    interest and her ethical obligation of zealous advocacy on
    behalf of a client: An attorney uncertain about what the
    FDCPA requires must choose between, on the one hand,
    exposing herself to liability and, on the other, resolving
    the legal ambiguity against her client’s interest or advis
    ing the client to settle—even where there is substantial
    legal authority for a position favoring the client. Post, at
    10–14.15
    ——————
    FDCPA defense would “apply to any violation of the act which was
    unintentional,” and answered affirmatively when the Chairman asked:
    “So it’s not simply a mathematical error but any bona fide error without
    intent?” Id., at 21. Whatever the precise balance of these statements
    may be, we can conclude that this equivocal evidence from legislative
    history does not displace the clear textual and contextual authority
    discussed above.
      15 The dissent also cites several other consumer-protection statutes,
    
    such as TILA and the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 
    15 U.S. C
    . §1681 et
    seq., which in its view create “incentives to file lawsuits even where no
    actual harm has occurred” and are illustrative of what the dissent
                         Cite as: 
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    ____ (2010)                  23
    
                             Opinion of the Court
    
       We do not believe our holding today portends such grave
    consequences. For one, the FDCPA contains several pro
    visions that expressly guard against abusive lawsuits,
    thereby mitigating the financial risk to creditors’ attor
    neys. When an alleged violation is trivial, the “actual
    damage[s]” sustained, §1692k(a)(1), will likely be de
    minimis or even zero. The Act sets a cap on “additional”
    damages, §1692k(a)(2), and vests courts with discretion to
    adjust such damages where a violation is based on a good
    faith error, §1692k(b). One amicus suggests that attor
    ney’s fees may shape financial incentives even where
    actual and statutory damages are modest. NARCA Brief
    11. The statute does contemplate an award of costs and “a
    reasonable attorney’s fee as determined by the court” in
    the case of “any successful action to enforce the foregoing
    liability.” §1692k(a)(3). But courts have discretion in
    calculating reasonable attorney’s fees under this statute,16
    ——————
    perceives to be a “troubling dynamic of allowing certain actors in the
    system to spin even good-faith, technical violations of federal law into
    lucrative litigation.” Post, at 5–6. The dissent’s concern is primarily
    with Congress’ policy choice, embodied in statutory text, to authorize
    private rights of action and recovery of attorney’s fees, costs, and in
    some cases, both actual and statutory damages. As noted, in one of the
    statutes the dissent cites, Congress explicitly barred reliance on a
    mistake-of-law defense notwithstanding the “highly technical” nature of
    the scheme. See 
    15 U.S. C
    . §1640(c) (TILA); Ford Motor Credit Co. v.
    Milhollin, 
    444 U.S. 555
    , 566 (1980). Similarly, the plain text of the
    FDCPA authorizes a private plaintiff to recover not only “actual dam
    age[s]” for harm suffered but also “such additional damages as the
    court may allow,” §1692k(a).
       16 The Courts of Appeals generally review a District Court’s calcula
    
    tion of an attorney fee award under §1692k for abuse of discretion. See,
    e.g., Carroll v. Wolpoff & Abramson, 
    53 F.3d 626
    , 628–629 (CA4 1995);
    Emanuel v. American Credit Exchange, 
    870 F.2d 805
    , 809 (CA2 1989).
    Many District Courts apply a lodestar method, permitting downward
    adjustments in appropriate circumstances. See, e.g., Schlacher v. Law
    Offices of Phillip J. Rotche & Assoc., P. C., 
    574 F.3d 852
     (CA7 2009)
    (relying on Hensley v. Eckerhart, 
    461 U.S. 424
     (1983)); Ferland v.
    Conrad Credit Corp., 
    244 F.3d 1145
    , 1148–1151, and n. 4 (CA9 2001)
    24            JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                       KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                          Opinion of the Court 
    
    
    and §1692k(a)(3) authorizes courts to award attorney’s
    fees to the defendant if a plaintiff’s suit “was brought in
    bad faith and for the purpose of harassment.”
       Lawyers also have recourse to the affirmative defense in
    §1692k(c). Not every uncertainty presented in litigation
    stems from interpretation of the requirements of the Act
    itself; lawyers may invoke the bona fide error defense, for
    instance, where a violation results from a qualifying fac
    tual error. Jerman and the Government suggest that
    lawyers can entirely avoid the risk of misinterpreting the
    Act by obtaining an advisory opinion from the FTC under
    §1692k(e). Carlisle fairly observes that the FTC has not
    frequently issued such opinions, and that the average
    processing time may present practical difficulties. Indeed,
    the Government informed us at oral argument that the
    FTC has issued only four opinions in the past decade (in
    response to seven requests), and the FTC’s response time
    ——————
    (per curiam); see generally Hobbs, Fair Debt Collection §6.8.6. In
    Schlacher, for instance, the court affirmed a downward adjustment for
    the “unnecessary use of multiple attorneys . . . in a straightforward,
    short-lived [FDCPA] case.” 
    574 F. 3d
    , at 854–855. In Carroll, the court
    found no abuse of discretion in a District Court’s award of a $500
    attorney’s fee, rather than the lodestar amount, where the lawsuit had
    recovered only $50 in damages for “at most a technical violation” of the
    FDCPA. 
    53 F. 3d
    , at 629–631.
      Lower courts have taken different views about when, and whether,
    §1692k requires an award of attorney’s fees. Compare Tolentino v.
    Friedman, 
    46 F.3d 645
     (CA7 1995) (award of fees to a successful
    plaintiff “mandatory”), and Emanuel, supra, at 808–809 (same, even
    where the plaintiff suffered no actual damages), with Graziano, 
    950 F. 2d
    , at 114, and n. 13 (attorney’s fees may be denied for plaintiff’s “bad
    faith conduct”), and Johnson v. Eaton, 
    80 F.3d 148
    , 150–152 (CA5
    1996) (“attorney’s fees . . . are only available [under §1692k] where the
    plaintiff has succeeded in establishing that the defendant is liable for
    actual and/or additional damages”; this reading “will deter suits
    brought only as a means of generating attorney’s fees”). We need not
    resolve these issues today to express doubt that our reading
    of §1692k(c) will impose unmanageable burdens on debt collecting
    lawyers.
                      Cite as: 
    559 U.S.
    ____ (2010)           25
    
                          Opinion of the Court
    
    has typically been three or four months. Tr. of Oral Arg.
    27–28, 30. Without disregarding the possibility that the
    FTC advisory opinion process might be useful in some
    cases, evidence of present administrative practice makes
    us reluctant to place significant weight on §1692k(e) as a
    practical remedy for the concerns Carlisle has identified.
       We are unpersuaded by what seems an implicit premise
    of Carlisle’s arguments: that the bona fide error defense is
    a debt collector’s sole recourse to avoid potential liability.
    We addressed a similar argument in Heintz, in which the
    petitioner urged that certain of the Act’s substantive
    provisions would generate “ ‘anomalies’ ” if the term “debt
    collector” was read to include litigating lawyers. 514
    U. S., at 295. Among other things, the petitioner in Heintz
    contended that §1692c(c)’s bar on further communication
    with a consumer who notifies a debt collector that she is
    refusing to pay the debt would prohibit a lawyer from
    filing a lawsuit to collect the debt. Id., at 296–297. We
    agreed it would be “odd” if the Act interfered in this way
    with “an ordinary debt-collecting lawsuit” but suggested
    §1692c(c) did not demand such a reading in light of several
    exceptions in the text of that provision itself. Ibid. As in
    Heintz, we need not authoritatively interpret the Act’s
    conduct-regulating provisions to observe that those provi
    sions should not be assumed to compel absurd results
    when applied to debt collecting attorneys.
       To the extent the FDCPA imposes some constraints on a
    lawyer’s advocacy on behalf of a client, it is hardly unique
    in our law. “[A]n attorney’s ethical duty to advance the
    interests of his client is limited by an equally solemn duty
    to comply with the law and standards of professional
    conduct.” Nix v. Whiteside, 
    475 U.S. 157
    , 168 (1986).
    Lawyers face sanctions, among other things, for suits
    presented “for any improper purpose, such as to harass,
    cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase the cost of
    litigation.” Fed. Rules Civ. Proc. 11(b), (c). Model rules of
    26            JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                       KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                          Opinion of the Court 
    
    
    professional conduct adopted by many States impose outer
    bounds on an attorney’s pursuit of a client’s interests.
    See, e.g., ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct 3.1
    (2009) (requiring nonfrivolous basis in law and fact for
    claims asserted); 4.1 (truthfulness to third parties). In
    some circumstances, lawyers may face personal liability
    for conduct undertaken during representation of a client.
    See, e.g., Central Bank of Denver, N. A. v. First Interstate
    Bank of Denver, N. A., 
    511 U.S. 164
    , 191 (1994) (“Any
    person or entity, including a lawyer, . . . who employs a
    manipulative device or makes a material misstatement (or
    omission) on which a purchaser or seller of securities
    relies may be liable as a primary violator under [Securities
    and Exchange Commission Rule] 10b–5”).
       Moreover, a lawyer’s interest in avoiding FDCPA liabil
    ity may not always be adverse to her client. Some courts
    have held clients vicariously liable for their lawyers’ viola
    tions of the FDCPA. See, e.g., Fox v. Citicorp Credit
    Servs., Inc., 
    15 F.3d 1507
    , 1516 (CA9 1994); see also First
    Interstate Bank of Fort Collins, N. A. v. Soucie, 
    924 P.2d 1200
    , 1202 (Colo. App. 1996).
       The suggestion that our reading of §1692k(c) will create
    unworkable consequences is also undermined by the exis
    tence of numerous state consumer protection and debt
    collection statutes that contain bona fide error defenses
    that are either silent as to, or expressly exclude, legal
    errors.17 Several States have enacted debt collection
    statutes that contain neither an exemption for attorney
    debt collectors nor any bona fide error defense at all. See,
    e.g., Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 93, §49 (West 2008); Md. Com.
    Law Code Ann. §14–203 (Lexis 2005); Ore. Rev. Stat.
    
    ——————
      17 SeeBrief for Ohio Creditor’s Attorneys Association et al. as Amici
    Curiae 4–6, and nn. 7–8 (identifying “134 state consumer protection
    and debt collection statutes,” 42 of which expressly exclude legal errors
    from their defenses for bona fide errors).
                         Cite as: 
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    ____ (2010)                   27
    
                              Opinion of the Court
    
    §646.641 (2007); Wis. Stat. §427.105 (2007–2008). More
    generally, a group of 21 States as amici supporting Jer
    man inform us they are aware of “no [judicial] decisions
    interpreting a parallel state bona fide error provision [in a
    civil regulatory statute] to immunize a defendant’s mis
    take of law,” except in a minority of statutes that ex
    pressly provide to the contrary.18 See Brief for State of
    New York et al. as Amici Curiae 11, and n. 6. Neither
    Carlisle and its amici nor the dissent demonstrate that
    lawyers have suffered drastic consequences under these
    state regimes.
      In the dissent’s view, these policy concerns are evidence
    that “Congress could not have intended” the reading we
    adopt today. Post, at 5. But the dissent’s reading raises
    concerns of its own. The dissent focuses on the facts of
    this case, in which an attorney debt collector, in the dis
    sent’s view, “acted reasonably at every step” and commit
    ted a “technical violation” resulting in no “actual harm” to
    the debtor. Post, at 12, 6, 8. But the dissent’s legal theory
    does not limit the defense to attorney debt collectors or
    “technical” violations.19 Under that approach, it appears,
    nonlawyer debt collectors could obtain blanket immunity
    for mistaken interpretations of the FDCPA simply by
    seeking the advice of legal counsel. Moreover, many debt
    collectors are compensated with a percentage of money
    recovered, and so will have a financial incentive to press
    ——————
      18 See, e.g., Kan. Stat. Ann. §16a–5–201(7) (2007) (provision of Kansas
    Consumer Credit Code providing a defense for a “bona fide error of law
    or fact”); Ind. Code §24–9–5–5 (West 2004) (defense for creditor’s “bona
    fide error of law or fact” in Indiana Home Loan Practices Act).
       19 The dissent also downplays the predicate fact that respondents in
    
    this case brought a foreclosure lawsuit against Jerman for a debt she
    had already repaid. Neither the lower courts nor this Court have been
    asked to consider, and thus we express no view about, whether Carlisle
    could be subject to liability under the FDCPA for that uncontested
    error—regardless of how reasonably Carlisle may have acted after the
    mistake was pointed out by Jerman’s (privately retained) lawyer.
    28            JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                       KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                          Opinion of the Court 
    
    
    the boundaries of the Act’s prohibitions on collection tech
    niques. It is far from obvious why immunizing debt collec
    tors who adopt aggressive but mistaken interpretations of
    the law would be consistent with the statute’s broadly
    worded prohibitions on debt collector misconduct. Jerman
    and her amici express further concern that the dissent’s
    reading would give a competitive advantage to debt collec
    tors who press the boundaries of lawful conduct. They
    foresee a “race to the bottom” driving ethical collectors out
    of business. Brief for Petitioner 32; Brief for Public Citi
    zen et al. as Amici Curiae 16–18. It is difficult to square
    such a result with Congress’ express purpose “to eliminate
    abusive debt collection practices by debt collectors, [and]
    to insure that those debt collectors who refrain from using
    abusive debt collection practices are not competitively
    disadvantaged,” §1692(e).
      The dissent’s reading also invites litigation about a debt
    collector’s subjective intent to violate the FDCPA and the
    adequacy of procedures maintained to avoid legal error.
    Cf. Barlow, 7 Pet., at 411 (maxim that ignorance of the
    law will not excuse civil or criminal liability “results from
    the extreme difficulty of ascertaining what is, bona fide,
    the interpretation of the party”).         Courts that read
    §1692k(c) to permit a mistake-of-law defense have adopted
    varying formulations of what legal procedures are “rea
    sonably adapted to avoid any [legal] error.”20 Among other
    uncertainties, the dissent does not explain whether it
    
    ——————
      20 Compare Hartman v. Great Senaca Financial Corp., 
    569 F.3d 606
    ,
    
    614–615 (CA6 2009) (suggesting that reasonable procedures might
    include “perform[ing] ongoing FDCPA training, procur[ing] the most
    recent case law, or hav[ing] an individual responsible for continuing
    compliance with the FDCPA”), with Johnson v. Riddle, 
    443 F.3d 723
    ,
    730–731 (CA10 2006) (suggesting that researching case law and filing a
    test case might be sufficient, but remanding for a jury determination of
    whether the “limited [legal] analysis” undertaken was sufficient and
    whether the test case was in fact a “sham”).
                         Cite as: 
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    ____ (2010)                   29
    
                              Opinion of the Court
    
    would read §1692k(c) to impose a heightened standard for
    the procedures attorney debt collectors must maintain, as
    compared to nonattorney debt collectors. The increased
    cost to prospective plaintiffs in time, fees, and uncertainty
    of outcome may chill private suits under the statutory
    right of action, undermining the FDCPA’s calibrated
    scheme of statutory incentives to encourage self
    enforcement. Cf. FTC, Collecting Consumer Debts: The
    Challenge of Change 67 (2009) (“Because the Commission
    receives more than 70,000 third-party debt collection
    complaints per year, it is not feasible for federal govern
    ment law enforcement to be the exclusive or primary
    means of deterring all possible law violations”). The state
    amici predict that, on the dissent’s reading, consumers
    will have little incentive to bring enforcement actions
    “where the law [i]s at all unsettled, because in such cir
    cumstances a debt collector could easily claim bona fide
    error of law”; in the States’ view, the resulting “enforce
    ment gap” would be “extensive” at both the federal and
    State levels. See Brief for State of New York et al. as
    Amici Curiae 7–10. In short, the policy concerns identified
    by the dissent tell only half the story.21
      In sum, we do not foresee that our decision today will
    place unmanageable burdens on lawyers practicing in the
    debt collection industry. To the extent debt collecting
    lawyers face liability for mistaken interpretations of the
    requirements of the FDCPA, Carlisle, its amici, and the
    dissent have not shown that “the result [will be] so absurd
    as to warrant” disregarding the weight of textual author
    ——————
      21 The dissent adds in passing that today’s decision “creates serious
    
    concerns . . . for First Amendment rights.” Post, at 13 (citing Legal
    Services Corporation v. Velazquez, 
    531 U.S. 533
    , 545 (2001)). That
    claim was neither raised nor passed upon below, and was mentioned
    neither in the certiorari papers nor the parties’ merits briefing to this
    Court. We decline to express any view on it. See Cutter v. Wilkinson,
    
    544 U.S. 709
    , 718, n. 7 (2005).
    30            JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                       KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                          Opinion of the Court 
    
    
    ity discussed above. Heintz, 514 U. S., at 295. Absent
    such a showing, arguments that the Act strikes an unde
    sirable balance in assigning the risks of legal misinterpre
    tation are properly addressed to Congress. To the extent
    Congress is persuaded that the policy concerns identified
    by the dissent require a recalibration of the FDCPA’s
    liability scheme, it is, of course, free to amend the statute
    accordingly.22 Congress has wide latitude, for instance, to
    revise §1692k to excuse some or all mistakes of law or
    grant broader discretion to district courts to adjust a
    plaintiff’s recovery. This Court may not, however, read
    more into §1692k(c) than the statutory language naturally
    supports. We therefore hold that the bona fide error de
    fense in §1692k(c) does not apply to a violation of the
    FDCPA resulting from a debt collector’s incorrect interpre
    tation of the requirements of that statute.
                            *     *  *
      For the reasons discussed above, the judgment of the
    United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is
    reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings
    consistent with this opinion.
                                               It is so ordered.
    
    
    
    
    ——————
      22 The FDCPA has been amended some eight times since its enact
    
    ment in 1977; the most recent amendment addressed a concern not
    unrelated to the question we consider today, specifying that a pleading
    in a civil action is not an “initial communication” triggering obligations
    under §1692g requiring a written notice to the consumer. Financial
    Services Regulatory Relief Act of 2006, §802(a), 120 Stat. 2006 (codified
    at 
    15 U.S. C
    . §1692g(d)).
                      Cite as: 
    559 U.S.
    ____ (2010)             1
    
                         BREYER, J., concurring
    
    SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
                              _________________
    
                              No. 08–1200
                              _________________
    
    
     KAREN L. JERMAN, PETITIONER v. CARLISLE, MC-
    
       NELLIE, RINI, KRAMER & ULRICH LPA, ET AL. 
    
     ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF 
    
                APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
    
                             [April 21, 2010] 
    
    
       JUSTICE BREYER, concurring.
       As respondents point out, the Court’s interpretation of
    the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act may create a di
    lemma for lawyers who regularly engage in debt collection,
    including through litigation. See Brief for Respondents
    44–48; Heintz v. Jenkins, 
    514 U.S. 291
     (1995). Can those
    lawyers act in the best interests of their clients if they face
    personal liability when they rely on good-faith interpreta
    tions of the Act that are later rejected by a court? Or will
    that threat of personal liability lead them to do less than
    their best for those clients?
       As the majority points out, however, the statute offers a
    way out of—though not a panacea for—this dilemma.
    Ante, at 13–14, 24–25. Faced with legal uncertainty, a
    lawyer can turn to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC or
    Commission) for an advisory opinion. 16 CFR §§1.1 to 1.4
    (2009). And once he receives that opinion and acts upon it
    the dilemma disappears: If he fails to follow the opinion,
    he has not acted in good faith and can fairly be held liable.
    If he follows the opinion, the statute frees him from any
    such liability. 
    15 U.S. C
    . §1692k(e) (debt collectors im
    mune from liability for “any act done or omitted in . . .
    conformity with any advisory opinion of the [Federal
    Trade] Commission”). See also R. Hobbs et al., National
    Consumer Law Center, Fair Debt Collection §§6.12.2, 7.3
    2          JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                    KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                      BREYER, J., concurring
    
    
    (6th ed. 2008).
       The FTC, of course, may refuse to issue such an opinion.
    See, e.g., 16 CFR §1.1 (providing that the Commission will
    issue advisory opinions “where practicable” and only when
    “[t]he matter involves a substantial or novel question of
    fact or law and there is no clear Commission or court
    precedent” or “is of significant public interest”). Appar
    ently, within the past decade, the FTC has received only
    seven requests and issued four opinions. See Tr. of
    Oral Arg. 27–28; see also Federal Trade Commis-
    sion,Commission FDCPA Advisory Opinions, online at
    http://www.ftc.gov/os/statutes/fdcpajump.shtm (as visited
    Apr. 19, 2010, and available in Clerk of Court’s case file).
    Yet, should the dilemma I have described above prove
    serious, I would expect the FTC to receive more requests
    and to respond to them, thereby reducing the scope of the
    problem to the point where other available tools, e.g.,
    damages caps and vicarious liability, will prove adequate.
    See ante, at 23–27. On this understanding, I agree with
    the Court and join its opinion.
                      Cite as: 
    559 U.S.
    ____ (2010)            1
    
                          Opinion of SCALIA, J.
    
    SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
                              _________________
    
                              No. 08–1200
                              _________________
    
    
     KAREN L. JERMAN, PETITIONER v. CARLISLE, MC-
    
       NELLIE, RINI, KRAMER & ULRICH LPA, ET AL. 
    
     ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF 
    
                APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
    
                             [April 21, 2010] 
    
    
       JUSTICE SCALIA, concurring in part and concurring in
    the judgment.
       I join the Court’s opinion except for its reliance upon two
    legal fictions. A portion of the Court’s reasoning consists
    of this: The language in the Fair Debt Collection Practices
    Act (FDCPA or Act) tracks language in the Truth in Lend
    ing Act (TILA); and in the nine years between the enact
    ment of TILA and the enactment of the FDCPA, three
    Courts of Appeals had “interpreted TILA’s bona fide error
    defense as referring to clerical errors.” Ante, at 14. Rely
    ing on our statement in Bragdon v. Abbott, 
    524 U.S. 624
    ,
    645 (1998), that Congress’s repetition, in a new statute, of
    statutory language with a “ ‘settled’ ” judicial interpreta
    tion indicates “ ‘the intent to incorporate its . . . judicial
    interpretations as well,’ ” the Court concludes that these
    three Court of Appeals cases “suppor[t] an inference that
    Congress understood the statutory formula it chose for the
    FDCPA consistent with Federal Court of Appeals interpre
    tations of TILA.” Ante, at 14–16.
       Let me assume (though I do not believe it) that what
    counts is what Congress “intended,” even if that intent
    finds no expression in the enacted text. When a large
    majority of the Circuits, over a lengthy period of time,
    have uniformly reached a certain conclusion as to the
    meaning of a particular statutory text, it may be reason
    2            JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                      KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                         Opinion of SCALIA, J. 
    
    
    able to assume that Congress was aware of those holdings,
    took them to be correct, and intended the same meaning in
    adopting that text.1 It seems to me unreasonable, how
    ever, to assume that, when Congress has a bill before it
    that contains language used in an earlier statute, it is
    aware of, and approves as correct, a mere three Court of
    Appeals decisions interpreting that earlier statute over
    the previous nine years. Can one really believe that a
    majority in both Houses of Congress knew of those three
    cases, and accepted them as correct (even when, as was
    the case here, some District Court opinions and a State
    Supreme Court opinion had concluded, to the contrary,
    that the defense covered legal errors, see ante, at 14–15,
    n. 10)? This is a legal fiction, which has nothing to be said
    for it except that it can sometimes make our job easier.
    The Court acknowledges that “the interpretations of three
    Federal Courts of Appeals may not have ‘settled’ the
    meaning of TILA’s bona fide error defense,” but says
    “there is no reason to suppose that Congress disagreed
    with those interpretations.” Ante, at 15–16. Perhaps not;
    but no reason to suppose that it knew of and agreed with
    them either—which is presumably the proposition for
    which the Court cites them.
       Even assuming, moreover, that Congress knew and
    approved of those cases, they would not support the
    Court’s conclusion today. All three of them said that
    TILA’s bona fide error defense covered only clerical errors.
    See Ives v. W. T. Grant Co., 
    522 F.2d 749
    , 758 (CA2 1975)
    (“only available for clerical errors”); Haynes v. Logan
    ——————
       1 Of course where so many federal courts have read the language that
    
    way, the text was probably clear enough that resort to unexpressed
    congressional intent would be unnecessary. Or indeed it could be said
    that such uniform and longstanding judicial interpretation had estab
    lished the public meaning of the text, whether the Members of Con
    gress were aware of the cases or not. That would be the understanding
    of the text by reasonable people familiar with its legal context.
                     Cite as: 
    559 U.S.
    ____ (2010)            3
    
                         Opinion of SCALIA, J.
    
    Furniture Mart, Inc., 
    503 F.2d 1161
    , 1167 (CA7 1974)
    (“basically only clerical errors”); Palmer v. Wilson, 
    502 F.2d 860
    , 861 (CA9 1974) (“[C]lerical errors . . . are the
    only violations this section was designed to excuse”). Yet
    the Court specifically interprets the identical language in
    the FDCPA as providing a defense not only for clerical
    errors, but also for factual errors. See ante, at 19, 24; see
    also ante, at 20–21 (suggesting the same). If the Court
    really finds the three Courts of Appeals’ interpretations of
    TILA indicative of congressional intent in the FDCPA, it
    should restrict its decision accordingly. As for me, I sup
    port the Court’s inclusion of factual errors, because there
    is nothing in the text of the FDCPA limiting the excusable
    “not intentional” violations to those based on clerical
    errors, and since there is a long tradition in the common
    law and in our construction of federal statutes distinguish
    ing errors of fact from errors of law.
       The Court’s opinion also makes fulsome use of that
    other legal fiction, legislative history, ranging from a
    single Representative’s floor remarks on the House bill
    that became the FDCPA, ante, at 16, n. 11, to a single
    Representative’s remarks in a Senate Subcommittee
    hearing on the House bill and three Senate bills, ibid., to
    two 1979 Senate Committee Reports dealing not with the
    FDCPA but with the 1980 amendments to TILA, ante, at
    17, n. 12, to remarks in a Committee markup of the Sen
    ate bill on the FDCPA, ante, at 21–22, n. 14, to a House
    Report dealing with an earlier version of the FDCPA, ibid.
    Is the conscientious attorney really expected to dig out
    such mini-nuggets of “congressional intent” from floor
    remarks, committee hearings, committee markups, and
    committee reports covering many different bills over many
    years? When the Court addresses such far-afield legisla
    tive history merely “for the sake of completeness,” ante, at
    20, it encourages and indeed prescribes such wasteful
    over-lawyering.
    4            JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                      KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                         Opinion of SCALIA, J. 
    
    
       As it happens, moreover, one of the supposedly most
    “authoritative” snippets of legislative history, a Senate
    Committee Report dealing with the meaning of TILA,
    states very clearly that the 1980 amendment to TILA’s
    bona fide error defense “clarified” the defense “to make
    clear that it applies to mechanical and computer errors,”
    S. Rep. No. 96–73, pp. 7–8 (1979). Likewise, the 1999
    American Law Report the Court cites, ante, at 17, n. 12,
    which relies on another Senate Committee Report, de
    scribes the amendment as clarifying the “prevailing view”
    that the defense “applies to clerical errors,” Lockhart, 
    153 A. L
    . R. Fed. 211–212, §2[a] (1999).2 Once again, the legal
    fiction contradicts the Court’s conclusion that the lan
    guage in the FDCPA, identical to the original TILA de
    fense, applies to mistakes of fact.
       But if legislative history is to be used, it should be used
    impartially. (Legislative history, after all, almost always
    has something for everyone!) The Court dismisses with a
    wave of the hand what seems to me the most persuasive
    legislative history (if legislative history could ever be
    persuasive) in the case. The respondents point to the
    Senate Committee Report on the FDCPA, which says that
    “[a] debt collector has no liability . . . if he violates the act
    in any manner, including with regard to the act’s coverage,
    when such violation is unintentional and occurred despite
    procedures designed to avoid such violations.” S. Rep. No.
    95–382, p. 5 (1977) (emphasis added). The Court claims
    that a mistake about “the act’s coverage” in this passage
    might refer to factual mistakes, such as a debt collector’s
    mistaken belief “that a particular debt arose out of a
    nonconsumer transaction and was therefore not ‘covered’
    ——————
      2 The page cited in the Senate Committee Report does not actually
    
    support the American Law Report’s statement. It makes no mention of
    clarification or judicial interpretations; it merely states that the
    amendment is intended to “provide protection where errors are clerical
    or mechanical in nature,” S. Rep. No. 96–368, p. 32 (1979).
                     Cite as: 
    559 U.S.
    ____ (2010)           5
    
                         Opinion of SCALIA, J.
    
    by the Act,” ante, at 21. The Court’s explanation seems to
    me inadequate. No lawyer—indeed, no one speaking
    accurately—would equate a mistake regarding the Act’s
    coverage with a mistake regarding whether a particular
    fact situation falls within the Act’s coverage. What the
    Act covers (“the act’s coverage”) is one thing; whether a
    particular case falls within the Act’s coverage is something
    else.
       Even if (contrary to my perception) the phrase could be
    used to refer to both these things, by what principle does
    the Court reject the more plausible meaning? The fact
    that “attorneys were excluded from the Act’s definition of
    ‘debt collector’ until 1986,” ibid., does not, as the Court
    contends, support its conclusion that errors of law are not
    covered. Attorneys are not the only ones who would have
    been able to claim a legal-error defense; non-attorneys
    make legal mistakes too. They also sometimes receive and
    rely upon erroneous legal advice from attorneys. Indeed,
    if anyone could satisfy the defense’s requirement of main
    taining “procedures reasonably adapted to avoid” a legal
    error, it would be a non-attorney debt collector who fol
    lows the procedure of directing all legal questions to his
    attorney.
       The Court also points to “equivocal” evidence from the
    Senate Committee’s final markup session, ante, at 21–22,
    n. 14, but it minimizes a decidedly unhelpful discussion of
    the scope of the defense during the session. In response to
    concern that the defense would be construed, like the
    TILA defense, as “only protecting against a mathematical
    error,” a staff member explained that, because of differ
    ences in the nature of the statutes, the FDCPA defense
    was broader than the TILA defense and “would apply to
    any violation of the act which was unintentional.” See
    Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Af
    fairs, Markup Session: S. 1130—Debt Collection Legisla
    tion 20–21 (July 26, 1977) (emphasis added). The Chair
    6           JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                     KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                        Opinion of SCALIA, J. 
    
    
    man then asked: “So it’s not simply a mathematical error
    but any bona fide error without intent?” Id., at 21 (em
    phasis added). To which the staff member responded:
    “That’s correct.” Ibid. The repeated use of “any”—“any
    violation” and “any bona fide error”—supports the natural
    reading of the Committee Report’s statement regarding
    “the act’s coverage” as including legal errors about the
    scope of the Act, rather than just factual errors.
      The Court ultimately dismisses the Senate Committee
    Report on the ground that “the legislative record taken as
    a whole does not lend strong support to Carlisle’s view.”
    Ante, at 21. I think it more reasonable to give zero weight
    to the other snippets of legislative history that the Court
    relies upon, for the reason that the Senate Committee
    Report on the very bill that became the FDCPA flatly
    contradicts them. It is almost invariably the case that our
    opinions benefit not at all from the make-weight use of
    legislative history. But today’s opinion probably suffers
    from it. Better to spare us the results of legislative-history
    research, however painfully and exhaustively conducted it
    might have been.
      The Court’s textual analysis stands on its own, without
    need of (or indeed any assistance from) the two fictions I
    have discussed. Accordingly, I concur in the judgment of
    the Court.
                     Cite as: 
    559 U.S.
    ____ (2010)            1
    
                        KENNEDY, J., dissenting
    
    SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
                             _________________
    
                             No. 08–1200
                             _________________
    
    
     KAREN L. JERMAN, PETITIONER v. CARLISLE, MC-
    
       NELLIE, RINI, KRAMER & ULRICH LPA, ET AL. 
    
     ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF 
    
                APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
    
                            [April 21, 2010] 
    
    
       JUSTICE KENNEDY, with whom JUSTICE ALITO joins,
    dissenting.
       The statute under consideration is the Fair Debt Collec
    tion Practices Act (FDCPA), 
    15 U.S. C
    . §1692 et seq. The
    statute excepts from liability a debt collector’s “bona fide
    error[s],” provided that they were “not intentional” and
    reasonable procedures have been maintained to avoid
    them. §1692k(c). The Court today interprets this excep
    tion to exclude legal errors. In doing so, it adopts a ques
    tionable interpretation and rejects a straightforward,
    quite reasonable interpretation of the statute’s plain
    terms. Its decision aligns the judicial system with those
    who would use litigation to enrich themselves at the ex
    pense of attorneys who strictly follow and adhere to pro
    fessional and ethical standards.
       When the law is used to punish good-faith mistakes;
    when adopting reasonable safeguards is not enough to
    avoid liability; when the costs of discovery and litigation
    are used to force settlement even absent fault or injury;
    when class-action suits transform technical legal viola
    tions into windfalls for plaintiffs or their attorneys, the
    Court, by failing to adopt a reasonable interpretation to
    counter these excesses, risks compromising its own insti
    tutional responsibility to ensure a workable and just
    litigation system. The interpretation of the FDCPA the
    2           JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                     KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                       KENNEDY, J., dissenting 
    
    
    Court today endorses will entrench, not eliminate, some of
    the most troubling aspects of our legal system. Convinced
    that Congress did not intend this result, I submit this
    respectful dissent.
                                 I
    
                                 A
    
       The FDCPA addresses “abusive debt collection prac
    tices,” §1692(e), by regulating interactions between com
    mercial debt collectors and consumers. See ante, at 1–2.
    The statute permits private suits against debt collectors
    who violate its provisions. §1692k(a). An exception
    to liability is provided by the so-called bona fide error
    defense:
        “A debt collector may not be held liable in any action
        . . . 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.” §1692k(c).
    This language does not exclude mistakes of law and is
    most naturally read to include them. Certainly a mis
    taken belief about the law is, if held in good faith, a “bona
    fide error” as that phrase is normally understood. See
    Black’s Law Dictionary 582 (8th ed. 2004) (defining “error”
    as “a belief that what is false is true or that what is true is
    false,” def. 1); ibid. (“[a] mistake of law or of fact in a
    tribunal’s judgment, opinion, or order,” def. 2); ibid. (list
    ing categories of legal errors).
       The choice of words provides further reinforcement for
    this view. The bona fide error exception in §1692k(c)
    applies if “the violation was not intentional and resulted
    from a bona fide error.” The term “violation” specifically
    denotes a legal infraction. See id., at 1600 (“An infraction
    or breach of the law; a transgression,” def. 1). The statu
                     Cite as: 
    559 U.S.
    ____ (2010)            3
    
                        KENNEDY, J., dissenting
    
    tory term “violation” thus stands in direct contrast to
    other provisions of the FDCPA that describe conduct itself.
    This applies both to specific terms, e.g., §1692e (“A debt
    collector may not use any false, deceptive, or misleading
    representation or means in connection with the collection
    of any debt”), and to more general ones, e.g., §1692k(e)
    (referring to “any act done or omitted in good faith”). By
    linking the mens rea requirement (“not intentional”) with
    the word “violation”—rather than with the conduct giving
    rise to the violation—the Act by its terms indicates that
    the bona fide error exception applies to legal errors as well
    as to factual ones.
       The Court’s precedents accord with this interpretation.
    Federal statutes that link the term “violation” with a mens
    rea requirement have been interpreted to excuse good
    faith legal mistakes. See, e.g., McLaughlin v. Richland
    Shoe Co., 
    486 U.S. 128
    , 129, 133 (1988) (the phrase “aris
    ing out of a willful violation” in the Fair Labor Standards
    Act applies where an employer “either knew or showed
    reckless disregard for the matter of whether its conduct
    was prohibited by the statute”); Trans World Airlines, Inc.
    v. Thurston, 
    469 U.S. 111
    , 125, 126 (1985) (damages
    provision under the Age Discrimination in Employment
    Act, which applies “only in cases of willful violations,”
    creates liability where an employer “knew or showed
    reckless disregard for the matter of whether its conduct
    was prohibited by the ADEA” (internal quotation marks
    omitted)); cf. Liparota v. United States, 
    471 U.S. 419
    , 428
    (1985) (prohibition on use of food stamps “ ‘knowing [them]
    to have been received . . . in violation of’ ” federal law
    “undeniably requires a knowledge of illegality” (emphasis
    deleted)). The FDCPA’s use of “violation” thus distin
    guishes it from most of the authorities relied upon by the
    Court to demonstrate that mistake-of-law defenses are
    disfavored. See, e.g., ante, at 7–8 (citing Kolstad v. Ameri
    can Dental Assn., 
    527 U.S. 526
     (1999)).
    4          JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                    KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                      KENNEDY, J., dissenting 
    
    
       The Court’s response is that there is something distinc
    tive about the word “willful” that suggests an excuse for
    mistakes of law. This may well be true for criminal stat
    utes, in which the terms “ ‘knowing,’ ‘intentional’ [and]
    ‘willful’ ” have been distinguished in this regard. Ante, at
    10 (citing Safeco Ins. Co. of America v. Burr, 
    551 U.S. 47
    ,
    57 (2007)). But this distinction is specific to the criminal
    context:
        “It is different in the criminal law. When the term
        ‘willful’ or ‘willfully’ has been used in a criminal stat
        ute, we have regularly read the modifier as limiting
        liability to knowing violations. This reading of the
        term, however, is tailored to the criminal law, where
        it is characteristically used to require a criminal in
        tent beyond the purpose otherwise required for guilt,
        or an additional ‘bad purpose,’ or specific intent to vio
        late a known legal duty created by highly technical
        statutes.” Id., at 57–58, n. 9 (citations omitted).
    For this reason, the Court’s citation to criminal cases,
    which are themselves inconsistent, see Ratzlaf v. United
    States, 
    510 U.S. 135
     (1994), is unavailing. See ante, at
    10–11, and n. 7.
      In the civil context, by contrast, the word “willful” has
    been used to impose a mens rea threshold for liability that
    is lower, not higher, than an intentionality requirement.
    See Safeco, supra, at 57 (“[W]here willfulness is a statu
    tory condition of civil liability, we have generally taken it
    to cover not only knowing violations of a standard, but
    reckless ones as well”). Avoiding liability under a statute
    aimed at intentional violations should therefore be easier,
    not harder, than avoiding liability under a statute aimed
    at willful violations. And certainly there is nothing in
    Thurston or McLaughlin—both civil cases—suggesting
    that they would have come out differently had the rele
    vant statutes used “intentional violation” rather than
                       Cite as: 
    559 U.S.
    ____ (2010)         5
    
                           KENNEDY, J., dissenting
    
    “willful violation.”
                                 B
       These considerations suffice to show that §1692k(c) is
    most reasonably read to include mistakes of law. Even if
    this were merely a permissible reading, however, it should
    be adopted to avoid the adverse consequences that must
    flow from the Court’s contrary decision. The Court’s read
    ing leads to results Congress could not have intended.
                                  1
       The FDCPA is but one of many federal laws that Con
    gress has enacted to protect consumers. A number of
    these statutes authorize the filing of private suits against
    those who use unfair or improper practices. See, e.g., 
    15 U.S. C
    . §1692k (FDCPA); §1640 (Truth in Lending Act);
    §1681n (Fair Credit Reporting Act); 
    49 U.S. C
    . §32710
    (Federal Odometer Disclosure Act); 
    11 U.S. C
    . §526(c)(2)
    (Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection
    Act of 2005). Several of these provisions permit a success
    ful plaintiff to recover—in addition to actual damages—
    statutory damages, attorney’s fees and costs, and in some
    cases punitive damages. E.g., 
    15 U.S. C
    . §1640(a)(2)
    (statutory damages); §1640(a)(3) (attorney’s fees and
    costs); §1681n(a)(1)(B) (statutory and punitive damages);
    §1681n(a)(1)(B)(3) (costs and attorney’s fees); 
    49 U.S. C
    .
    §32710(a) (“3 times the actual damages or $1,500, which
    ever is greater”); §32710(b) (costs and attorney’s fees); 
    11 U.S. C
    . §526(c)(3)(A) (costs and attorney’s fees). Some
    also explicitly permit class-action suits. E.g., 
    15 U.S. C
    .
    §1640(a)(2)(B); §1692k(a)(2)(B).
       A collateral effect of these statutes may be to create
    incentives to file lawsuits even where no actual harm has
    occurred. This happens when the plaintiff can recover
    statutory damages for the violation and his or her attorney
    will receive fees if the suit is successful, no matter how
    slight the injury. A favorable verdict after trial is not
    6           JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                     KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                       KENNEDY, J., dissenting 
    
    
    necessarily the goal; often the plaintiff will be just as
    happy with a settlement, as will his or her attorney (who
    will receive fees regardless). The defendant, meanwhile,
    may conclude a quick settlement is preferable to the costs
    of discovery and a protracted trial. And if the suit attains
    class-action status, the financial stakes rise in magnitude.
    See, e.g., §1640(a)(2)(B) (class-action recovery of up to “the
    lesser of $500,000 or 1 per centum of the net worth of the
    [defendant]”); §1692k(a)(2)(B) (same).
       The present case offers an object lesson. Respondents
    filed a complaint in state court on behalf of a client that
    mistakenly believed Jerman owed money to it. Jerman’s
    attorney then informed respondents that the debt had
    been paid in full. Respondents confirmed this fact with
    the client and withdrew the lawsuit.
       This might have been the end of the story. But because
    respondents had informed Jerman that she was required
    to dispute the debt in writing, she filed a class-action
    complaint. It did not matter that Jerman had claimed no
    harm as a result of respondents’ actions. Jerman sued for
    damages, attorney’s fees, and costs—including class dam
    ages of “$500,000 or 1% of defendants’ net worth which
    ever is less.” Amended Complaint in No. 1:06–CV–01397
    (ND Ohio), p. 4. In addition to merits-related discovery,
    Jerman sought information from respondents concerning
    the income and net worth of each partner in the firm. At
    some point, Jerman proposed to settle with respondents
    for $15,000 in damages and $7,500 in attorney’s fees.
    Amended Joint App. in No. 07–3964 (CA6), pp. 256–262.
    The case illustrates how a technical violation of a complex
    federal statute can give rise to costly litigation with incen
    tives to settle simply to avoid attorney’s fees.
       Today’s holding gives new impetus to this already trou
    bling dynamic of allowing certain actors in the system to
    spin even good-faith, technical violations of federal law
    into lucrative litigation, if not for themselves then for the
                      Cite as: 
    559 U.S.
    ____ (2010)            7
    
                        KENNEDY, J., dissenting
    
    attorneys who conceive of the suit. See Federal Home
    Loan Mortgage Corp. v. Lamar, 
    503 F.3d 504
    , 513 (CA6
    2007) (referring to the “cottage industry” of litigation that
    has arisen out of the FDCPA (internal quotation marks
    omitted)). It is clear that Congress, too, was troubled by
    this dynamic. That is precisely why it enacted a bona fide
    error defense. The Court’s ruling, however, endorses and
    drives forward this dynamic, for today’s holding leaves
    attorneys and their clients vulnerable to civil liability for
    adopting good-faith legal positions later determined to be
    mistaken, even if reasonable efforts were made to avoid
    mistakes.
       The Court seeks to brush aside these concerns by noting
    that trivial violations will give rise to little in the way of
    actual damages and that trial courts “have discretion in
    calculating reasonable attorney’s fees under [the] statute.”
    Ante, at 23. It is not clear, however, that a court is per
    mitted to adjust a fee award based on its assessment of
    the suit’s utility. Cf. Perdue v. Kenny A., post, at 9 (noting
    a “ ‘strong presumption’ ” of reasonableness that attaches
    to a lodestar calculation of attorney’s fees). Though the
    Court, properly, does not address the question here, it
    acknowledges that some courts have deemed fee awards to
    victorious plaintiffs to be “ ‘mandatory,’ ” even if the plain
    tiff suffered no damage. Ante, at 23–24, n. 16.
       The Court’s second response is that the FDCPA guards
    against abusive suits and that suits brought “ ‘in bad faith
    and for the purpose of harassment’ ” can lead to a fee
    award for the defendant.            Ante, at 24 (quoting
    §1692k(a)(3)). Yet these safeguards cannot deter suits
    based on technical—but harmless—violations of the stat
    ute. If the plaintiff obtains a favorable judgment or a
    settlement, then by definition the suit will not have been
    brought in bad faith. See Emanuel v. American Credit
    Exch., 
    870 F.2d 805
    , 809 (CA2 1989) (FDCPA defendant’s
    “claim for malicious prosecution cannot succeed unless the
    8          JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                    KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                      KENNEDY, J., dissenting 
    
    
    action subject of the claim is unsuccessful”).
       Again the present case is instructive. Jerman brought
    suit without pointing to any actual harm that resulted
    from respondents’ actions. At the time her complaint was
    filed, it was an open question in the Sixth Circuit whether
    a debt collector could demand that a debt be disputed in
    writing, and the district courts in the Circuit had reached
    different answers. Ante, at 4, n. 2. The trial court in this
    case happened to side with Jerman on the issue, 
    464 F. Supp. 2d 720
    , 722–725 (ND Ohio 2006), but it seems
    unlikely that the court would have labeled her suit “abu
    sive” or “in bad faith” even if it had gone the other way.
       There is no good basis for optimism, then, when one
    contemplates the practical consequences of today’s deci
    sion. Given the complexity of the FDCPA regime, see 16
    CFR pt. 901 (2009) (FDCPA regulations), technical viola
    tions are likely to be common. Indeed, the Court acknowl
    edges that they are inevitable. See ante, at 12. As long as
    legal mistakes occur, plaintiffs and their attorneys will
    have an incentive to bring suits for these infractions. It
    seems unlikely that Congress sought to create a system
    that encourages costly and time-consuming litigation over
    harmless violations committed in good faith despite rea
    sonable safeguards.
       When construing a federal statute, courts should be
    mindful of the effect of the interpretation on congressional
    purposes explicit in the statutory text. The FDCPA states
    an objective that today’s decision frustrates. The statu
    tory purpose was to “eliminate abusive debt collection
    practices” and to ensure that debt collectors who refrain
    from using those practices “are not competitively disad
    vantaged.” 
    15 U.S. C
    . §1692(e) (“Purposes”). The prac
    tices Congress addressed involved misconduct that is
    deliberate, see §1692(a) (“abusive, deceptive, and unfair
    debt collection practices”); §1692(c) (“misrepresentation or
    other abusive debt collection practices”), or unreasonable,
                     Cite as: 
    559 U.S.
    ____ (2010)           9
    
                        KENNEDY, J., dissenting
    
    see §1692c(a)(1) (prohibiting debt collectors from commu
    nicating with debtors at times “which should be known” to
    be inconvenient); §1692e(8) (prohibiting the communica
    tion of credit card information “which should be known to
    be false”). That explains the statutory objective not to
    disadvantage debt collectors who “refrain” from abusive
    practices—that is to say, debt collectors who do not inten
    tionally or unreasonably adopt them. It further explains
    why Congress included a good-faith error exception,
    which exempts violations that are not intentional or
    unreasonable.
       In referring to “abusive debt collection practices,” how
    ever, surely Congress did not contemplate attorneys who
    act based on reasonable, albeit ultimately mistaken, legal
    interpretations. A debt collector does not gain a competi
    tive advantage by making good-faith legal errors any more
    than by making good-faith factual errors. This is ex
    pressly so if the debt collector has implemented “proce
    dures reasonably adapted to avoid” them. By reading
    §1692k(c) to exclude good-faith mistakes of law, the Court
    fails to align its interpretation with the statutory
    objectives.
       The Court urges, nevertheless, that there are policy
    concerns on the other side. The Court frets about debt
    collectors who “press the boundaries of the Act’s prohibi
    tions” and about a potential “ ‘race to the bottom.’ ” Ante,
    at 27–28 (quoting Brief for Petitioner 32). For instance, in
    its view, interpreting §1692k(c) to encompass legal mis
    takes might mean that “nonlawyer debt collectors could
    obtain blanket immunity for mistaken interpretations of
    the FDCPA simply by seeking the advice of legal counsel.”
    Ante, at 27. It must be remembered, however, that
    §1692k(c) may only be invoked where the debt collector’s
    error is “bona fide” and where “reasonable procedures”
    have been adopted to avoid errors. There is no valid or
    persuasive reason to assume that Congress would want to
    10         JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                    KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                      KENNEDY, J., dissenting 
    
    
    impose liability on a debt collector who relies in good faith
    on the reasonable advice of counsel. If anything, we
    should expect Congress to think that such behavior should
    be encouraged, not discouraged.
       The Court also suggests that reading §1692k(c) to in
    clude legal errors would encourage litigation over a num
    ber of issues: what subjective intent is necessary for liabil
    ity; what procedures are necessary to avoid legal mistakes;
    what standard applies to procedures adopted by attorney
    debt collectors as compared to non-attorney debt collec
    tors. Yet these questions are no different from ones al
    ready raised by the statute. Whether the debt collector is
    an attorney or not, his or her subjective intent must be
    assessed before liability can be determined. Procedures to
    avoid mistakes—whether legal or otherwise—must be
    “reasonable,” which is always a context-specific inquiry.
    The Court provides no reason to think that legal errors
    raise concerns that differ in these respects from those
    raised by non-legal errors.
                                  2
       There is a further and most serious reason to interpret
    §1692k(c) to include good-faith legal mistakes. In Heintz
    v. Jenkins, 
    514 U.S. 291
     (1995), the Court held that at
    torneys engaged in debt-collection litigation may be “debt
    collectors” for purposes of the FDCPA. In reaching this
    conclusion the Court confronted the allegation that its
    interpretation would produce the anomalous result that
    attorneys could be liable for bringing legal claims against
    debtors if those claims ultimately proved unsuccessful.
    Id., at 295. The Court rejected this argument. In doing so
    it said that §1692k(c) provides debt collectors with a de
    fense for their bona fide errors. Id., at 295.
       Today the Court relies on Heintz to allay concerns about
    the practical implications of its decision. Ante, at 25. Yet
    the Court reads §1692k(c) to exclude mistakes of law,
                      Cite as: 
    559 U.S.
    ____ (2010)            11
    
                         KENNEDY, J., dissenting
    
    thereby producing the very result that Heintz said would
    not come about. Attorneys may now be held liable for
    taking reasonable legal positions in good faith if those
    positions are ultimately rejected.
       Attorneys are duty-bound to represent their clients with
    diligence, creativity, and painstaking care, all within the
    confines of the law. When statutory provisions have not
    yet been interpreted in a definitive way, principled advo
    cacy is to be prized, not punished. Surely this includes
    offering interpretations of a statute that are permissible,
    even if not yet settled. The FDCPA is a complex statute,
    and its provisions are subject to different interpretations.
    See, e.g., ante, at 5, n. 4 (identifying splits of authority on
    two different FDCPA issues); Brief for National Associa
    tion of Retail Collection Attorneys as Amicus Curiae 5–6
    (identifying another split); see also ante, at 12. Attorneys
    will often find themselves confronted with a statutory
    provision that is susceptible to different but still reason
    able interpretations.
       An attorney’s obligation in the face of uncertainty is to
    give the client his or her best professional assessment of
    the law’s mandate. Under the Court’s interpretation of
    the FDCPA, however, even that might leave the attorney
    vulnerable to suit. For if the attorney proceeds based on
    an interpretation later rejected by the courts, today’s
    decision deems that to be actionable as an intentional
    “violation,” with personal financial liability soon to follow.
    Indeed, even where a particular practice is compelled by
    existing precedent, the attorney may be sued if that prece
    dent is later overturned.
       These adverse consequences are evident in the instant
    case. When respondents filed a foreclosure complaint
    against Jerman on behalf of their client, they had no
    reason to doubt that the debt was valid. They had every
    reason, furthermore, to believe that they were on solid
    legal ground in asking her to dispute the amount owed in
    12          JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                     KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                       KENNEDY, J., dissenting 
    
    
    writing. See, e.g., Graziano v. Harrison, 
    950 F.2d 107
    ,
    112 (CA3 1991) (written objection is necessary for coherent
    statutory scheme and protects the debtor by “creat[ing] a
    lasting record of the fact that the debt has been disputed”).
    When Jerman disputed the debt, respondents verified that
    the debt had been satisfied and withdrew the lawsuit.
    Respondents acted reasonably at every step, and yet may
    still find themselves liable for a harmless violation.
       After today’s ruling, attorneys can be punished for
    advocacy reasonably deemed to be in compliance with the
    law or even required by it. This distorts the legal process.
    Henceforth, creditors’ attorneys of the highest ethical
    standing are encouraged to adopt a debtor-friendly inter
    pretation of every question, lest the attorneys themselves
    incur personal financial risk. It is most disturbing that
    this Court now adopts a statutory interpretation that will
    interject an attorney’s personal financial interests into the
    professional and ethical dynamics of the attorney-client
    relationship. These consequences demonstrate how un
    tenable the Court’s statutory interpretation is and counsel
    in favor of a different reading. See Milavetz, Gallop &
    Milavetz, P. A. v. United States, 
    559 U.S.
    ___, ___, n. 5
    (2010) (slip op., at 16, n. 5) (rejecting a reading of federal
    law that “would seriously undermine the attorney-client
    relationship”).
       The Court’s response is that this possibility is nothing
    new, because attorneys are already duty-bound to comply
    with the law and with standards of professional conduct.
    Attorneys face sanctions for harassing behavior and frivo
    lous litigation, and in some cases misconduct may give rise
    to personal liability. Ante, at 25–26.
       This response only underscores the problem with the
    Court’s approach. By reading §1692k(c) to exclude mis
    takes of law, the Court ensures that attorneys will face
    liability even when they have done nothing wrong—
    indeed, even when they have acted in accordance with
                      Cite as: 
    559 U.S.
    ____ (2010)           13
    
                        KENNEDY, J., dissenting
    
    their professional responsibilities. Here respondents’ law
    firm did not harass Jerman; it did not file a frivolous suit
    against her; it did not intentionally mislead her; it caused
    her no damages or injury. The firm acted upon a reason
    able legal interpretation that the District Court later
    thought to be mistaken. The District Court’s position, as
    all concede, was in conflict with other published, reasoned
    opinions. Ante, at 4, n. 2. (And in the instant case, nei
    ther the Court of Appeals nor this Court has decided the
    issue. See ante, at 5, n. 3.) If the law firm can be pun
    ished for making a good-faith legal error, then to be safe
    an attorney must always stick to the most debtor-friendly
    interpretation of the statute, lest automatic liability follow
    if some later decision adopts a different rule. This dy
    namic creates serious concerns, not only for the attorney
    client relationship but also for First Amendment rights.
    Cf. Legal Services Corporation v. Velazquez, 
    531 U.S. 533
    ,
    545 (2001) (law restricting arguments available to attor
    neys “prohibits speech and expression upon which courts
    must depend for the proper exercise of the judicial
    power”). We need not decide that these concerns rise to
    the level of an independent constitutional violation, see
    ante, at 29, n. 21, to recognize that they counsel against a
    problematic interpretation of the statute. See Edward J.
    DeBartolo Corp. v. Florida Gulf Coast Building & Constr.
    Trades Council, 
    485 U.S. 568
    , 575 (1988) (“[W]here an
    otherwise acceptable construction of a statute would raise
    serious constitutional problems, the Court will construe
    the statute to avoid such problems unless such construc
    tion is plainly contrary to the intent of Congress”).
       JUSTICE BREYER—although not the Court—argues that
    an attorney faced with legal uncertainty only needs to
    turn to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for an advi
    sory opinion. An attorney’s actions in conformity with the
    opinion will be shielded from liability. Ante, at 1 (concur
    ring opinion) (citing 
    15 U.S. C
    . §1692k(e)). This argument
    14         JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                    KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                      KENNEDY, J., dissenting 
    
    
    misconceives the practical realities of litigation. Filings
    and motions are made under pressing time constraints;
    arguments must be offered quickly in reply; and strategic
    decisions must be taken in the face of incomplete informa
    tion. Lawyers in practice would not consider this alterna
    tive at all realistic, particularly where the defense is
    needed most.
       And even were there time to generate a formal request
    to the FTC and wait an average of three or four months for
    a response (assuming the FTC responds at all), the argu
    ment assumes that an ambiguity in the statute is obvious,
    not latent, that the problem is at once apparent, and that
    a conscious decision to invoke FTC procedures can be
    made. But the problem in many instances is that inter
    pretive alternatives are not at once apparent. All this may
    explain why, in the past decade, the FTC has issued only
    four opinions in response to just seven requests. See Tr. of
    Oral Arg. 27–28, 30. The FTC advisory process does not
    remedy the difficulties that the Court’s opinion will cause.
       Even if an FTC opinion is obtained, moreover, the ethi
    cal dilemma of counsel is not resolved. If the FTC adopts
    a position unfavorable to the client, the attorney may still
    believe the FTC is mistaken. Yet under today’s decision,
    the attorney who in good faith continues to assert a rea
    sonable position to the contrary does so at risk of personal
    liability. This alters the ethical balance central to the
    adversary system; and it is, again, a reason for the Court
    to adopt a different, but still reasonable, interpretation to
    avoid systemic disruption.
                                II
      The Court does not assert that its interpretation is
    clearly commanded by the text. Instead, its decision relies
    on an amalgam of arguments that, taken together, are
    said to establish the superiority of its preferred reading.
    This does not withstand scrutiny.
                     Cite as: 
    559 U.S.
    ____ (2010)           15
    
                        KENNEDY, J., dissenting
    
       First, the Court relies on the maxim that “ ‘ignorance of
    the law will not excuse any person, either civilly or crimi
    nally.’ ” Ante, at 6 (quoting Barlow v. United States, 
    7 Pet. 404
    , 411 (1833)). There is no doubt that this principle “is
    deeply rooted in the American legal system.” Cheek v.
    United States, 
    498 U.S. 192
    , 199 (1991). Yet it is unhelp
    ful to the Court’s position. The maxim the Court cites is
    based on the premise “that the law is definite and know
    able,” so that all must be deemed to know its mandate.
    Ibid. See also O. Holmes, The Common Law 48 (1881)
    (“[T]o admit the excuse [of ignorance] at all would be to
    encourage ignorance where the law-maker has determined
    to make men know and obey”). In other words, citizens
    cannot avoid compliance with the law simply by demon
    strating a failure to learn it.
       The most straightforward application of this principle is
    to statutory provisions that delineate a category of prohib
    ited conduct. These statutes will not be read to excuse
    legal mistakes absent some indication that the legislature
    meant to do so. See, e.g., Armour Packing Co. v. United
    States, 
    209 U.S. 56
    , 70, 85–86 (1908) (rejecting the defen
    dant’s attempt to read a mistake-of-law defense into a
    criminal statute forbidding shippers to “obtain or dispose
    of property at less than the regular rate established”);
    ante, at 7–8 (discussing a federal statute imposing liability
    for “intentional discrimination”).
       In the present case, however, the Court is not asked
    whether a mistake of law should excuse respondents from
    a general prohibition that would otherwise cover their
    conduct. Rather, the issue is the scope of an express ex
    ception to a general prohibition. There is good reason to
    think the distinction matters. It is one thing to presume
    that Congress does not intend to create an exception to a
    general rule through silence; it is quite another to pre
    sume that an explicit statutory exception should be con
    fined despite the existence of other sensible interpreta
    16          JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                     KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                       KENNEDY, J., dissenting 
    
    
    tions. Cf. Kosak v. United States, 
    465 U.S. 848
    , 853, n. 9
    (1984) (although the Federal Tort Claims Act waives
    sovereign immunity, “the proper objective of a court at
    tempting to construe [an exception to the Act] is to identify
    those circumstances which are within the words and
    reason of the exception—no less and no more” (internal
    quotation marks omitted)). This is all the more true
    where the other possible interpretations are more consis
    tent with the purposes of the regulatory scheme. By its
    terms, §1692k(c) encompasses—without limitation—all
    violations that are “not intentional and resul[t] from a
    bona fide error.” The Court provides no reason to read
    this language narrowly.
       The Court responds that “our precedents have made
    clear for more than 175 years” that the presumption
    against mistake-of-law defenses applies even to explicit
    statutory exceptions. Ante, 6–7, n. 5. By this the Court
    means that one case applied the presumption to an excep
    tion more than 175 years ago. In Barlow, the Court de
    clined to excuse an alleged mistake of law despite a statu
    tory provision that excepted “false denomination[s] . . .
    [that] happened by mistake or accident, and not from any
    intention to defraud the revenue.” 7 Pet., at 406. In
    construing this language, the Barlow Court noted that it
    demonstrated congressional intent to exclude mistakes of
    law:
         “The very association of mistake and accident, in this
         [connection], furnishes a strong ground to presume
         that the legislature had the same classes of cases in
         view . . . . Mistakes in the construction of the law,
         seem as little intended to be excepted by the proviso,
         as accidents in the construction of the law.” Id., at
         411–412.
    Unlike the provision at issue in Barlow, §1692k(c) gives no
    indication that its broad reference to “bona fide error[s]”
                     Cite as: 
    559 U.S.
    ____ (2010)          17
    
                        KENNEDY, J., dissenting
    
    was meant to exclude legal mistakes.
       Even if statutory exceptions should normally be con
    strued to exclude mistakes of law, moreover, that guide
    line would only apply absent intent to depart from the
    general rule. There is no doubt that Congress may create
    a mistake-of-law defense; the question is whether it has
    done so here. See Ratzlaf, 510 U. S, at 149. As explained
    above, see Part I–A, supra, Congress has made its choice
    plain by using the word “violation” in §1692k(c) to indicate
    that mistakes of law are to be included.
       Second, the Court attempts to draw a contrast between
    §1692k(c) and the administrative penalties in the Federal
    Trade Commission Act (FTC Act), 38 Stat. 717, 
    15 U.S. C
    .
    §41 et seq. Under the FTC Act, a debt collector may face
    civil penalties of up to $16,000 per day for acting with
    “actual knowledge or knowledge fairly implied on the basis
    of objective circumstances that [an] act is” prohibited
    under the FDCPA. §§45(m)(1)(A), (C); 74 Fed. Reg. 858
    (2009) (amending 16 CFR §1.98(d) (2009)). The Court
    reasons that the FTC provision is meant to provide rela
    tively harsh penalties for intentional violations. By con
    trast, the argument continues, the penalties in the FDCPA
    itself must cover—and hence §1692k(c) must not excuse—
    unintentional violations. Ante, at 8–9.
       The argument rests on a mistaken premise—namely,
    that §1692k(c) must immunize all legal errors or none.
    This misreads the statute. As the text states, it applies
    only to “bona fide” errors committed despite “the mainte
    nance of procedures reasonably adapted to avoid” these
    mistakes. So under a sensible reading of the statute,
    (1) intentional violations are punishable under the height
    ened penalties of the FTC Act; (2) unintentional violations
    are generally subject to punishment under the FDCPA;
    and (3) a defendant may escape liability altogether by
    proving that a violation was based on a bona fide error
    and that reasonable error-prevention procedures were in
    18          JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                     KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                       KENNEDY, J., dissenting 
    
    
    place. There is nothing incongruous in this scheme.
    Indeed, for the reasons described in Part I, supra, it is far
    less peculiar than the Court’s reading, which would sub
    ject attorneys to liability for good-faith legal advocacy,
    even advocacy based on an accurate assessment of then
    existing case law.
        Third, in construing §1692k(c) to exclude legal errors,
    the Court points to the requirement that a debt collector
    maintain “procedures reasonably adapted to avoid any
    such error.” The Court asserts that this phrase most
    naturally evokes procedures to avoid clerical or factual
    mistakes. There is nothing natural in reading this phrase
    contrary to its plain terms, which do not distinguish be
    tween different categories of mistakes. Nor is there any
    thing unusual about procedures adopted to avoid legal
    mistakes. The present case is again instructive. Accord
    ing to the District Court, respondents designated a lead
    FDCPA compliance attorney, who regularly attended
    conferences and seminars; subscribed to relevant periodi
    cals; distributed leading FDCPA cases to all attorneys;
    trained new attorneys on their statutory obligations; and
    held regular firm-wide meetings on FDCPA issues. See
    
    538 F.3d 469
    , 477 (CA6 2008). These procedures are not
    only “reasonably adapted to avoid [legal] error[s],” but also
    accord with the FDCPA’s purposes.
        The Court argues, nonetheless, that the statute contem
    plates only clerical or factual errors, for these are the type
    of errors that can mostly naturally be addressed through
    “ ‘a series of steps followed in a regular orderly definite
    way.’ ” Ante, at 12 (quoting Webster’s Third New Interna
    tional Dictionary 1807 (1976)). As made clear by the steps
    that respondents have taken to ensure FDCPA compli
    ance, this is simply not true. The Court also speculates
    that procedures to avoid clerical or factual errors will be
    easier to implement than procedures to avoid legal errors.
    Even if this were not pure conjecture, it has nothing to do
                      Cite as: 
    559 U.S.
    ____ (2010)           19
    
                        KENNEDY, J., dissenting
    
    with what the statute requires. The statute does not talk
    about procedures that eliminate all—or even most—
    errors. It merely requires procedures “reasonably adapted
    to avoid any such error.” The statute adopts the sensible
    approach of requiring reasonable safeguards if liability is
    to be avoided. This approach, not the Court’s interpreta
    tion, reflects the reality of debt-collection practices.
       Fourth, the Court argues that construing §1692k(c) to
    encompass a mistake-of-law defense “is at odds with” the
    role contemplated for the FTC. Ante, at 13. This is so, it
    contends, because the FTC is authorized to issue advisory
    opinions, and the statute shields from liability “any act
    done or omitted in good faith in conformity” with such
    opinions. §1692k(e). But why, asks the Court, would a
    debt collector seek an opinion from the FTC if immunity
    under §1692k(c) could be obtained simply by relying in
    good faith on advice from private counsel? Going further,
    the Court suggests that debt collectors might “have an
    affirmative incentive not to seek an advisory opinion to
    resolve ambiguity in the law, which would then prevent
    them from claiming good-faith immunity for violations.”
    Ante, at 13.
       There is little substance to this line of reasoning. As the
    Court itself acknowledges, debt collectors would have an
    incentive to invoke the FTC safe harbor even if §1692k(c)
    is construed to include a mistake-of-law defense, because
    the safe harbor provides a “more categorical immunity.”
    Ante, at 13, n. 8. Additionally, if a debt collector avoids
    seeking an advisory opinion from the FTC out of concern
    that the answer will be unfavorable, that seems quite at
    odds with saying that his or her ignorance is “bona fide.”
       It should be noted further that the Court’s concern
    about encouraging ignorance could apply just as well to
    §45(m)(1)(A). That provision subjects a debt collector to
    harsh penalties for violating an FTC rule “with actual
    knowledge or knowledge fairly implied on the basis of
    20         JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                    KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                      KENNEDY, J., dissenting 
    
    
    objective circumstances that such act is unfair or deceptive
    and is prohibited by such rule.” No one contends that this
    will encourage debt collectors to avoid learning the FTC’s
    rules. Yet there is no doubt that §45(m)(1)(A) permits a
    mistake-of-law defense.
      All this assumes, of course, that obtaining an FTC advi
    sory opinion will be a reasonably practical possibility. For
    the reasons stated above, see Part I–B–2, supra, this is to
    be doubted. Even the Court recognizes the limited role
    that the FTC has played. Ante, at 25 (“[E]vidence of pre
    sent administrative practice makes us reluctant to place
    significant weight on §1692k(e) as a practical remedy”).
      Fifth, the Court asserts that “[a]ny remaining doubt”
    about its preferred interpretation is dispelled by the
    FDCPA’s statutory history. The Court points to the fact
    that §1692k(c) mirrors a bona fide error defense provision
    in the earlier enacted Truth in Lending Act (TILA), argu
    ing that Congress sought to incorporate into the FDCPA
    the view of the Courts of Appeals that the TILA defense
    applied only to clerical errors. Ante, at 14–15. As JUSTICE
    SCALIA points out, the Court’s claims of judicial uniformity
    are overstated. See ante, at 2–3 (opinion concurring in
    part and concurring in judgment). They rest on three
    Court of Appeals decisions, which are contradicted by
    several District Court opinions and a State Supreme Court
    opinion—hardly a consistent legal backdrop against which
    to divine legislative intent. The Court also ignores the fact
    that those three Courts of Appeals had construed the
    TILA provision to apply only to clerical errors. See Ives v.
    W. T. Grant Co., 
    522 F.2d 749
    , 758 (CA2 1975); Haynes v.
    Logan Furniture Mart, Inc., 
    503 F.2d 1161
    , 1167 (CA7
    1974); Palmer v. Wilson, 
    502 F.2d 860
    , 861 (CA9 1974).
    The Court therefore cannot explain why it reads §1692k(c)
    more broadly to encompass factual mistakes as well.
      It is of even greater significance that in 1980 Congress
    amended the TILA’s bona fide error exception explicitly to
                     Cite as: 
    559 U.S.
    ____ (2010)          21
    
                        KENNEDY, J., dissenting
    
    exclude “an error of legal judgment with respect to a per
    son’s obligations under [the TILA].” See Truth in Lending
    Simplification and Reform Act, §615 (c), 94 Stat. 181. This
    amendment would have been unnecessary if Congress had
    understood the pre-1980 language to exclude legal errors.
    The natural inference is that the pre-amendment TILA
    language—the same language later incorporated nearly
    verbatim into §1692k(c)—was understood to cover those
    errors.
       The Court’s responses to this point are perplexing. The
    Court first says that the 1980 amendment did not “obvi
    ous[ly]” change the scope of the TILA’s bona fide error
    defense, given the “uniform interpretation” that the de
    fense had been given in the Courts of Appeals. Ante, at
    17. The Court thus prefers to make an entire statutory
    amendment surplusage rather than abandon its dubious
    assumption that Congress meant to ratify a nascent Court
    of Appeals consensus. Cf. Corley v. United States, 
    556 U.S.
    ___, ___ (2009) (slip op., at 9) (“[O]ne of the most
    basic interpretive canons [is] that [a] statute should be
    construed so that effect is given to all its provisions, so
    that no part will be inoperative or superfluous, void or
    insignificant” (internal quotation marks omitted; second
    alteration in original)). (Without any evidence, the Court
    speculates that perhaps the amendment was intended to
    codify existing judicial interpretations that excluded legal
    errors. Ante, at 17–18. If those judicial interpretation
    were truly as uniform as the Court suggests—and
     the presumption against mistake-of-law defenses as
    ironclad—there would have been no need for such a
    recodification.)
       The Court is hesitant as well to give the 1980 amend
    ment weight because Congress “has not expressly included
    mistakes of law in any of the numerous bona fide error
    defenses, worded in pertinent part identically to §1692k(c),
    elsewhere in the U. S. Code.” Ante, at 18 (emphasis in
    22         JERMAN v. CARLISLE, MCNELLIE, RINI, 
    
                    KRAMER & ULRICH LPA 
    
                      KENNEDY, J., dissenting 
    
    
    original). In other words, the Court refuses to read
    §1692k(c) to cover mistakes of law because other bona fide
    error statutes do not expressly refer to such mistakes. But
    the reverse should be true: If other bona fide error provi
    sions included mistake-of-law language but §1692k(c) did
    not, we might think that the omission in §1692k(c) sig
    naled Congress’s intent to exclude mistakes of law. The
    absence of mistake-of-law language in §1692k(c) is conse
    quently less noteworthy because other statutes also omit
    such language.
      The Court emphasizes that some bona fide error de
    fenses, like the one in the current version of the TILA,
    expressly exclude legal errors from their scope. Ante, at
    18 (citing 
    12 U.S. C
    . §4010(c)(2)). Yet this also can prove
    the opposite of what the Court says it does: If a bona fide
    error defense were generally assumed not to include legal
    mistakes (as the Court argues), there would be no need to
    expressly exclude them. It is only if the defense would
    otherwise include such errors that exclusionary language
    becomes necessary. By writing explicit exclusionary lan
    guage into the TILA (and some other federal provisions),
    Congress has indicated that those provisions would other
    wise cover good-faith legal errors.
                           *     *    *
       For these reasons, §1692k(c) is best read to encompass
    mistakes of law. I would affirm the judgment of the Court
    of Appeals.
    

Document Info

DocketNumber: 08-1200

Citation Numbers: 559 U.S. 573, 130 S. Ct. 1605, 176 L. Ed. 2d 519, 2010 U.S. LEXIS 3480

Filed Date: 4/21/2010

Precedential Status: Precedential

Modified Date: 3/23/2018

Authorities (57)

Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz, P. A. v. United States , 559 U.S. 229 ( 2010 )

Johnson v. Eaton , 80 F.3d 148 ( 1996 )

Barlow v. United States , 32 U.S. 404 ( 1833 )

United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co. , 200 U.S. 321 ( 1906 )

Ellis v. United States , 206 U.S. 246 ( 1907 )

Armour Packing Co. v. United States , 209 U.S. 56 ( 1908 )

Boyce Motor Lines, Inc. v. United States , 342 U.S. 337 ( 1952 )

United States v. International Minerals & Chemical Corp. , 402 U.S. 558 ( 1971 )

Ford Motor Credit Co. v. Milhollin , 444 U.S. 555 ( 1980 )

Herman & MacLean v. Huddleston , 459 U.S. 375 ( 1983 )

Hensley v. Eckerhart , 461 U.S. 424 ( 1983 )

Kosak v. United States , 465 U.S. 848 ( 1984 )

Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Thurston , 469 U.S. 111 ( 1985 )

Liparota v. United States , 471 U.S. 419 ( 1985 )

Nix v. Whiteside , 475 U.S. 157 ( 1986 )

Edward J. DeBartolo Corp. v. Florida Gulf Coast Building & ... , 485 U.S. 568 ( 1988 )

McLaughlin v. Richland Shoe Co. , 486 U.S. 128 ( 1988 )

Cheek v. United States , 498 U.S. 192 ( 1991 )

Ratzlaf v. United States , 510 U.S. 135 ( 1994 )

Central Bank of Denver , NA v. First Interstate Bank of ... , 511 U.S. 164 ( 1994 )

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