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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Debt collection trade association claims Massachusetts emergency regulation is unconstitutional

Federal Issues Courts Debt Collection State Issues State Attorney General Constitution Covid-19

Federal Issues

On April 20, a debt collection trade association filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts against the Massachusetts attorney general, challenging the state’s emergency regulation issued in March, which makes numerous standard debt collection actions an unfair and deceptive act or practice during the Covid-19 pandemic. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the emergency regulation includes provisions that prohibit both creditors and debt collectors from (i) initiating, filing, or threatening to file debt collection lawsuits; (ii) garnishing wages and repossessing vehicles; and (iii) initiating phone calls with debtors, unless necessary to discuss a rescheduled court appearance or at the request of the debtor. Alleging violations of both state and federal law, including the First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, and the separation of powers, the trade association argues that the emergency regulations are a content-based restriction on free speech and unconstitutional because they, among other things, exclude six classes of collectors from the prohibition on placing collection calls, and do not treat all “communications” equally by excluding certain types of collections communications. The trade association also contends that the restrictions block members from providing consumers with possible resolutions, such as “temporary hardship repayment plans that may provide a variety of options for deferring payments or determining longer-term payment plans tailored to individual consumer situations where income has been interrupted for any reason.” The complaint also cites examples from debt collectors in the state that detail the negative impact the emergency regulation has had on their businesses. The trade association filed an emergency motion seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of the regulation.

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