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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

District Court enjoins Massachusetts AG from enforcing emergency debt collection regulation

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

Federal Issues

On May 6, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts entered a temporary restraining order (TRO) enjoining the Massachusetts attorney general from enforcing an emergency regulation that made numerous standard debt collection actions an unfair or deceptive act or practice during the Covid-19 pandemic. As previously covered by InfoBytes, a debt collection trade association filed a complaint last month contending that the emergency regulation is a content-based restriction on free speech and unconstitutional because it, among other things, excludes six classes of collectors from the prohibition on placing collection calls, and does not treat all “communications” equally by excluding certain types of collections communications. The trade association argued that the emergency regulation, among other things, bars debt collectors from being able to initiate phone conversations with individuals who have unpaid debts. In granting the TRO, the court wrote that the measure violates debt collection agencies’ First Amendment rights without adding meaningful consumer protections, and that, “[w]hile the [r]egulation promises some relief from unwanted telephone calls, it does not pretend to offer any relief from the debt itself or the obligation to repay it in full.” The court also noted that the emergency regulation “singles out one group debt collectors and imposes a blanket suppression order on their ability to use what they believe is their most effective means of communication, the telephone. If what the Attorney General meant to accomplish by way of the [r]egulation was a strict liability ban on all deceptive and misleading debt collection calls, the [r]egulation is redundant as that is already the law, both state and federally.”

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