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N.J. appeals court says debt collector may file suit during the pandemic

Courts State Issues Debt Collection FDCPA Consumer Finance Covid-19 Appellate New Jersey

Courts

On June 29, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division affirmed a lower court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of a plaintiff debt collector in an action over whether a suit could be filed during the Covid-19 pandemic despite a clause in an agreement with the original creditor that barred collection actions in a disaster area. According to the opinion, the plaintiff purchased a portfolio of debts, including two credit card debts owned by the individual defendant. The plaintiff sued the defendant after attempts to collect on the debts were unsuccessful. The defendant filed a third-party complaint against the plaintiff asserting counterclaims accusing the plaintiff of violating the FDCPA, and stating that collection agencies were barred by an executive order that allegedly prohibited the initiation and adjudication of debt collection matters during the pandemic. A lower court granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, after finding no genuine issue of material fact which would prevent summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff. Specifically, the lower court “found that plaintiff provided sufficient, credible evidence in the record that established the nexus between the accounts and defendant,” and “also found the executive order and FDCPA argument meritless,” as “no directive existed that prevented agencies from initiating debt collection matters during the COVID-19 pandemic.” The defendant appealed.

On appeal, the defendant argued, among other things, that the lower court had “improperly relied on inadmissible hearsay documents” and erred in finding the executive order and FDCPA inapplicable. The defendant referred to a clause in an agreement she had with the original creditor, which said: “Without limiting the foregoing, [plaintiff] further represents and warrants that it shall: . . . (x) upon declaration by [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] or any appropriate local, state or federal agency that a location is a disaster area, [plaintiff] agrees to temporarily suspend its collection activities within said area until such time as is reasonable and practicable.” The appeals court agreed with the lower court’s reasoning, and called the defendant’s argument “baseless.” According to the appeals court, the defendant “failed to present evidence that an executive order prohibited the commencement and adjudication of debt collection matters during a state emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic” and failed to establish “that there is a contractual bar to plaintiff filing a debt collection suit in a disaster area.”

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