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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

District Court grants MSJ for defendant for not acting as a debt collector

Courts Debt Collection Illinois

Courts

On January 22, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted a defendant’s motion for summary judgment in an FDCPA case. According to the order, a hospital that treated plaintiff referred his medical bills to defendant, who services hospitals throughout revenue cycles and acts as an extension of the hospital to service patient accounts. In a letter sent by defendant to plaintiff, defendant stated that the amount was not currently in default but emphasized the importance of hearing from plaintiff. After receiving this first statement from defendant, plaintiff’s attorney contacted defendant explaining plaintiff’s situation, and advised defendant to cease communications. Despite the request, defendant sent a follow-up statement, similar to the first, which plaintiff assumed meant that the debt was in default and required urgent attention. Subsequently, plaintiff paid the outstanding medical debt.

Plaintiff then filed a lawsuit against defendant, alleging that the statements sent by defendant did not comply with disclosures mandated by the FDCPA. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that it is not a debt collector covered by the Act. The defendant further argued that since the FDCPA’s definition of “debt collector” expressly excludes “any person collecting or attempting to collect any debt owed… which was not in default at the time that it was obtained by such person,” defendant was not a debt collector because they never treated the medical debt as in default. Although the FDCPA does not define when a debt is “in default,” the court found that the hospital and defendant never treated the debt as defaulted at the time of assignment, and since it did not acquire a defaulted debt to collect, defendant is therefore not considered a covered debt collector under the FDCPA. The court also found issues with plaintiff’s assertations, concluding that they were not applicable to defendant, as it is not a “debt collector” nor a “collection agency,” and that there was no genuine issue of material fact on the question of whether plaintiff’s debt was “in default” at the time it was assigned. As such, the court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment as a matter of law, indicating that, based on the reasons provided, defendant is not considered a debt collector under the FDCPA.