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  • Utah appellate court upholds ruling for defendant in FDCPA Case

    Courts

    Recently, the Utah Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s decision granting summary judgment in favor of a defendant debt collector in an FDCPA case. According to the court, defendant’s registration as a debt collection agency had lapsed in Utah when it sent the plaintiff a debt collection letter. Later, when still not registered as a collection agency, defendant served plaintiff with a collection complaint and filed it with the district court. Plaintiff did not contest the complaint, leading to defendant moving for a default judgment, which the district court granted in 2020. Thereafter, plaintiff filed suit against defendant for illegally pursuing the prior collection action, and summary judgment was entered against plaintiff.

    On appeal, the court turned to a recent similar case that supported the lower court’s decision that a registration violation was not actionable under the Utah Consumer Sales Practices Act (UCSPA). Regarding plaintiff’s FDCPA claim, the court found that plaintiff did not argue for a different resolution under the FDCPA compared to the Utah Code. Plaintiff contended that since both statutes prohibited the same practices in debt collection, her FDCPA claim should also be valid under the UCSPA. However, as plaintiff did not preserve any argument distinguishing her FDCPA claim from her UCSPA claim, the court affirmed the dismissal of both the FDCPA and UCSPA claims. 

    Courts FDCPA Utah Appeals

  • Indiana appellate court finds debt company violated FDCPA and Indiana’s deceptive consumer sales act

    Courts

    Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed a state trial court’s decision concluding that the defendant was a debt collector under both the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act and the FDCPA when it purchased and collected defaulted debt.  The Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s argument in its motion for partial summary judgment arguing it was not a debt collector under both statutes because the plaintiff’s debt was owned by it and due to it, and it did not collect debts owed by another. The court reviewed the evidence that the defendant purchased defaulted debt and utilized agencies to contact consumers as its primary business pursuit. The court found the defendant was a “person who uses any instrumentality of interstate commerce or the mails in any business the principal purpose of which is the collection of any debts” or a “debt collector” under 15 U.S.C. § 1692a(6). It likewise concluded that the defendant was a “debt collector under” the state statute because Ind. Code § 24-5-0.5-2(a)(13) incorporated the FDCPA’s definition of debt collector and “[t]he term includes a debt buyer (as defined in IC 24-5-15.5).”

    Courts Indiana Deceptive Debt Collection FDCPA

  • 5th Circuit reverses judgment in FDCPA case

    Courts

    Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ordered an FDCPA case to be reversed and remanded after the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana granted a motion for summary judgment. The plaintiffs filed a putative class action alleging that the defendant law firm violated the FDCPA for misrepresenting judicial enforceability of a debt in their dunning letters. The case concerned Congress’s “Road Home” grant program, which was created to provide grants to repair and rebuild homes in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. All Road Home grant recipients were required to disclose repair benefits previously received. The named plaintiffs in this case applied for and received Road Home grants but failed to disclose repair benefits previously received from FEMA or a privacy insurance carrier. In March 2008, the State’s contractor, ICF, noticed the potential double payments to the two named plaintiffs and placed an internal flag on their accounts in the Road Home database. After a decade, the defendant law firm was engaged to help recover these double payments. The defendants sent a dunning letter demanding repayment in 90 days or the defendants “may proceed with further action against you, including legal action.” The dunning letter further stated that “you may be responsible for legal interest from judicial demand, court costs, and attorneys fees if it is necessary to bring legal action against you.” The plaintiffs filed suit under Section 1692e of the FDCPA and, in an amended complaint, alleged the defendants collected or attempted to collect time-barred debts, failed to itemize the alleged debts, and threatened to assess attorneys’ fees without determining if that right existed. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants.

    The 5th Circuit reversed on appeal. Concerning the first allegation of collecting or attempting to collect a time-barred debt, the court reasoned that while it does not violate the FDCPA to collect on a time-barred debt, a debt-collector “can run afoul of the FDCPA by threatening judicial action while completely failing to mention that a limitations period might affect judicial enforceability.” Further, the appellate court found the dunning letters were “untimely even under the most liberal, 10-year time window” as the plaintiffs breached their agreements when they closed on their Road Home grants or when the State of Louisiana was provided actual notice of the alleged duplicative payments, both of which occurred more than 10 years before the dunning letters were received. The court also found that the defendants mischaracterized one plaintiff’s debt as the dunning letter said the amount owed was for insurance proceeds when it included a 30 percent penalty for lack of flood insurance. Finally, the court explained that because there was no lawful basis to recover attorneys fees, the defendants violated the FDCPA. 

    Courts FDCPA Louisiana FEMA

  • Trusts are covered persons subject to the CFPA, 3rd Circuit upholds CFPB FDCPA case

    Courts

    On March 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit filed an opinion remanding a case between the CFPB and defendant statutory trusts to the District Court. After issuing a civil investigative demand in 2014, the CFPB initiated an enforcement action in September 2017 against a collection of 15 Delaware statutory trusts that furnished over 800,000 private loans and their debt collector for, among other things, allegedly filing lawsuits against consumers for private student loan debt that they could not prove was owed or was outside the applicable statute of limitations (covered by InfoBytes here). Then, early last year, the parties settled and asked the court to enter a consent judgment, which was denied (covered by InfoBytes here).

    The 3rd Circuit addressed two questions: (i) whether the trusts are covered persons subject to the CFPA; and (ii) whether the CFPB was required to ratify the underlying action that questioned a constitutional deficiency within the Bureau. On the statutory issue, the court found that the trusts fell within the purview of the CFPA because trusts “engage” in offering or providing a consumer financial product or service, specifically student loan servicing and debt collection, as explicitly stated in the trust agreements each trust entered. Regarding the constitutional question, the defendants argued that the Bureau needed to ratify the underlying suit because it was initiated while the agency head was improperly insulated, and since the Bureau ratified it after the statute of limitations had run, the suit was untimely. The court disagreed and found that the defendants’ analysis of the here-and-now injury “doesn’t go far enough,” therefore the CFPB did not need to ratify this action before the statute of limitations had run because the impermissible insulation provision does not, on its own, cause harm.  

    Courts Federal Issues CFPB Third Circuit FDCPA Student Lending Debt Collection Enforcement Consumer Finance CFPA

  • 7th Circuit says plaintiffs should have produced evidence to prove concrete injury

    Courts

    On February 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit decided that while an interruption of self-employment can cause a concrete loss for a plaintiff to sue, that loss must be established by evidence at summary judgment. The loss in question involved a consumer debt in arrears sold by a bank to a debt collection agency. Two individual plaintiffs owing the underlying debt sued the debt collection agency under 15 U.S.C. §1692e of the FDCPA when the debt collection agency attempted to collect on the debt owed without relaying that the bank had not verified the balance of the debt. The judge opined that rather than claiming they had incurred any concrete loss (e.g., a loss of income, payment of funds, etc.), plaintiffs instead filed an affidavit to state that the debt had “interrupted my self-employment” because they were focused on thinking about the debt and spent time working through records to confirm the debt owed. The judge agreed with the plaintiffs’ claim that debt collection efforts can very well cause a delay in receiving self-employment income, which is a “form of loss”; however, the judge also held that plaintiffs must show evidence of injury at the summary judgment stage, as this is the “put up or shut up” stage in litigation. Ultimately, the plaintiffs failed to show any evidence that debt collection efforts caused them concrete harm, other than interrupting a productive day of work. 

    Courts Appellate Debt Collection FDCPA

  • District Court decides in favor of bank despite alleged FDCPA and RESPA violations

    Courts

    On February 15, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted a bank defendant’s motion to dismiss certain claims presented in the plaintiff’s complaint alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and Real Estate Settlement Practices Act (RESPA).

    With respect to the FDCPA claim, the court found that the defendant did not qualify as a “debt collector” within the meaning of the statute because the defendant acquired the loan through its merger with the original creditor of the plaintiff’s mortgage. The court noted that several other district courts have held that an entity that acquires a debt through its merger with another creditor is not a “debt collector” under the FDCPA even if the merger occurred following the borrower’s default on the debt.

    With respect to the plaintiff’s RESPA claim, the court found that the plaintiff failed to allege a violation of the statute because the plaintiff’s letter to the defendant, which requested a copy of the original promissory note underlying the deed of trust as well as a loan payoff amount, did not constitute a “qualified written request” triggering the defendant’s obligations under RESPA to respond.  

    Courts RESPA FDCPA California Mortgages

  • Third Circuit finds Pennsylvania lending law does not regulate collection of charged-off debt

    Courts

    On February 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a lower court’s decision to grant a debt collector’s (the defendant) motion for judgment. The defendant argued that its efforts to collect plaintiff’s charged-off debt via a proof of claim in a bankruptcy proceeding was not limited by, or in violation of, the Pennsylvania Consumer Discount Company Act (CDCA).   The plaintiff, who obtained a loan from a third-party small-dollar lender licensed under the CDCA, defaulted on the loan and the licensed lender subsequently charged off and sold plaintiff’s debt to a company that was not licensed under the CDCA. 

    After filing for bankruptcy, the plaintiff sued the defendant and alleged a FDCPA violation when the defendant filed a proof of claim during the bankruptcy proceeding to collect the outstanding balance on the charged-off loan. The plaintiff’s argument was premised on claims that the defendant could not lawfully collect the debt because the CDCA dictates that a licensee may not sell CDCA-authorized contracts to an unlicensed person or entity. As such, the plaintiff argued the proof of claim violated the FDCPA’s prohibition against “false, deceptive, or misleading” representations in connection with the collection of a debt. The 3rd Circuit disagreed.   

    Relying in part on a letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities confirming that the CDCA does not apply to an unlicensed entity that purchases or attempts to collect on charged-off consumer loan accounts of debtors in bankruptcy, the appellate court held that “[t]he CDCA is a loan statute, not a debt collection statute,” and that “entities in the business of purchasing and collecting charged-off consumer debt are not subject to the CDCA’s regulatory scheme.” The 3rd Circuit held that selling charged-off obligations is not the same as selling the defaulted loan contract. Rather, it is selling unsecured debt, which falls outside of the CDCA’s scope. The court concluded that the CDCA’s prohibitions were inapplicable and could not be the basis for the FDCPA violation.

    Courts Third Circuit Appellate Pennsylvania FDCPA

  • District Court finds “negative emotions” alone do not establish standing under the FDCPA

    Courts

    Recently, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri granted a debt collector’s motion to dismiss, finding that the plaintiff’s allegations of injury after receiving one letter that violated the FDCPA did not establish standing. The plaintiff sued the debt collector under Sections 1692e and 1692g of the FDCPA, alleging that the defendant (i) made false and misleading representations, and (ii) continued to collect the debt without proper validation by sending the plaintiff a collection letter with the wrong account number and purporting the plaintiff is personally liable for her deceased husband’s medical debt. The plaintiff asserted her injuries because of receiving the letter included expending time and money to mitigate the risk of future financial harm and fear, anxiety, and stress, which “manifested physically in the form of increased heartrate.”

    The court found that the plaintiff did not allege sufficient facts to establish, or for the court to infer, a tangible injury because the plaintiff only stated she lost money without providing additional detail on what that entailed. Additionally, the court relied on the holdings of Courts of Appeals and found that the plaintiff’s alleged emotions of fear, anxiety, and stress alone do not state a cognizable or “particularized, concrete” injury. 

    Courts Debt Collection Standing FDCPA

  • District Court dismisses FDCPA class action lawsuit for lack of standing on alleged concrete injuries suffered

    Courts

    On January 31, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissed an FDCPA class action lawsuit for lack of standing. According to the order, plaintiff alleged numerous violations of the FDCPA related to two debt collection letters sent to the plaintiff and his girlfriend. In September 2023, a debt collector (defendant) reportedly sent two letters to the plaintiff which allegedly did not contain the requisite information mandated by the FDCPA for communication with consumers, including validation and itemization details. One of the letters purportedly demanded payment by September 29, falling within the 30-day validation period. Additionally, plaintiff asserted that one of the letters was addressed to his girlfriend who bore no responsibility for the debt. Plaintiff claimed two concrete injuries: (i) the letters allegedly strained his relationship with his girlfriend, causing emotional distress; and (ii) due to the omission of critical information in the letters, plaintiff felt confused and uncertain about how to effectively respond.  

    In considering the plaintiff’s claims, the court discussed the elements required to state a claim for publicity given to private life and examines a specific case where such a claim was rejected by the court. It highlights that for such a claim to succeed, the matter publicized must be highly offensive to a reasonable person and not of legitimate public concern. Additionally, mere communication of private information to a single person typically does not constitute publicity, unless it has the potential to become public knowledge. Although Congress explicitly prohibits debt collectors from sharing consumer financial information with third parties, the court noted that it “does not automatically transform every arguable invasion of privacy into an actionable, concrete injury.” Therefore, the plaintiff's injury, as pleaded, was deemed insufficiently concrete for standing purposes. Regarding the second alleged injury, the court argued that confusion alone does not suffice as a concrete injury for standing purposes, and courts have determined that mere confusion or frustration does not qualify as an injury. Additionally, the court compared the case to other cases where plaintiffs had alleged confusion yet had also demonstrated further injuries.

    Courts FDCPA Class Action Consumer Finance Litigation Standing Debt Collection

  • Washington State Attorney General wins two suits under medical billing practices

    State Issues

    On February 1, the Attorney General from Washington State successfully sued a large healthcare group to pay over $158 million for settlement of funds under the state’s Consumer Protection Act (CPA). The Washington AG stated that the healthcare group violated state law which requires hospital management to notify patients about financial assistance and to screen them for eligibility before trying to collect payment. The healthcare group has been ordered to pay $20.6 million in patient refunds and will forgive $137.2 million in medical debts; it will also pay $4.5 million to cover the attorney general’s costs. Among others, the consent decree includes several injunctions to be engaged in or refrained from for five years, including maintaining charity care policies, and not collecting payment for medical services unless presented with either of two stated stipulations. Lastly, the consent decree states that if the healthcare group violates a condition, it would have to pay up to $125,000 per violation. The defendants do not admit the allegations of the complaints filed in the first lawsuit from February 2022. 

    Similarly, on February 2 the Washington AG successfully entered into a motion for partial summary judgment against a medical debt collection agency working within the healthcare group for sending 82,729 debt collection notices under the Collection Agency Act (CAA). The court agreed with the AG’s finding that the agency’s debt collection notices failed to make the required disclosures under the CAA. Damages have not yet been awarded. 

    State Issues Medical Debt FDCPA Washington State Attorney General

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