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Ruling Says Debt Collectors May Not Break One Part of Law to Comply With Another

October 26, 2009

Our Rancho Cucamonga debt collection abuse attorneys have little sympathy for collection agencies that admit they violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. So we were pleased to see an Oct. 19 article on reporting that a federal appeals court was also not impressed. According to the article, the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a debt collector could not defend itself from a FDCPA lawsuit by claiming it broke one part of the law in order to comply with another. The court's written opinion compared this logic to the famous, though possibly false, Vietnam War quote from a military officer who said he would burn a village in order to save it.

The case sprang from a debt collection effort against Brenda Edwards. Over four months, Niagara left more than a dozen messages on Edwards' answering machine, at least two of which did not state who was calling or why. This put Niagara in violation of the FDCPA, which requires debt collectors to clearly state to debtors that their messages are from a debt collector. Niagara deliberately did not comply with this provision because it was concerned that doing so on an answering machine would violate another FDCPA provision requiring them not to disclose debts to anyone but the debtors and any spouses or attorneys they may have. After Edwards sued, Niagara argued that its intentional choice not to identify itself was a bona fide error. The Eleventh Circuit rejected that argument on legal grounds, adding that it was not reasonable to violate a law in order to comply with it.

As Pico Rivera collection agency abuse lawyers, we applaud this ruling. The FDCPA exists to protect consumers from overreaching and abuse by debt collectors. Allowing these companies to use one part of the FDCPA as an excuse to flout another part undermines both the letter and the spirit of the law. Furthermore, the Eleventh Circuit wrote, there is no guarantee that leaving a message would violate privacy provisions -- and if there were, collection agencies would still have the option of not leaving messages. As Judge Edward E. Carnes wrote, the FDCPA does not guarantee the right to leave messages, even though this may require changes to the way debt collectors do business. The U.S. Supreme Court may soon decide a similar case, and we very much hope this case will help guide its decision.

Howard Law LLP represents individuals and families who have been harassed, abused or misled by collection agencies in violation of the FDCPA and California's Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Both of these laws provide strong protections for consumers, including obligations for debt collectors to validate the debt in writing, restrict their calls to certain hours and avoid profane language and threats. Our Glendale fair debt collection attorneys find that debt collectors routinely and intentionally break these laws, believing consumers won't complain because they don't understand their own rights. Unfortunately, that's often true. But when consumers do stand up for themselves, they are entitled to sue the abusive debt collector for all of the costs of the illegal harassment, as well as up to $1,000 per violation of the law and all attorney fees and court costs.

If you're being harassed, threatened or wrongly chased by a collection agency you believe has broken the law, Howard Law can help. To set up a free, confidential evaluation of your case, please contact us online or call toll-free at 1-800-872-5925.