Since 2009, debt collectors in the Eleventh Circuit (Florida, Georgia and Alabama) who were contacting consumers in connection with mortgage foreclosure actions relied on the decision of Warren v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., 342 F. App’x 458 (11th Cir. 2009) for protection from suit because that decision held that enforcement of a security interest through the foreclosure process is not debt collection for purposes of the FDCPA. However, creditors can no longer seek refuge in Warren v. Countrywide Home Loans, supra, since publication of the opinion in Reese v. Ellis, Painter, Ratterree & Adams, LLP , 678 F.3d 1211 (11th Cir. 2012). Reese held that an entity that regularly attempts to collect debts can be a “debt collector” under the FDCPA even when that entity is also enforcing a security interest.
The Reese holding was recently reaffirmed in Birster v. Am. Home Mortg. Servicing, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 14660 (11th Cir. Fla. July 18, 2012). In this case, the Birsters owned a home in Jupiter, Florida which they refinanced through Option One. The Birsters ceased making mortgage payments on or around June 1, 2008. The promissory note and mortgage provided that any missed payment by the Birsters places the loan into a default status. On July 30, 2008, AHMSI began servicing the loan and initiating collection activities. On February 2, 2009, U.S. Bank, N.A., as the trustee for the lienholder, initiated foreclosure proceedings against the Birsters. In their FDCPA lawsuit, the Birsters alleged that AHMSI began its relentless assault on them in 2008. According to the Birsters, AHMSI called them multiple times on a daily basis to collect the past due amounts. The Birsters further alleged that most of these calls occurred after AHMSI knew that Angela suffered from an inoperable glioma (brain tumor) that cannot be diagnosed as cancerous or non-cancerous. As early as April 16, 2009, the Birsters informed AHMSI that they were represented by an attorney, and provided AHMSI with the attorney’s name and phone number. The Birsters advised AHMSI to contact their attorney and to cease contacting them directly. AHMSI nevertheless continued its direct communications with the Birsters. The Complaint further alleged that during these calls, AHMSI used offensive and abusive language towards Mrs. Birster and made false representations that the Birsters’ home was scheduled for a foreclosure sale. Mrs. Birster also alleged that after a particularly abusive call on May 5, 2009, she collapsed in her front yard and was rushed to a nearby hospital. Once the calls ceased, the Birsters claim AHMSI then began intimidating and harassing them at their home. AHMSI sent agents to “inspect” the property, despite knowing the Birsters resided there. Although AHMSI was initially inspecting the property on a monthly basis, AHMSI soon began visiting the Birsters’ home every day or every other day. AHMSI’s home inspections even occurred on Thanksgiving and Christmas days. The Birsters alleged AHMSI’s actions caused Angela to suffer a deep depression and anxiety, resulting in her attempted suicide.
The district court granted summary judgment to AHMSI after concluding the Birsters’ allegations related solely to efforts by AHMSI to enforce a security interest, rather than to collect a debt. Thus, the district judge concluded that the actions of AHMSI were not covered by the FDCPA. Based on the holding in Reese, supra, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the order granting summary judgment.
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