Eleventh Circuit reaffirms application of FDCPA to mortgage foreclosure actions

July 22, 2012

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.

For more information about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, ot, its state law counterpart, the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act, visit us at:

Confusing debt validation notice violates FDCPA

July 8, 2012

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) requires, among other things, that debt collectors, within five days after first communicating with an individual debtor about a debt, to provide the debtor with a validation notice provides the consumer a written notice containing — along with other information – the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed and the amount of the debt. This notice is sometimes referred to as a debt validation notice. Simply stating the amount due is not enough, however. The notice must state the amount of the debt clearly enough that the recipient is likely to understand it. It is not enough for a debt collection agency simply to include the proper debt validation notice in a mailing to a consumer. Congress intended that such notice be clearly conveyed. Therefore, a notice that letter fails to state amount of debt where a consumer reading it could reasonably interpret the amount of debt in two ways, is a violation of the FDCPA.

In Melillo v. Shendell & Assocs., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9248 (S.D. Fla. Jan. 26, 2012), the plaintiff recieved a collection letter from a law firm representing his condominium association. Plaintiff alleged in his Complaint that the collection letter failed to state a clear amount of the debt owed because it referred to different amounts. The court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss stating that in reading the complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiff, that to the extent that the parties dispute factual issues regarding whether the collection letter was actually confusing will ultimately be for the jury to decide at trial.

For more information about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, ot, its state law counterpart, the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act, visit us at:

Florida Consumer Debt Collection Practices Act

July 3, 2012

In 1993, the Florida Legislature enacted the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (“FCCPA”) which law targets unfair debt collection tactics, including those inflicted upon residential mortgage customers. The statute proscribes a broad range of deceptive, harassing, and abusive practices.  It also provides a right to bring litigation against wrongdoers and to recover actual damages, costs, and attorney fees.

The following are some of the most common possible violations of the FCCPA:

•    Harassment – frequent phone calls to alleged debtors, their family and friends, repeated calls with no messages, hang-ups, lies, misleading comments, speaking in a belittling manner, embarrassing, argumentative and rude conduct are examples of harassing conduct.

•    Collecting money not owed – if an alleged debtor doesn’t owe the money it is a violation of the law for a collector to try and force the alleged debtor to pay the money.

•    Threats – creating a “false sense of urgency” or suggesting arrest, criminal prosecution, jail.

•    Calls at work – calls to the workplace, especially after a collector is told not to call, such as speaking to or leaving messages with a receptionist, calling the cell phone while alleged debtor is at work or calling alleged debtors direct line, is a violation.

•    Contacting 3rd parties – collectors may not contact any party about a debt without the express permission of the alleged debtor, including the spouse or any other family member, neighbors, friends, or co-workers.

•    Written Notice – collectors must send a written notice stating the amount of the debt, the creditor to whom the debt is owed, and a statement that the debtor has 30 days to in writing dispute the debt. Upon receiving written notice that a consumer disputes a debt, the collector within 30days must obtain written verification and validation of the amount of the debt, the creditor to whom the debt is owed and must mail said verification to the consumer.

•    Proof of debts – debt collectors are required by federal law to send “verification and validation” of a debt when the alleged debtor in writing disputes the debt within 30 days of a debt collector’s first contact.

•    Refusing to cease contact – all communications, including telephone calls and letters, must immediately stop once a debt collector receives a “cease and desist” letter. There is no specific required language, only a directive that all communications must stop. All cease and desist letters should be sent with return receipt requested.

•    Contact after attorney representation – once a collector is told a individual is represented by all conversations, messages, letters or any other communication must immediately stop.

For more information about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, ot, its state law counterpart, the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act, visit us at:

Who is a “debt collector” under Florida Law

July 3, 2012

Under Florida law, and more specifically the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (“FCCPA”), a “debt collector” is defined as: “any person who uses any instrumentality of commerce within this state,  . . . in any business the principal purpose of which is the collection of debts, or who regularly collects or attempts to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another.  The term ’debt collector’ includes any creditor who, in the process of collecting her or his own debts, uses any name other than her or his own which would indicate that a third person is collecting or attempting to collect such debts.”

So, the FCCPA applies to any person or persons, collecting his/her own debts.  Under that broad definition, the FCCPA would apply to alaw firm attempting to collect its own fees, as well as the employees engaged in such collection activity on the law firm’s behalf.

Robin Morgan retained the law firm of Arnold & Wilkins.   Morgan did not pay the law firm and they sued her is Small Claims Court.  She counterclaimed against the law firm, as well as the attorney and his assistant, individually, for violations of the FCCPA.  The law firm and the individuals moved to dismiss the counterclaim because they were not “debt collectors” under the FCCPA.   Morgan responded to the motion to dismiss by arguing that the FCCPA applies not only to a collection agency, but to any party seeking to collect a consumer debt.  The trial court granted the motion to dismiss finding that the FCCPA only apples to debt collectors not creditors collecting their own accounts as Morgan has alleged counter-defendants were doing.

On appeal, the law firm and the individual counterdefendants conceded that the trial court was in error when it ruled that FCCPA pertains only to debt collectors, however, they argued that that the trial court reached the right result for the wrong reason because Morgan’s debt was not a debt within the purview of the FCCPA since the debt did not flow from an extension of credit.  The appellate court reversed holding that that the obligation to the law firm was a debt covered by the FCCPA.

Morgan v. Wilkins, 74 So. 3d 179 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011).

For more information about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, ot, its state law counterpart, the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act, visit us at: