Monday, May 15, 2017

Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson, Docket 16-348

Debt collection: Statute of limitations: Unfair collection:

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 91 Stat. 874, 15 U. S. C. §1692 et seq., prohibits a debt collector from asserting any “false, deceptive, or misleading representation,” or using any “unfair or unconscionable means” to collect, or attempt to collect, a debt, §§1692e, 1692f.

(…) Whether Midland’s assertion of an obviously time-barred claim is “unfair” or “unconscionable” (within the terms of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act) presents a closer question. First, Johnson points out that several lower courts have found or indicated that, in the context of an ordinary civil action to collect a debt, a debt collector’s assertion of a claim known to be time barred is “unfair.” See, e.g., Phillips v. Asset Acceptance, LLC, 736 F. 3d 1076, 1079 (CA7 2013) (holding as much); Kimber v. Federal Financial Corp., 668 F. Supp. 1480, 1487 (MD Ala. 1987) (same); Huertas v. Galaxy Asset Management, 641 F. 3d 28, 32–33 (CA3 2011) (indicating as much); Castro v. Collecto, Inc., 634 F. 3d 779, 783 (CA5 2011) (same); Freyermuth v. Credit Bureau Servs., Inc., 248 F. 3d 767, 771 (CA8 2001) (same).

We are not convinced, however, by this precedent. It considers a debt collector’s assertion in a civil suit of a claim known to be stale. We assume, for argument’s sake, that the precedent is correct in that context (a matter this Court itself has not decided and does not now decide). But the context of a civil suit differs significantly from the present context, that of a Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceeding. The lower courts rested their conclusions upon their concern that a consumer might unwittingly repay a time-barred debt. Thus the Seventh Circuit pointed out that “few unsophisticated consumers would be aware that a statute of limitations could be used to defend against lawsuits based on stale debts.” Phillips, supra, at 1079 (quoting Kimber, supra, at 1487). The “passage of time,” the Circuit wrote, “dulls the consumer’s memory of the circumstances and validity of the debt” and the consumer may no longer have “personal records.” 736 F. 3d, at 1079 (quoting Kimber, supra, at 1487). Moreover, a consumer might pay a stale debt simply to avoid the cost and embarrassment of suit. 736 F. 3d, at 1079.

(U.S.S.C., May 15, 2017, Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson, Docket 16-348, J. Breyer).

Poursuivre une créance prescrite peut être déloyal et contrevenir à la loi fédérale sur le recouvrement équitable des créances (15 U. S. C. §1692 et seq.). Cette jurisprudence ne semble toutefois s'appliquer qu'aux sociétés de recouvrement qui ne sont pas titulaires originaires de la créance.

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