In previous blogs, I have discussed the protections provided consumers under the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). The FDCPA is a powerful deterrence to unscrupulous debt collectors and unlawful debt collection practices. The FDCPA is a comprehensive and reticulated statutory scheme, involving clear definitions, precise requirements, and particularized remedies. The validity of the underlying debt is not relevant or an issue under the FDCPA. There is no exception to liability for violating the FDCPA as a result of fraud on the part of the consumer. As long as the underlying obligation is a “debt” as defined b the FDCPA, the method of collections is irrelevant. The validity of the underlying debt is irrelevant as well.
The FDCPA “provides a remedy for consumers who are subjected to abusive, deceptive, or unfair trade collection practices by debt collectors.” A single violation of the Act triggers statutory liability and remedies. Under the FDCPA, a plaintiff may collect statutory damages even if he has suffered no actual damages. The FDCPA is essentially a strict liability statute, where the degree of the defendant’s culpability is relevant only in computing damages, not in determining liability.
Under the FDCPA, consumers are enforcing the FDCPA essentially acting as private attorney generals. Because consumers are acting as private attorney generals, an award of attorney fees is mandatory in an FDCPA case. That means that the FDCPA is essentially a fee shifting statute. If a consumer can demonstrates that the FDCPA has been violated, the consumer may recover actual damages, statutory, costs and attorney’s fees. The longer the lawsuit goes, the more the consumer can recover in attorney’s fees. The threat of an award of attorney’s fees is a very effective deterrent and leads to mean settlements early in litigation.
The FDCPA is not without its limitations. One of the biggest limitations of the FDCPA is that it only applies to debt collectors as defined by the FDCPA. It does not apply to creditors or assignees of the creditor when the assignment has occurred prior to the consumer’s default on the debt obligation. Attorneys acting as debt collectors are also included in the definition of debt collector under the FDCPA.
Typically when bringing a suit under the FDCPA, a consumer will name the debt collectors, and possible law firm and individual attorney hired by the creditor to collect on the debt for any violations of the FDCPA. However the creditor may not be named under the FDCPA.
From the perspective of obtaining the greatest recovery in a lawsuit, a consumer’s best option is to target the creditor as they usually have the deepest pockets. Under Pennsylvania’s Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act (“FCEUA”), a consumer may also sue the creditor.
The FCEUA is Pennsylvania’s analogue to the FDCPA and applies to both debt collectors and creditors. A debt collector’s violation of any provision of the FDCPA constitutes a violation of the FCEUA which in turn constitutes a violation of Pennsylvania’s consumer protection law, the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (“UTPCPL”). The FCEUA allows a consumer to sue the original creditor as well as the debt collector for any violations of the FCEUA. The FCEUA protections mirror the FDCPA’s protections.
The FCEUA also has a two year statute of limitations as opposed to the FDCPA’s one year statute of limitations. Finally, as the FCEUA is also a violation of the UTPCPL, a consumer may recover actual damages or statutory damages whichever is greater, costs and reasonable attorney’s fees. Under the UTPCPL, a court may also award treble damages. Again a very effective deterrent which can lead to early settlements.
Any action by a consumer for unlawful debt collection practices must include claims for violations of the FDCPA as well as the FCEUA. It allows the consumer to sue the creditor as well as include older violations.