The court held that the FDCPA unambiguously requires any debt collector – first or subsequent – to send a section 1692g(a) validation notice within five days of its first communication with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt.
THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE IS NOT A LEGAL OPINION UPON WHICH YOU CAN RELY IN ANY INDIVIDUAL CASE. HIRE A LAWYER.
If anyone remembers the Grishom book “The Firm”, also in movies, you know that in the end the crooks were brought down by something they were never thinking about — mail fraud — a federal law that has teeth, even if it sounds dull. Mail fraud might actually apply to the millions of foreclosures that have taken place — even if key documents are sent through private mail delivery services. The end of month statements and other correspondence are definitely sent through US Mail. And as we are seeing, virtually everything they were sending consisted of multiple layers of misrepresentations that led to the detriment of the receiving homeowner. That’s mail fraud.
Like Mail Fraud, claims based on the FDCPA seem boring. But as many lawyers throughout the country are finding out, those claims have teeth. And I have seen multiple cases where FDCPA claims resulted in the settlement of the case on terms very favorable to the homeowner — provided the claim is properly brought and there are some favorable rulings on the initial motions.
Normally the banks settle any claim that looks like it would be upheld. That is why you don’t see many verdicts or judgments announcing fraudulent conduct by banks, servicers and “trustees.”And you don’t see the settlement either because they are all under seal of confidentiality. So for the casual observer, you might see a ruling here and there that favors the borrower, but you don’t see any judgments normally. Here the banks thought they had this one in the bag — because it was a class action and normally class actions are difficult if not impossible to prosecute.
It turns out that FDCPA is both a good cause of action for damages and a great discovery tool — to force the banks, servicers or anyone else that is a debt collector to respond within 5 days giving the basic information about the loan — like who is the actual creditor. Discovery is also much easier in FDCPA actions because it is forthrightly tied to the complaint.
This decision is more important than it might first appear. It removes any benefit of playing musical chairs with servicers, and other debt collectors. This is a core of bank strategy — to layer over all defects. This Federal Court of Appeals holds that it doesn’t matter how many layers you add — all debt collectors in the chain had the duty to respond.
Justia Opinion Summary
Hernandez v Williams, Zinman and Parham, PC No 14-15672 (9th Cir, 2016)
Plaintiff filed a putative class action, alleging that WZP violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692(g)(a), by sending a debt collection letter that lacked the disclosures required by section 1692(g)(a) of the FDCPA. Applying well-established tools of statutory interpretation and construing the language in section 1692g(a) in light of the context and purpose of the FDCPA, the court held that the phrase “the initial communication” refers to the first communication sent by any debt collector, including collectors that contact the debtor after another collector already did. The court held that the FDCPA unambiguously requires any debt collector – first or subsequent – to send a section 1692g(a) validation notice within five days of its first communication with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt. In this case, the district court erred in concluding that, because WZP was not the first debt collector to communicate with plaintiff about her debt, it had no obligation to comply with the statutory validation notice requirement. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded.
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Filed under: foreclosure Tagged: | 9TH CIRCUIT, borrower, class action, damages, disclosure, discovery, FDCPA, foreclosure defense, foreclosure offense, fraud, mail fraud, securitization