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Lawsuit Against Debt Collector Dismissed for Lack of Specific Statements

business man with horns.jpgA Maryland woman who took a debt collector to court was unsuccessful in her claim that she was harassed - a violation of debt collecting laws. Priscilla Quander's lawsuit claiming violations of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) was dismissed by a federal trial court.

Quander allegedly incurred a $1,200 debt provided by Platinum Protection. Quander said she only discovered the debt when she checked her credit report in May 2012. Hillcrest, Davidson and Associates LLC became involved with collecting the debt. She said she then contacted Hillcrest in an attempt to resolve the issue but claimed that she was not able to reach an amicable resolution. As a result, Quander said, Hillcrest employees called her up to two times a day to collect on the debt. She said they used "bullying tactics" and accused her of being "lazy" and of failing to pay her bills. She also claimed that she was falsely accused of attempting to evade collection efforts by repeatedly changing her telephone number and was warned that she would be called twice a day until the debt was paid. Quander told the court that she had had the same number for the past 10 years. She said the calls caused her to feel "oppressed, frustrated and scared." Quander said that when she asked to speak to a supervisor about the matter, the supervisor claimed that the line connection was "cutting out" in order to avoid speaking with her.

Quander filed a lawsuit in state court against Hillcrest that was removed to federal court. Quander said the collection efforts violated the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA). Specifically, Quander said Hillcrest engaged in "harassment and abusive tactics" in attempting to collect on a debt she allegedly incurred. She also said that Hillcrest failed to send her a letter informing her of her rights under the FDCPA as is required under the law. In response, Hillcrest asked the United States District Court for the District of Maryland to dismiss the lawsuit.

The FDCPA protects consumers against abusive and deceptive debt collection practices by debt collectors. The FDCPA forbids a debt collector from engaging in conduct that would "harass, oppress or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt." Specifically, a debt collector cannot use obscene or profane language, cause the telephone to ring or engage in telephone conversation with the intent of annoying, abusing or harassing any person at the called number. And, claims under the federal debt collection law are to be viewed from the "perspective of a consumer whose circumstances makes him relatively more susceptible to harassment, oppression or abuse."

Quander, the court said, failed to allege the specific statements -- such as the use of specific profane language or a statement that would demonstrate an intent to annoy -- that would constitute harassment. Alleging that the defendant harassed and abused her was merely "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Additionally, the court observed, Quander did not allege that the calls were made at an unreasonable time or in an unreasonable manner. Debt collectors cannot call debtors after 9 p.m. or before 8 a.m. She merely alleged that Hillcrest "placed up to two collection calls per day and also states in her response that she did not always answer the calls." The court noted that it had previously held that whether there is actionable harassment or annoyance turns not only the number of calls made but also on the pattern of calls. The court cited cases where harassment was found in a case where six phone calls were made in a span of 24 minutes and a case where a call was made within minutes of the termination of a previous call.

Quander also claimed that Hillcrest violated the section of the FDCPA forbidding the communication of false information about credit. Quander said Hillcrest's employees misrepresented that the alleged debt would remain on her credit report for seven years. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, consumer reporting agencies may not report accounts place for collection or charged to profit and loss which "antedate" the report by more than seven years. Quander's allegation, the court said, failed to demonstrate that the Hillcrest employee was violating the law or that the Hillcrest employee was threatening her with that statement.

Finally, Quander contended that Hillcrest violated the law by failing to send her a letter within five days of its initial contact with her and that the letter Hillcrest provided to the court was "created just for this litigation." Under the FCRA, debt collectors must send the consumer written notice within five days after initial communication. The court declared Quander's claim "speculative" and "unsubstantiated."

Quander's complaint, the court concluded, contained only "threadbare recitals of the cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." As a result, the court dismissed Quander's lawsuit. The court also denied Hillcrest's request for attorneys' fees because it failed to comply with the requirements of the local rules of the court.

The case is Quander v. Hillcrest, Davidson and Associates, LLC, et al.

It is worth noting that in a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, creditor collection efforts must stop upon the filing of the bankruptcy paperwork with the court.

Baltimore, Maryland-based Belsky, Weinberg & Horowitz has represented consumers in bankruptcy and debt collection cases for many years. Call our bankruptcy attorneys at 410-234-0100 or email us for a free consultation and let us help you to resolve your credit and debt problems through prompt and professional action that will make what otherwise would appear to be an impossible situation a very manageable one for you and your family!

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