Does the Wave of Fair Debt Collection Practice Act (FDCPA) Suits Benefit Consumers or Lawyers?

A tipster (send in your tips here) forwarded to me an article about Thomas Lyons, Esq. in Minnesota who was disbarred in 2010 for filing suits under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

While there is a need for consumers to have recourse in bringing legal suits against creditors for bad acts, I’m beginning to question if the sudden wave of legal providers who is selling FDCPA and FCRA debt relief services is going to follow the same fate as Lyons.

An article from InsideARM.com said:

According to the Minnesota Litigator, this is the eighth time that the Minnesota Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility has disciplined Lyons. In December of 1998, Lyons was both admonished and placed on private probation for separate incidents of misconduct; in 2001, he was publicly reprimanded and placed on probation for two years; in 2002, Lyons was admonished; and he was again admonished in 2005. In addition, Lyons received two separate amended admonitions in 2007. Lyons’ previous discipline resulted from material misrepresentations, prosecuting frivolous claims, and failure to follow appropriate procedure.

The Consumer Justice Center website says: The Consumer Justice Center P.A. (“CJC”) is a consumer rights law firm dedicated to providing its clients with quality legal services in a timely manner consistent with high ethical standards. – Source

Lyons is one of two attorneys with The Consumer Justice Center P.A. (“CJC”) of Vadnais Heights, Minn., which according to its Web site “is a consumer rights law firm dedicated to providing its clients with quality legal services in a timely manner consistent with high ethical standards. The CJC is dedicated to protecting the rights of all consumers and founded on the premise that each client deserves personalized attention.”

“I believe that most ‘consumer’ attorneys file cases to make money for themselves,” said Robert Markoff, past president of the National Association of Retail Collection Attorneys (NARCA). “They do not take a case unless they are able to earn a large fee for minimal or inflated work.

“That said, they do like to see their names in print as wonderful ‘consumer crusaders’ to attract more clients. Abuses by ‘extortion litigators’ masquerading as ‘consumer attorneys’ are not often reported by the media or referred to bar disciplinary committees. Collection attorneys are hung out to dry for the slightest infractions but these attorneys escape notice.”

“Many Illinois attorneys have ‘aggressive’ methods for recruiting FDCPA, FCRA and other related claims,” noted Fred Blitt, current NARCA president. “Frankly, people like Lyons, who hold themselves out as ‘dedicated to the rights of consumers’ always seem to have the ‘sexy’ or winning story for the press and general public. The real question is whether you are truly helping the consumer or simply creating another FDCPA lawsuit that mainly benefits the lawyer in the form of attorneys fees?”

Blitt added: “Let me be clear, I am not referring to matters of a clear disregard for a consumer’s rights under the FDCPA. NARCA attorney members are licensed by their respective states and need to adhere to their respective codes of ethics and the FDCPA. That being said, although I don’t have specific figures, many FDCPA claims are filed based on hypertechnical violations of the FDCPA. I have over 20 years of collections experience, not to mention spending the majority of my young adult life working at my family’s furniture store. In my experience, the vast majority of consumers simply want to pay their bills and resolve their credit problems. Does filing an FDCPA suit for a hypertechnical violation truly benefit the consumer? In the old days, I used to receive many calls from consumer lawyers who worked with me to resolve collection cases for consumers. Today, while I recieve a few of those calls from consumer attorneys I have known for years, there are many more players in the potentially lucerative game of consumer law. In most cases I receive an FDCPA lawsuit. You tell me, is that consumer advocacy?”

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Wendy Badger, attorney with Morrison Fenske & Sund, P.A., said that she’s had some cases in which she has faced Lyons. “Some of the cases had some merit, some were hypertechnical violations, and others didn’t have much merit at all.”

Don’t Get Me Wrong

There is a need for lawyers to represent consumers but where the concern lies is efforts where an attorney will charge $9,000 in advance to then go and sue creditors such as happened here.

The challenges sound wonderful to a consumer but they don’t come without risk to both the consumer and the lawyer bringing them.

Blanket challenges can land an attorney in very hot water. Just look at what happened with Laura Hess, Esq. While Hess was targeting Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) violations, the end result was the same. She was disbarred and lost everything.

And services like WebRecon.com offer intelligence into who is churning the FDCPA, FCRA, Truth in Lending Act (TILA), and Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) claims.

According to WebRecon:

FDCPA and Other Consumer Lawsuit Statistics, October, 1-15, 2010

There were about 497 lawsuits filed under consumer statutes in the first half of October, 2010. Here is an approximate breakdown:
• 455 Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
• 58 Fair Credit Reporting Act
• 24 Telephone Consumer Protection Act
• 11 Truth in Lending Act

• Of those cases, there were about 524 unique plaintiffs (including multiple plaintiffs in one suit).
• Of those plaintiffs, about 100 had sued under consumer statutes before.
• Combined, those plaintiffs have filed about 514 lawsuits since 2001
• Actions were filed in 112 different US District Court branches.
• About 481.5 different collection firms and creditors were sued.

The top courts where lawsuits were filed:
• 32 Lawsuits: California Central District Court – Western Division – Los Angeles
• 25 Lawsuits: Florida Southern District Court – Fort Lauderdale
• 24 Lawsuits: Colorado District Court – Denver
• 23 Lawsuits: Illinois Northern District Court – Chicago
• 21 Lawsuits: Pennsylvania Eastern District Court – Philadelphia
• 19 Lawsuits: California Southern District Court – San Diego
• 19 Lawsuits: Minnesota District Court – DMN
• 14 Lawsuits: California Northern District Court – San Francisco
• 12 Lawsuits: Florida Southern District Court – Miami
• 11 Lawsuits: California Central District Court – Southern Division – Santa Ana

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The most active consumer attorneys were:
• Representing 50 Consumers: Jack Dennis Card, Jr.
• Representing 49 Consumers: Lara Ruth Shapiro
• Representing 15 Consumers: David Michael Larson
• Representing 9 Consumers: Brent F. Vullings
• Representing 8 Consumers: Sergei Lemberg
• Representing 8 Consumers: John Cole Gayle, Jr.
• Representing 8 Consumers: Donald A. Yarbrough
• Representing 7 Consumers: Joshua R. Trigsted
• Representing 7 Consumers: Michael S Agruss
• Representing 7 Consumers: Craig J. Ehrlich

Statistics Year to Date:

9060 total lawsuits for 2010, including:
• 8481 FDCPA
• 1002 FCRA
• 420 TILA
• 136 TCPA

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Number of Unique Plaintiffs: 8663 (including multiple plaintiffs in one suit)

The most active consumer attorneys of the year:
• Representing 294 Consumers: Jack Dennis Card, Jr.
• Representing 278 Consumers: Sergei Lemberg
• Representing 269 Consumers: Brent F. Vullings
• Representing 214 Consumers: David Michael Larson
• Representing 213 Consumers: Todd Michael Friedman

When Does It Become a Target?

At some point an attorney will become a target for bringing blanket FDCPA suits. Just look at the Laura Hess vs. Chase Bank case. Blanket claims of assistance by lawyers will help to identify them as targets by either regulators and creditors.

And mass scale selling of FDCPA suits does fall under the FTC telemarketing sales rules and is being examined further by the FTC for potential action against some lawyers.

It is possible that persuaded by imaginings of consumers willing to pay thousands for services that are promoted as being able to make their debt go away, other lawyers will fall into this trap.

I’ll cast a bet right now, as the FDCPA suit mill picks up steam, consumers will lose money and some lawyers will lose their licenses.

Damon Day - Pro Debt Coach

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Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.
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