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Uniform Commercial Code – NOT a Key to Debt Defense – Myths and Facts about the UCC

There seem to be many people who think that the Uniform Commercial Code (U.C.C.) offers special protections from debt collectors.

Like the Strawman theory, however, the U.C.C. is a slender reed to support your hopes of avoiding or defeating creditors and debt collectors. Because in fact it does essentially nothing to help. We’ll discuss the U.C.C. and then tell you what you should be doing instead of tripping over strawmen.

What is the Uniform Commercial Code?

Because of the times we live in, most people think of themselves in terms of their nationality. While most people do know that some states have different laws than other states, our daily lives rarely expose us to these different laws and their consequences.

It wasn’t always that way, though. Up until the 1930s, perhaps, state laws had priority in most people’s lives, and those laws could vary pretty widely. It could be hard to know where to sue someone or what laws applied to specific actions. And that’s still true, to an extent, but since the 1930s it has been progressively less true, as the federal government has grown in size and function.

Another reason the states have worked together more smoothly has been the UCC. There are many “uniform” laws, and they function mostly the same way. What happens is that some think tank convenes a task force and asks it to codify existing (state) laws and make recommendations as to where those laws might be changed to become more uniform or fairer.

There’s a good reason for this. Laws can grow like weeds, and bringing uniformity to them can help people plan so they can know what to do.

Who Made the U.C.C.?

The U.C.C. was created by two nongovernmental legal organizations: The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and the American Law Institute.  The document, standing alone, has no legal authority or power at all.

I’m not saying the UCC is not significant – I’m saying that it is a document created by a bunch of academics and has no independent force or impact on anybody.

Why the U.C.C. Matters

So why is the UCC a big deal? It’s a big deal because all the states have adopted some portions of it. But not all states have adopted the same parts of it. You see, the drafters of the UCC knew that states had different laws on certain things – laws that had evolved over time and not accidentally. The UCC was designed to help legislators bring order to what was there, not force them to have the same laws. Remember, legislatures make laws, not think tanks.

If parts of the U.C.C. have become law in your state, they will be reflected in your state laws, and you should look for the law in your state laws and not the U.C.C. itself. Likewise, I trust you can see that since the portions of the UCC that were adopted are just part of your state law they do NOT trump other laws and have no special, magical power.

To repeat, the U.C.C. is just a document created by academics. And the main concern of the drafters of the U.C.C. were the rights and abilities of businesses, not people.

Help for People Harassed or Sued by Debt Collectors

When people say “the U.C.C. does this or that,” or “requires this or that,” they’re showing you they do not really understand the law. Don’t look to these people to tell you how to beat the debt collectors.

You CAN beat the debt collectors in many cases, and without even having to hire a lawyer – but your solutions will most often be in consumer protection laws like the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or Fair Credit Reporting Act, or in the normal rules of the court.

We help you do that.

Assignment Contracts – Holy Grail of Debt Defense

An assignment contract provides the “terms and conditions” of mass debt sales. If you can force the debt collector to give it to you, you can make a lot of progress in defending yourself.

Making the debt collector give you the actual Assignment Contract is BIG

We say that there are “no magic bullets” in debt defense, but every so often we find a few things that seem almost like they would or should be. However, the sort of “magic bullets” we refer to, and that don’t work, are simple, formulaic things like writing the word “refused” on the summons or claiming that it is illegal to use your name, or that using all capital letters matters in some way. Some people think these things have magical attributes that will bring you easy victory. In fact, they really have no legal significance,[1] and spending energy on them is more likely to hurt your case than help it.

Certain things, however, can make a dramatic impact on your case. They won’t magically end the fight or reliably make the debt collectors go away all by themselves, but they can make a big difference if you know what to do with them. One of these things is the Assignment Contract, the agreement assigning the debt in question from the original creditor to the debt collector. In many cases, winning the fight to obtain discovery of the assignment contract will win the case outright.

What is an Assignment Contract?

An assignment contract is the contract between the original creditor and the debt collector whereby the original creditor sells debts to the debt collector. Selling debts is perfectly legal and is a widespread and commercially reasonable thing to do. Unless your contract with the original creditor prohibits transfer or assignment(very rare in consumer debt), there’s nothing wrong with doing it.

You don’t expect these things to be done on an individual basis, though, do you? No. Consumer debts are bought and sold by the hundreds of thousands at a time. The original creditors – often banks, utilities like phone companies, or gyms – create “portfolios” of debt which they sell to junk debt buyers according to certain terms. These terms are found in the assignment contracts, and assignment contacts are not little things. They are lengthy contracts of 20-30 pages that apply to all of the debts bought and sold in a given transaction.

The assignment contracts set the rules for what the debt collector can get from the original creditor if it needs to sue to collect the debts, how long the original creditor has to provide the material, and how much getting that information will cost. The contracts have many interesting features, and the debt collectors will assuredly NOT want you to see them. In fact, in many cases, the debt collectors would rather dismiss their case against you than let you see the contract.

Not Bills of Sale

Assignment contracts are not bills of sale. The bill of sale is a one-page document that says something “All the debts identified in Exhibit A, attached, are hereby sold and assigned to Company X.” As we have often pointed out, debt collectors often hate to provide the bill of sale or, more often, the accounts subject to a bill of sale.

They REALLY don’t want to give you the assignment contract.

What the Assignment Contracts Contain (that Debt Collectors Don’t Want you to See)

There are two main things the assignment contracts contain that debt collectors do not want you to know about. They don’t want you to know what they think of their own records, and they don’t want you to know how much time, and how much money, it takes for them to obtain records from the original creditors.

Debts are Sold “As Is”

As you will notice if you take the time to read through the assignment contracts, original creditors sell debts to debt collectors “as is” and without any warranty. Specifically, that means that the original creditor specifically disclaims any guarantee that the debts or supporting information they’re selling to the debt collectors are legitimate, accurate, or trustworthy. The natural and intuitive conclusion to be drawn from that is that the records are NOT reliably accurate. Nevertheless, some courts have ruled that they are sufficiently trustworthy to justify admission of the documents in question. The argument needed to use lack of warranty is therefore sophisticated.

Documents will Take Time and Cost the Debt Collector Money

Another important fact about the Assignment Contracts is that they usually establish that the debt collector can obtain certain specific documents from a certain, very small percentage of debts. And the original creditors give themselves a minimum of sixty (60) days to provide requested information upon receiving the request. Both of these facts are hugely important to people representing themselves pro se – and for the pro se movement at large.

Sixty days is longer than the amount of time permitted in any state’s rules of discovery of which we are aware. That means, in plain English, that if you request documents, the debt collector will never be able to provide you documents within the time permitted by law. They can get extensions – the courts are generous with time, normally – but even with extensions they may not be able to provide the documents within the required time. Therefore, you should push hard to get the information.

It may even be that in California this arrangement violates the California Rules of Civil Procedure – and you have an even more powerful weapon at your disposal to attack their case.

It is also extremely important to the pro se movement as a whole, and to everyone in it individually, that the original creditors charge for documents and only require themselves to provide documents in a small percentage of the debts. If EVERYONE asked for documents, the costs would simply bury the debt collectors, and the delays would likely make it impossible for them to answer discovery at all. They would have to change their whole way of doing business.

Another Way to Attack the Debt Collectors

You don’t have to have the Assignment Contracts to make life harder for debt collectors and better for you.  If the debt collectors after you are among the many who use credit damage as a collection tool, you can start the ball rolling even faster than through formal discovery. If you get your credit report, find them on there, and dispute the debt under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, they will have thirty (30) days to “conduct a reasonable investigation” into the dispute. Since they can’t get access to information in most cases in less than 60 days, they will either have to withdraw the negative information or you will have a lawsuit against them. Since the FCRA gives you attorney fees if you win that suit, you could get a lawyer to do a lot of the work for you.

And if they do withdraw the reference, you can use that against them in your defense in their suit against you.

Press – Hard – for the Assignment Contract

Under all the circumstances, it makes a lot of sense for pro se defendants (and everybody else being sued for debt) to use the discovery process to get the assignment contracts. The debt collectors do not want to provide this to you, and they will lie about its existence, deceive you if they can, and stonewall you to the limits of their ability if you push for it.  We are developing tools for our members to use to make this fight a little easier.

[1] There are groups of people who energetically claim that things like this make a difference. They are unable to point to a respected authority (like a court opinion) that backs them up, but this doesn’t stop them.

Supreme Court Attacks FDCPA – Defending Pro Se in Debt Defense Cases

Defending pro se may have just become an even more important option for debt defendants.

The Supreme Court has recently damaged debt defendants’ rights with two very important decisions. These decisions attack the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). One allows debt collectors to bombard the bankruptcy courts with outdated claims. The other holds that junk debt buyers are not “debt collectors” under one important definition of the FDCPA.  Together, these rulings change the landscape of defense. One thing is clear: you need to know your rights more now than ever.  Defending pro se may be the only kind of debt defense you can get anymore.

Pro Se Defense

Let’s start with what “defending pro se” is.  Pro se means representing yourself in a lawsuit. This eliminates big legal fees, but it ALSO means taking on the burdens and risks of defending yourself. Hiring the right lawyer is the “gold standard” of defense, but hiring lawyers is expensive. Additionally, recent Supreme Court rulings will make it harder to get a debt lawyer at all. Still, in most debt cases people can handle their own defense. The law is not complicated, and debt cases are document, rather than witness, intensive. Defending pro se even has some significant advantages in the debt law context.

Who is a Debt Collector

In Henson et al. v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc., No. 16349 (Slip Op. 6-12-17), the Supreme Court ruled that junk debt buyers are not“debt collectors” under one provision of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). I discuss that case, its impact, and what action people need to take regarding it, in my article and video, “Who Is a Debt Collector – Supreme Court Tries to Destroy the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and what to Do about that.” In general, the effect of Santander is to make it more difficult to establish that a junk debt buyer is a debt collector, and it may signify that the Supreme Court would not let you sue junk debt buyers under the FDCPA at all.

Harder to Get a Lawyer

Santander is going to make it more difficult for you to get a lawyer to defend you in a debt case – and more expensive if you can get one. That’s because the FDCPA applies only to debt collectors and gives you certain counterclaims, and certain defenses, that make defending you easier. The FDCPA also includes a “fee-shifting” provision which allows a consumer to make a debt collector pay for most of the time a lawyer spends on a case. These things – ease of defense and a rich company to pay fees – make FDCPA cases attractive to lawyers. Take away the FDCPA, and the lawyers are going to have to charge more – a LOT more. And they simply won’t take as many cases because they’re harder. This means that debt law defendants, already drastically underrepresented, are going to find it much more difficult to hire lawyers. Defending pro se has become a much more important option.

Debt Collectors Will Run Wild

The decision in Santander threatens to neutralize the FDCPA and let junk debt buyers – who now make up the vast majority of debt collectors – run completely wild. They will be much freer to abuse, deceive, harass – in short, all the tricks that brought about the FDCPA in the first place because the laws regulating them will have been predominantly removed. At the same time it makes getting a lawyer much more difficult, the decision in Santander will likely result in a large number of new and wrong lawsuits. HOWEVER, Santander does not negate any (or very few, anyway) of your defenses in a debt law case, and it does not reduce the burden of proof for debt collectors. You can still win, in other words, but you very well may have to do it yourself.

Bankrupts Beware

Bankruptcy is one refuge debtors have from debt collectors. In general, you can file bankruptcy and force all your creditors to stop contacting you and, instead, file their claims in your bankruptcy action. In theory, the court will then either grant those claims or deny them according to what is right. The dirty little secret of bankruptcy, though, is that if claims are not disputed, they are generally granted. In bankruptcy cases brought by poor people (you can bet Donald Trump never had this problem), the lawyers representing the bankrupts have little incentive to dispute wrongful claims. There’s a U.S. trustee who is supposed to oversee the process and protect the bankrupt and legitimate creditors from bad claims, but guess what?

They usually don’t.

So bad claims get allowed. In most bankruptcies, allowing a bad claim means that it’s going to get paid (eventually) by the person filing for bankruptcy.

Junk Debt Buyers Make Things Worse

Enter the junk debt buyers. They buy LONG overdue debt – debt far beyond the statute of limitations – and file claims in bankruptcy cases. This bogs the bankruptcy courts and everyone involved down. As a practical matter this results in people paying billions to debt collectors who have no right to collect. This crushes people who declared bankruptcy and rips off legitimate creditors whose debts get paid at a lower rate.

Some debtors were suing debt collectors under the FDCPA for filing outdated claims in bankruptcy.  The FDCPA has a “fee-shifting provision,” that means consumer lawyers who win make the debt collectors pay their fees. That gave debtors’ bankruptcy lawyers at least some financial incentive to bring these claims and dispute unenforceable claims. They were doing so as part of the bankruptcy proceedings, and the debtors were also bringing suit outside of the bankruptcy context as well.

FDCPA Does Not Apply In Bankruptcy

The Supreme Court negated the FDCPA’s protection with its holding in Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson, No. 16-348 (Slip Op. 5-15-17). In that case, the Court ruled that debt collectors could file claims in bankruptcy that they know are unenforceable in an ordinary court (and would violate the FDCPA if filed there).  For a fuller discussion of that case, look at my article and video, “Bankrupts Beware, FDCPA No Longer Applies – Opening the Floodgates to Bad Claims.”

Midland Funding means, in practical effect, that even if you’re in bankruptcy you’re going to have to know and protect your own rights. Your lawyer has LITTLE (personal) incentive to challenge bad claims, and likewise the U.S. Trustee has VERY LITTLE time (or incentive) to do it. If the court allows the claims, you will probably have to pay them in all likelihood. That means that even if you file for bankruptcy you must prepare to defend yourself against the debt collectors. You will AT LEAST need to know your rights, and you will very probably have to defend them pro se despite having a bankruptcy lawyer.

Defending Pro Se

The Supreme Court’s decisions in Henson and Santander mean debt defendants will get much less help from lawyers. These cases are still possible to defend against and win – they’re as easy as any law gets, probably. Because so many fewer defendants will fight, you will probably have even better chances of winning YOURS. It’s less profitable for debt collectors to fight now because they will have so many more easy wins. But you are more likely to have to do it yourself now than ever.

Make it hard for them.

 

Henson v. Santander – Supreme Court Attacks the FDCPA

In Henson et al. v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc., (“Santander”), the Supreme Court hurt the FDCPA and attacked the rights of consumers. Its ruling means that the FDCPA will no longer apply to most debt collectors. This decision will make it far more difficult for debt defendants to obtain legal representation. And it will cause debt collectors to engage in more deceptive, dishonest and abusive behavior.

If you are facing debt collectors, you should know your rights and may need to defend yourself pro se.

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) became law In 1978. Debt collectors were so corrupt and destructive  Congress they were a “threat to the American way of life.”  Congress named numerous specific actions as “per se” violations of the Act. It also included the more general descriptions of “unfair,” “unconscionable,” and “deceptive” debt collection practices as illegal actions. Congress wanted to keep debt collectors from changing the forms their actions took without changing what they were basically doing.

The Supreme Court has just reduced that Congressional intent to a farce. Its ruling in Santander guarantees more dishonest, careless and abusive debt collection techniques. It means consumers and honest businesses will support the worst scavengers in the world.

Real-Life Debt Collection

Instead of holding it for collection, creditors usually sell charged-off debt to debt buyers these days. When debt buyers buy a debt, their only purpose is to collect that money by hook or by crook. Creditors used to hire debt collectors to collect on debts and pay them out of the proceeds. Now they get their money first. The debt collectors take their money from the debtors. All that has happened is that nominal ownership of the debt has changed. In other words, debt collectors have assumed a different form to pursue the very same activities.

Henson et al. v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc.

The Supreme Court has not allowed parties to change the form of their actions to evade the impact of laws. Santander cheerfully elevates form over substance, however. The same actors will perform the same abhorrent deeds that the FDCPA was designed to prevent.

One could consider the Court’s ruling dishonest in that it only analyzed half of the definition of “debt collectors.” In looking at Section 1692a(6), the court examined the defining language as “any person… who regularly collects or attempts to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another.” The decision then repeatedly referred to and emphasized the words “due another,” arguing that companies were only debt collectors if they fit that traditional form of collectors. In the Supreme Court’s view, debts which had long belonged to another but were sold for purposes of collection, change their nature when sold. Junk debt buyers are collecting on their own debts, not debts due another.

How the FDCPA Defines “Debt Collector”

We should look at the whole definition of “debt collector” to get a truer view of the statute’s intention.

The term “debt collector” means any person who uses any instrumentality of interstate commerce or the mails in any business the principal purpose of which is the collection of any debts, or who regularly collects or attempts to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another.

Section 1692a(6) (underlined portion is the part ignored by the Supreme Court in Santander, italicized word “any” is for emphasis).

The Court ignored the underlined portion of the definition because the debt collector at issue in the case was a bank. The parties agreed that Santander’s principal purpose was not the “collection of debts.” But the Court should not have ignored that portion of the definition, as its broadness showed congressional intention to get all “functional” debt collectors. Taking note of that intent, the Court should have read “debts owed… to another” to keep their substance despite the debt’s sale. Doing so would have prevented debt collectors from changing the NATURE of the debt merely by selling it to another party. This would have honored congressional intent and protected consumers.

Why the Court Did What it Did

Why didn’t the Supreme Court look at the whole statutory definition of “debt collector?”

The surface reason was that Santander was a bank – and the parties agreed that its business was not principally collecting debts. But that’s really only the surface fact. It would not have stopped the Court from considering the entire definition to garner congressional intention. And it wouldn’t have prevented the Court from giving a reasoned decision on the whole statute anyway. The Supreme Court grants certiorari only in a very small percentage of cases, and it has had numerous opportunities to examine the whole reality of debt collection. It chose the issue it wanted to address deliberately.

Plaintiffs in FCPA cases have usually relied on the “regularly collecting” debts language because it is easier to show than “principal purpose.”

Establishing a business’s “principal purpose” will be much more difficult. Few case use the term “principal purpose” of a business. While there must be some cases that address the issue, there are not many. Courts often use the the term “principal purpose” in judicial decisions, but its use is primarily generic.  Opinions use the words  as a synonym for “main” or “major.” I found no cases quantifying the term in any way.

“Principal Purpose” Is Hard to Prove

Junk debt buyers, who purchase billions of dollars of debt for no other purpose than to collect it in any way they can, will argue they are not debt collectors. They will claim their “principal purpose” is to “service” that debt. In their lexicon that really means extort payment in as many ways, over as long a period, as possible.

Or they will make up some other reason or claim.

This will alter the nature of the proof required to establish that the company is a debt collector. Rather than being a matter of public record, information regarding a business’s “principal purpose” will be in the possession of the debt collector. That means that parties attempting to obtain that information will have to use discovery to find it. Thus they will encounter the same stone walls, delays and unethical and oppressive litigation techniques they encounter in their other discovery attempts.

Considering the current ideology and integrity of the Supreme Court, of which debt collectors are very well aware, who knows what the courts will officially “believe?” As a debt defendant, you must now allege and prove that the debt collector’s main business is to collect debts. The judicial wind will be in your face.

Reading the Supreme Court

In theory, the decision in Santander leaves open the possibility that this “alternative” definition would extend the meaning of “debt collector” to junk debt buyers. The decision shows a court in search of a justification for a desired outcome – you should view it as a negative indication for the Court’s integrity.

Santander and another recent case, Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson, No. 16-348 (Slip Op. 5-15-17) (see my article, “Opening the Floodgates of Bad Claims”), show actual hostility to the laws that protect consumers. They also show a willingness to engage in intellectually dishonest games to destroy them. As a practical matter, it will likely be several years before the Supreme Court revisits the definition of “debt collector” and applies the entire definition to the question of junk debt buyers.

What Debt Defendants Should Do

Debt defendants have almost all the same defenses to debt lawsuits they ever did. Santander applies very little to the defense of debt suits.

On the other hand, many and perhaps most lawyers are going to be scared away from taking debt cases. Many lawyers who do not understand Santander will simply regard the FDCPA as not applying to junk debt buyers. That is almost all the debt collectors in litigation these days. These lawyers won’t take debt defense cases or will charge much more for them. They will accomplish much less than they would have, too, because they will not counterclaim on your behalf. Lawyers who understand Santander will charge more and warn clients that winning is less likely than it used to be.

This means that far more debt defendants will be on their own.

Expect to see a motion to dismiss based on Santander if you currently have a counterclaim under the FDCPA. I believe you will want to amend your counterclaim to include the “principal purpose” language mentioned above. You will also need to conduct discovery designed to prove the company’s principal purpose.

Bankrupts Beware, FDCPA No Longer Applies – Opening the Floodgates to Bad Claims

Debtors often see bankruptcy as one refuge from debt collectors, but the Supreme Court has recently made things much worse. In Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson, No. 16-348 (Slip Op. 5-15-17), the Court held that filing outdated claims in bankruptcy court does not violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). If you are in bankruptcy or considering it, this is huge. It could mean having to pay more if you file for bankruptcy than if you don’t.

What Bankruptcy Does

In general, if your debts get too bad, you can file bankruptcy and force all your creditors to stop contacting you. They have to file claims in your bankruptcy action, and the court will either “allow” those claims or deny them. If the court allows a claim, you will have to pay some fraction of it (or all of it). The court then determines the amount of payments you must make, over what period of time, and you do your best to do that.

If you succeed, you will receive a “discharge” – this eliminates all the debts disallowed and the fraction of your debts that you don’t have to pay under the plan. This is this “fresh start” that lures most people into the bankruptcy process.

It isn’t an easy path, and most bankruptcies are dismissed without “discharge.”  I have often taken the position that bankruptcy is NOT an appropriate solution for most people facing debt collectors. See my  article, Is Bankruptcy the Best Option for you? and  Bankruptcy May Not Be the Best Option When Sued for Debt, for example. The Supreme Court has made that analysis even more powerful.

Courts Allow Uncontested Claims

The dirty little secret of bankruptcy is that if claims are not disputed, the courts generally allow them. In bankruptcy cases of people without much money, the lawyers representing the bankrupts have little (personal) incentive to dispute wrongful claims. They get their pay out of the scanty resources of their clients.

The U.S. trustee who oversees the process should protect the bankrupt and legitimate creditors from bad claims, but guess what?They often don’t. Likewise, the court should winnow out bad claims, but given the number of bankruptcies and their complexity, they often do not.

Under current realities, poor people pay a lot of bad claims.

Junk Debt Buyers Seek to Exploit the System

Enter the junk debt buyers to make things much worse. They buy vast amounts of LONG overdue debt – debt far beyond the statute of limitations – and file claims in bankruptcy cases. This bogs the bankruptcy courts, the trustees, and bankruptcy lawyers down. The more bad claims they file, the more get through because of carelessness. They should NEVER get through, because an unenforceable claim should ALWAYS be denied under bankruptcy rules. But they often do.

The Trap of Res Judicata

Paying some part of bad claims in bankruptcy is bad, but what happens if your bankruptcy, like most, ends without discharge. What if, for some reason you fall short and don’t get your “fresh start?” What happens then?

Res judicata is the rule that if an issue has been, or could have been decided by a court, it can’t be relitigated.  If a bankruptcy court has allowed a claim – even if it did so by mistake or simply because it was not disputed, you may not be able to dispute the claim in another court later.  And even if a claim would have been illegal to bring in a state court originally, if you file bankruptcy and the claim is allowed, you will probably have to pay full value on the claim later.

Bad claims hurt the chances of the bankrupts to get their fresh start. They hurt the chances of the legitimate creditors to get paid. And they make the whole process stink to high heaven of injustice. Allowing a bunch of hoodlums in fancy suits to steal wholesale from the poor damages the legal system at its very core.

The FDCPA used to offer some protection against that, but the Supreme Court negated that protection with its holding in Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson, No. 16-348 (Slip Op. 5-15-17). In that case, the Court ruled that debt collectors could file claims in bankruptcy that would be illegal if filed in other courts.

Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson

The relevant facts in Midland Funding are very simple. Midland, a junk debt buyer, was buying extremely old debts for very small amounts of money. They were using these debts, which were far beyond the statutes of limitations, as the basis for many claims in bankruptcy. Johnson opposed and got the claim in that case disallowed, and then filed suit in district court under the FDCPA, alleging that the claim had been unfair or unconscionable. The essence of Johnson’s claim was that filing obviously time-barred claims in a bankruptcy proceeding was an unfair debt collection practice.

The Supreme Court ruled that it was not.

There is no need to review (here) the tortured logic that effectively immunizes from consequences the intentional doing of something that never, under any circumstances, should be allowed. The state of the law simply is this: debt collectors can file obviously unenforceable claims in bankruptcy without worrying about the FDCPA. That means there’s a big risk that you will pay them if you aren’t looking out for them.

Result Possibly Different if you Allege Deception

There is perhaps one glimmer of light in this very bad decision. The Supreme Court was addressing “obviously outdated” claims. What Midland was doing was buying obviously unenforceable claims and hoping they would be overlooked and erroneously allowed. While this obviousness is one main way a debt collector’s intention to file outdated claims would be known, the obviousness was also a reason the Court found that the claims were not “deceptive.” What if the claims were known to be outdated by the debt collector but were not obviously so? Facts like that, or similar facts tending to show some actual intent to deceive would present difficult evidentiary issues, but the case could arise and might tip the balance in the other direction.

Conclusion

What the Midland Funding case means is that even if you’re in bankruptcy you’re going to have to know and protect your own rights. Your lawyer has VERY LITTLE incentive to challenge bad claims. The U.S. Trustee and court probably won’t protect you either.

If the claims are allowed, you will probably have to pay them. That means that even if you file for bankruptcy you must be prepared to defend yourself against the debt collectors. You will AT LEAST need to know your rights, and you will very probably have to defend them pro se. You’re probably not going to get much help from your lawyer on this one.

Should I Declare Bankruptcy? Maybe not if Sued for Debt

Should you declare bankruptcy?  When debt collectors call or bills pile up, many people look or hope for a quick, easy escape. Too many people tell them bankruptcy is that easy way out. Unfortunately, for most people it is neither easy nor a way out. It can be a costly mistake.

There might be better ways.  Most people can defend themselves from debt cases  (using materials provided by this site) without having to hire an expensive lawyer.

When people are being sued for debts, they often panic and look for the quickest, easiest, or least scary way out. And they often consider bankruptcy as a possible solution. There are often much more effective ways to handle old debt, especially credit card or merchant account debt in the possession of a debt collector, than bankruptcy. You can defend yourself without hiring a lawyer, and even if that doesn’t work out – which it usually does – you could still file bankruptcy. But if you can avoid bankruptcy, you will reduce the harm the debt doesyou.

Types of Debt

There are two main types of debt: “secured,” and “unsecured.” Secured debt means that the debt has specific assets backing it. If you miss payments, you can have your house foreclosed or your car repossessed. These things “secure” the debt and can be repossessed and sold if you stop making payments.

Unsecured Debt

Unsecured debt is debt that is not secured – no specific assets guarantee the debt’s repayment. Just because a debt is “unsecured” does not mean that a debt collector can’t sue you for it. On the contrary, it means the collector must sue you personally in order to collect any money. The creditor then “enforces” the judgment against you by garnishing wages or attaching accounts. But this can be difficult for various reasons.

Rights of Creditors

Lenders on secured debts are in a much better position than unsecured lenders in general. One of those advantages comes in bankruptcy.

In the bankruptcy law, the law regards an item securing a debt as the creditor’s property (the one who lent the money). If you do not make the payment owed, the creditor can just take it back. Consider a mortgage on a house. The house “secures” the debt, and if you stop making payments the bank can take the house and sell it to pay the debt. That is “foreclosure” as you probably know. The law considers it unjust to allow someone not paying for the property to keep it from the rightful owner. So the lender typically asks the bankruptcy court to “lift the stay” so foreclosure can take place. Although you can sometimes delay the lifting, the courts usually “relieve” the lenders and allow them to foreclose on the house and kick the debtor out.

Unsecured Debt

With unsecured debt, on the other hand, the court simply adds up the debts and pays them out according to how much money the bankrupt person has. Usually very, very little. And only at the end of the bankruptcy procedure.

Bankruptcy May Not Help When It Applies

What all that means practically is that if you have a large secured debt (mortgage) that you cannot pay, bankruptcy will offer you very little protection. If you have a large unsecured debt, bankruptcy will probably protect you to an extent, but it is slow, time-consuming and expensive compared to defending yourself against the debt collector. And most people who start bankruptcy end the process without getting what they wanted.

Some examples may help make it clearer.

Consider the Smiths. The Smiths have a house and make payments of $2.500 per month. Mr. Smith loses his job and they fall behind in their payments. If the family seeks bankruptcy as their house payments add up, the lender will obtain “relief from the stay” and foreclose on the house. The Smiths are out of luck, and bankruptcy usually does not help.

Now consider the Joneses. If the Joneses have credit card debt of $25,000 and Mrs. Jones loses her job so they can’t make payments, they could seek bankruptcy help. It would probably cost them at least a thousand dollars or more to file, require them to disclose most or all of their finances over the past year or two, and fill out a large amount of paperwork. At the end of the proceeding, at least a year later, the court would “discharge” their debts.

If they make it to the discharge, the bankruptcy will help. But it will remain as a mark against their credit record for seven years.

An Alternative: Defense

The Jones could, however, simply defend themselves against the lawsuits brought by the debt collectors. For reasons I’ve made clear elsewhere, their chances of winning the suit would be excellent. If the Jones do it right, they can eliminate the debt completely. This does not always mean completely cleaning their credit reports. But it can often mean canceling the debt and removal of the recent credit report damage. And it usually will happen in less than six months from the date the debt collector brings suit. They won’t have the bankruptcy on their credit report. They can do it themselves for almost no money at all, and if by chance it doesn’t work, then they could declare bankruptcy.

Conclusion

Better results, less cost. That’s why it’s often better to defend yourself against credit card debt than to seek bankruptcy protection. It’s also true that if for any reason the Jones lost their case against the debt collectors, they could still file for bankruptcy without having lost its protection.

Excuses in Debt Defense Will Lose Your Case

Making excuses will lose your case
Making excuses will lose your case

Sincerity vs. Integrity

Making excuses in debt law cases is a good way to lose your case.

The “iron law of cause and effect” applies to everything. What this means is that, for every action, something happens as a result. No matter why it happened, if it does happen, there are consequences. There are no free lunches. Ever.

You know that. But it’s easy to forget when things get tough.

We pretend the iron law of cause and effect does not apply to us all the time. If we’re late, we apologize, and that’s usually enough to get past the other person’s anger or hurt feelings. If we apologize sincerely enough or give enough good reasons, it seems like we get away with it. But it isn’t called the “iron law” for nothing. Even if the other person excuses us, he thinks we are less dependable. And if the other person doesn’t, we think of it ourselves. Consequences.

Sincerity means not intending to do harm. Integrity means not doing it. Know the difference.

Substantive Law of Debt

If a debt collector can prove you borrowed money and didn’t pay it back, it should get a judgment against you. And if you don’t make them prove their case, they will get their judgment. Simple as that. They call that “strict liability,” which means that WHY you didn’t pay does not matter.

On the other hand, there are events that can destroy a debt. Showing payment, that it was based on fraud, or settlement to name a few, will attack the debt. But if the debt isn’t destroyed, no amount of sincerity will get you off the hook. It doesn’t matter how much you wanted to pay. It doesn’t matter how much you tried to pay. Or whether you tried at all.

It’s surprising how often people get mad at debt collectors for trying to collect debts they (the people involved) can’t afford to pay. Just because the debt collector has a ton of money doesn’t mean they won’t or shouldn’t get a judgment against you. Don’t think that way.

Instead, fight and make them prove their case if they can. Require them to prove the debt and their right to it. Luckily, they aren’t so good at that.

Excuses in Litigation

We’ve been talking about the substantive law of debt, which is almost absolute,. It’s a little murkier when you talk about procedures such as responding to motions and the like. There, excuses CAN make a difference – sometimes. If you make a mistake in doing something, this can sometimes be excused. Likewise, if you make a mistake, you should certainly try to get it excused. The sincerity of your excuse will matter then, so make it good and say it with feeling. And you might get away with it.

But even if you do get away with it, every mistake has consequences. As a pro se defendant, you work mighty hard to get the judge to take you and your words seriously. You want the judge to apply the law fairly and consistently – that’s really all you need in most debt cases to win.

Follow the Rules – Don’t Ask for Breaks

Any time you ask the judge for something special or make some kind of excuse, you will hurt your chances of the court taking you seriously and holding the debt collector to the rules. And all too often, the court will not give you the break it probably should. Thus you should always work your hardest and do your very best to understand the law and rules of your court. As much as possible, you NEVER want to ask the judge for anything she isn’t supposed to do.

And to get your best, you must give your best. Never make excuses for yourself, and never accept them from yourself. It’s impossible to be perfect, but try not to make any mistakes you don’t have to make. That isn’t a cliche or boring old saying – it’s encouragement to you to work your @ss off. The only way to avoid making mistakes is by figuring out things ahead of time and always going the extra mile. You can get away with doing less in some parts of your life, but you often cannot in litigation.

 

 Get Help

If you would like us to take a look at your case and give you a sort of road map to what you need to do and how, take a look at our Personalized Evaluation product. If a debt collector is suing you and you already know you want to defend yourself without spending a lot of money on lawyers, then get our Debt Defense System.

Protect Your Rights

Even if you are reading this article late in the game, shortly before trial, and you are not already a member, you should consider doing so. We have materials helpful to last minute defense and trial preparation even if you are facing this rule.

If it’s a little earlier in the lawsuit, or if no has filed suit yet, you have many other options. Membership can present you many benefits and help you win your case. Or you could check out some of our e-courses.

 

Gold Debt Defense System
Gold Debt Defense System

Gold Debt Defense

 

Platinum Debt Defense System

Platinum Debt Defense System

 

Diamond Debt Defense System

Diamond Debt Defense

Partial Payment to Debt Collectors a Terrible Idea

partial payment can destroy your rights
Never Make a Partial Payment

Making Partial Payment Can Kill Your Right to Defend

Partial payment can seem like such a good way to make a debt collector go away, but don’t do it.

Debt collectors love getting people to make “partial payments” on debts – on any debts, but especially old ones. It isn’t just that they want some money, any money. If you give them the money you will probably be subjecting yourself to a lot of problems. And that is especially true if the debt is very old, even if it is beyond statutes of limitations.

Partial Payments Revive Dead Debts

If your debt is beyond the statute of limitations – that is, if it is too late for the debt collector to sue you – making a partial payment will revive the debt and start the life of the debt again. This is because of an odd thing about the law – it distinguishes between the life of the debt (forever unless paid) and enforceability of a debt (the right to sue to collect, controlled by statutes of limitations). To put that into plain English, the law regards a debt as continuing to exist until it is either paid or excused in some way even if it is long past the statute of limitations. And this little bit of B.S. allows for all kinds of unethical mischief by debt collectors.

It allows debt collectors in some jurisdictions to raid bankruptcy claims even though the debts would be illegal to try to collect, and it allows for the revival of debts by a debtor making a simple mistake. If you offer a gift, for example, that promise is not enforceable because there is nothing paid for it. Giving a debt collector partial payment will put you back on the hook for the entire amount.

Unless you make a signed written agreement that you are settling the claim for the amount paid, partial payments are a terrible idea. But of course what the debt collectors tell you is that you can pay a little now and then a little later if you get a chance. Wrong. Make that payment and they’ll be after you as hard as they can go.

Partial Payments Restart the Clock

Similarly, if the debt is old and you make a payment, it restarts the statute of limitations. I do not think it should do that if the payment does not, at least, take the debt out of default, but the courts haven’t listened to me on that one. Make a payment on an old debt and, voila, you have a new debt.

Don’t Pay Unless You Have a Plan

So with all that in mind, what do you do? I would suggest that there’s never a moral reason to pay a debt collector – it’s like feeding rats, and do you really want them to multiply? But there could be times when you might want to either for moral or practical reasons. If so, you must know what you’re doing. Your payment will revive the debt. Do you know how you will pay it? Do you have a reason to pay the whole thing? I would be extremely cautious in this as you are subjecting yourself to liability to a group of people more willing to destroy you than almost any other group.

I’d say don’t do it 99.99% of the time.

Protect Your Rights

Even if you are reading this article late in the game, shortly before trial, and you are not already a member, you should consider doing so. We have materials helpful to last minute defense and trial preparation even if you are facing this rule.

If it’s a little earlier in the lawsuit, or if no suit has yet been filed, you have many other options. Membership can present you many benefits and help you win your case. Or you could check out some of our e-courses.

 

Gold Debt Defense System
Gold Debt Defense System

Gold Debt Defense

 

Platinum Debt Defense System

Platinum Debt Defense System

 

Diamond Debt Defense System

Diamond Debt Defense

 

Tricky Rule Can Screw Pro Se Defendants

tricky rule can screw pro se defendants
tricky rule can screw pro se defendants

Not All Rules of Civil Procedure Are Logical or Predictable

Tricky rules can prevent you from defending yourself.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of rules of civil procedure which present lurking danger to the pro se defendant or even a lawyer not used to litigating. One of the worst of these tricky rules, however, is one requiring objection to exhibits in advance of trial.

Tricky Rule Screws Pro Se Debt Defendants

The way this “presents” is likely to be you receiving a set of exhibits – or some sort of notice referring to exhibits – from the other side. It may even be so innocent as a statement that “Plaintiff will use the exhibits attached to the petition at trial.” If any of these things happen, or if there are a lot of exhibits in the record in any way, you should beware.

Some jurisdictions allow this list of exhibits as a pretrial submission where, if you do not object to them, they will be accepted into evidence without objection. In other words, this tricky rule will prevent you from making an objection in trial – the very time you would think you needed to object. In a debt case, this will be almost certainly fatal to your defense.

You Don’t Get Much Time!

Debt cases hinge on the ability – or not – of a debt collector to present record evidence of the alleged debt. Since debt collectors did not create those records and in most cases have no knowledge of how they arose or came into existence, one of the debt defendant’s strongest challenges is to attack the use of those records as evidence. You attack their “admissibility.” If you successfully do that, you will likely win the trial. If you fail, the debt collector almost certainly will.

Automatic Admissibility a Trap for the Inexperienced

A tricky rule which allows automatic admissibility is a dangerous poison pill for debt defendants, and you much know whether such a rule exists in your court. As we say, receiving a list of exhibits is a hint, but you should search your court’s “Local Rules” if it has them, and your state’s Rules of Civil Procedure, to find out if you must worry about this rule. If you have it, it’s easy enough to make your objections, but you will have to object prior to trial and on the schedule provided by the rule.

Protect Your Rights

Even if you are reading this article late in the game, shortly before trial, and you are not already a member, you should consider doing so. We have materials helpful to last minute defense and trial preparation even if you are facing this rule.

If it’s a little earlier in the lawsuit, or if no suit has yet been filed, you have many other options. Membership can present you many benefits and help you win your case. Or you could check out some of our e-courses.

 

Gold Debt Defense System
Gold Debt Defense System

Gold Debt Defense

 

Platinum Debt Defense System

Platinum Debt Defense System

 

Diamond Debt Defense System

Diamond Debt Defense

 

Pro Se Debt Defense – Easier than you Might Think

Pro Se Representation is easier than you think
Pro Se Representation is easier than you think

Should You Represent Yourself in Debt Law?


Hiring a lawyer might be the “gold standard” of defense, but lawyers are expensive. If you’re being sued by a debt collector and can’t afford a lawyer, all is not lost. You CAN represent yourself. This is not complicated law, debt collectors are not innovative or particularly energetic. And the debt collection system is a “factory” approach not designed to work against people who defend themselves intelligently. You can do it.

Okay – maybe debt defense isn’t always very fun. In fact, most of the time it isn’t exactly fun, but it is easier than you expect, And winning is great. Going from worrying about having to pay from $1,000 to $50,000 to some debt collector, to having them drop the case – or to settling with you for pennies on the dollar IS fun. It changes the way you look at debt and debt law forever.

Pro se legal means representing yourself rather than hiring a lawyer to do it for you. You have the right to do that in essentially any court proceeding, whether as defendant or plaintiff.

Pro se is a Latin phrase meaning “for oneself.” You will sometimes see it called propria persona (abbreviated to “pro per”). In England and Wales, the comparable status is called “litigant in person.” Not that it matters, right?

Some Think It’s Scary

Although many people fear the thought of representing themselves in court, pro se representation is not rare. According to National Center on State Courts in 1991-92 71% of domestic relations (family law) cases had at least one unrepresented party. In 18% of the cases both parties were pro se.  It is a growing trend in debt collection law as well .

People have long had the right to self-representation in the United States. That right predates even the ratification of the Constitution. Section 35 of the Judiciary Act of 1789—enacted by the first Congress and signed by President Washington, states that, “in all the courts of the United States, the parties may plead and manage their own causes personally or by the assistance of counsel.” Most states have a similar constitutional provision.

Will the Courts Protect You from Mistakes?

The California rules of Civil Procedure explicitly prefer resolving every case on the merits. This applies even if doing it requires excusing a mistake by a pro se litigant that would otherwise result in a dismissal. The Judicial Council says that “Judges are charged with ascertaining the truth, not just playing referee.” And the Council suggests “the court should take whatever measures may be reasonable and necessary to insure a fair trial.”

Most states and the federal courts officially share this bias in favor of hearing courts on “their merits,” (based on what is actually fair). Pro se litigants cannot rely on any special treatment, however. Some courts explicitly will not extend favorable treatment to non-professional litigants. Our position has always been that you should know the rules. Knowing the rules means you can use them. And one secret of debt law is that it is the debt collectors who rely on leniency. You need to prevent that if possible.

Pro Se Litigants Often Do Very Well

Pro se litigants usually do not need extra help. According to Erica J. Hashimoto, an assistant professor at the Georgia School of Law, criminal defendants are “not necessarily ill-served” by the decision to represent themselves. In state court, pro se defendants charged with felonies probably fared much better than represented defendants.

Of the 234 pro se defendants studied by Ms. Hashimoto, “just under 50 percent of them were convicted on any charge….for represented state court defendants, by contrast, a total of 75 percent were convicted of some charge.” And just 26 percent of the pro se defendants ended up with felony convictions, whereas 63 percent of represented defendants in Ms. Hashimoto’s study did. In federal court…the acquittal rate for pro se defendants is virtually identical to the acquittal rate for represented defendants.

Of course there could well be other important variables that the Hashimoto study did not include, but it seems clear that there is not an “automatic penalty” for daring to represent yourself.

There are certain types of cases and situations where pro se representation may actually be an advantage. In debt collection cases, for example, the economic factors often outweigh legal issues. A vigorous pro se defendant can gain a significant advantage by taking energetic steps that a lawyer—always on the clock—would pragmatically be unable to take.

Courts are not always favorable to self-represented people for various reasons. But even with that bias, pro se plaintiffs have recorded some significant victories in civil courts.

Pro Se Representation in Debt Collection Cases

Defendants in debt collection cases have some significant economic advantages in conducting their cases. They also have fewer of the disadvantages that many other types of cases have. Debt collection cases tend to be document-intensive rather than witness-intensive. In the unusual case which actually goes to trial, there are not many things to prove or disprove, and the evidentiary issues are basic. Pro se defendants can argue whether the debt collector produces enough evidence. And whether that evidence is “admissible” in court for the court’s consideration. You won’t need much finesse.

This basic legal simplicity, and the fact that debt collectors drag defendants before the court against their wishes often seem to create a favorable impression on the judges.

Get Help

If you would like us to take a look at your case and give you a sort of road map to what you need to do and how, take a look at our Personalized Evaluation product. If you’re in a lawsuit and already know you want to defend yourself without spending a lot of money on lawyers, then get out Debt Defense System.

Protect Your Rights

Even if you are reading this article late in the game, shortly before trial, and you are not already a member, you should consider doing so. We have materials helpful to last minute defense and trial preparation even if you are facing this rule.

If it’s a little earlier in the lawsuit, or if the debt collector has not filed suit, you have many other options. Membership can present you many benefits and help you win your case. Or you could check out some of our e-courses.

 

Gold Debt Defense System
Gold Debt Defense System

Gold Debt Defense

 

Platinum Debt Defense System

Platinum Debt Defense System

 

Diamond Debt Defense System

Diamond Debt Defense