Category Archives: counterclaims

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 In Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson, No. 16-348 (Slip Op. 5-15-17), the Court held that filing outdated claims in bankruptcy court does not violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).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.

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.

 

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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.

 

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Assignment Contracts – the Holy Grail of Discovery

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.

Never Make Partial Payments on Old Debts

Partial Payments Always a Bad Idea on Old Debts

Suppose you get called on a debt that, theoretically, you owed, but didn’t pay, twenty years ago. Is there anything you should do? Is there anything you should NOT do? Should you make partial payments for any reason?

What You Should Do If You Get Called on an Old Debt

What you should do is find out who, exactly, is calling you. Find out the company and the individual. Then listen to what they say. If it is convenient, record the conversation. If not, take notes. Ask questions.

What You Should NOT Do

A 20 year old debt, not paid for 20 years, is beyond all statutes of limitations in all jurisdictions of which I am aware. However, you still “owe” the debt in some theoretical way. It remains a “debt,” and that turns out to be important. Know this, though: they can’t sue you for it, and they can’t hurt your credit report if you don’t pay it. And they can’t do anything good for you if you do pay it.

In my opinion, you should never pay such a debt.

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

Just listen to what the debt collector says.

Let’s say he threatens to sue or tells you anything contrary to what I just said above. That would violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). It is illegal for a debt collector to threaten you with action that he either does not intend to do or could not legally do.

Suppose, however, he tells you that they can’t sue you, but that you still owe the money, and wouldn’t it feel better to pay it? Some people might say they have no money, and so the debt collector tells them, “No problem, you can just make a partial payment. Then, if you ever get any more money, you can pay some more…”

That also violates the FDCPA in my opinion because it is deceiving you and trying to take advantage of something most people don’t know. If you give someone a gift and say you’ll give them more later, that creates no obligation to pay. If you make a partial payment on a “debt,” even one that is many years past the statute of limitations and beyond causing you any harm, you revive the debt and can be sued on it again.

Debt collectors are often trained to take advantage of people’s ignorance and to suggest partial payments on debts that are beyond the statute of limitations. If they try to get you to do that without telling you that you will revive the debt by doing so, they are misleading you. And that violates the FDCPA.

Partial Payments Revive Old Debts

By making the partial payment, you will revive the debt against you in its entirety, allowing the company to harass and sue you, and possibly even to damage your credit report again. Never, ever do it. Instead, take careful notes, and then go find an FDCPA lawyer to sue them.

If they get it all right and tell you that a partial payment would revive the right to sue you, tell them to go away and never call again. If they do, get a lawyer and sue them for that.

Other things to know

Partial payments will not just revive a statute of limitations after it has passed – it will extend it if it has not passed. Thus if the debt is five years old and getting close to the statute of limitations, your part payment will start the clock ticking again all over.

If you are being harassed or sued for a debt and need more information, be sure to check out our products and materials at Your Legal Leg Up. We have everything you need to protect  your rights.

Foreclosure: A Debt Collection Method in Ordinary Life

Foreclosure is a form of collection
Foreclosure is collection

Foreclosure is Debt Collection

Foreclosure is a form of debt collection in the real world. Debt Collectors threaten to repossess and auction off property that secures a loan unless that loan is paid, or else they actually repossess and sell off the property, in order to pay the debt. This video and article discuss the way the process works.

What Foreclosure Does

Foreclosure is designed to allow for possession (or repossession) of property that was used to secure a debt that was subsequently unpaid. Most people simply think of foreclosure as “getting kicked out of your house,” and in many situations that is an appropriate understanding. In reality foreclosure addresses ownership rights rather than possession, however. It involves the termination of at least one person’s rights of ownership in favor of another person, and this can, but does not always, lead to eviction.

English Law and the History of Foreclosure and Property Rights

We don’t think of it very often, but one of the great inventions of English law was the division of property into different property “interests” or rights that could co-exist in the same property. The state “owns” physical property in one way, the landowner in another, and the tenant also has certain ownership rights, for example. If the landowner is married, both spouses will have rights in the property, and it is possible to divide the rights up in many other ways, too. Another form of coexisting rights is the way the same property could be owned by you, but subject to a mortgage and also various sorts of liens.

“Foreclosable” Interests

It is with the mortgage and liens we are primarily interested here, because these can be “foreclosed.” It is worth remembering that while most people (including the courts) only think of “purchase-money mortgages” (the mortgage you take out in order to buy your house) when they analyze foreclosure, there are other ways liens can be placed on your house (by the state for taxes or judgments, to name two), and all liens can be foreclosed. Mechanically what happens is that the foreclosing party causes the property interests to be divided and paid off – and the way that is accomplished is by selling the property and splitting the money up according to the priority of interests.

There is a definite hierarchy of interests, and the higher interests must be completely satisfied before the lower interests get anything. Eventually, if every interest is satisfied and money is left over, this would go to the property “owner.” Or to put it another way, being the property owner means that you get whatever is left after all the other interests are paid off (you are entitled to the “equity”). But usually, if there is not enough to cover all the secured interests, you will owe the secured parties money personally.

Two Examples of Foreclosure

Let’s consider two examples. In the first, Owner A each own houses worth $100,000 on the open market. That’s what it sells for.

Owner A

Owner A has the following liens against the property: a purchase money mortgage of $35,000, a home equity loan of $10,000, and a mechanic’s lien of $1,000.

$100,000 Value of House

($35,000) Purchase Money Mortgage
($10,000) Home Equity Loan
($ 1,000) Mechanic’s Lien
===================

$54,000 – Equity

Owner B

Owner B has the following liens against the property (in this order – the order of liens is beyond the scope of this article): a purchase-money mortgage of $110,000 (the house is “underwater” because the loan remaining is more than the house is worth); a home-equity loan of $10,000, and a mechanic’s lien of $1,000.

$100,000 Value of House

($110,000) Purchase Money Mortgage
($ 10,000) Home Equity
($ 1,000) Mechanics lien
=============

($21,000) equity (a negative number)

If neither one can pay off the purchase money mortgage, go into default, and are foreclosed, here’s what happens.

Results of Foreclosure

A loses possession of the house, and all security interests in the property are “extinguished.” The money is enough for the mortgage, and that is subtracted and given to the bank. Because the home equity loan and mechanic’s liens was “secured” by the house, the foreclosure breaches the contract with the lender. It intervenes (legally) in the foreclosure and demands its money and gets paid before anything goes to A. Because the lien was “subject” to the other agreements, it gets paid afterward, again before A gets anything.

In B’s situation, the bank gets all the money, and the lenders are left with claims against B. Their security interests in the property are extinguished, and chances are good they’ll lose everything they had lent.

Why Debt Collectors Often Do Not Foreclose

What if, instead of not paying the bank, A and B had failed to pay the home equity loan? In that situation, the Home Equity lender could foreclose on the loan. Lower level security interests can foreclose on the loan. It would be conceivable that any other person with an interest in the property, including the mechanic, might take some action to intervene in order to protect its interests, although in B’s case, especially, this is unlikely. The bank will get all the money, and the home equity lender will get nothing even though it is the one that foreclosed.

This explains why debt collectors rarely foreclose on a house. It will cost them money but get them nothing. But that isn’t to say they couldn’t or that it would never make sense for them to do or threaten to do.

About Your Legal Leg Up

Your Legal Leg Up is a business dedicated to helping people fight debt collectors without having to hire expensive lawyers to do it. We offer you everything you need to defend your rights – with special help through our membership services to help make the process smoother, easier, and less worrisome. YourLegalLegUp.com has been in operation since 2007. Before that, Ken Gibert practiced law representing people being sued for debt among other types of consumer law.

If you would like to get a personalized evaluation of your situation, follow this link: https://yourlegallegup.com/pages/evaluation.

For further help, consider our Manuals and Memberships. We have materials on debt negotiations and settlement, forcing debt collectors to leave you alone, credit repair, and many other issues that arise when you are facing debt trouble.

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Counterclaims When You’re Sued for Debt: Important for Your Defense

howdoyousolve.jpg
Filing a counter claim is probably the single most important thing you can do in defending yourself from a lawsuit brought by a debt collector. There’s a great deal to say about counterclaims in debt law cases, and I suggest you look closely at the text of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act itself as you consider what, if any, counterclaims you will bring. In this article, we will just discuss the importance of filing a counterclaim in general

Counterclaim – Why So Important?

In most jurisdictions, which is a fancy way of saying most courts and places, a plaintiff (the person bringing the lawsuit) is allowed to drop the case (that’s called “dismissing”) if it want to. And usually at any time it wants to. This isn’t true of federal court, where you have to get permission, but in most state courts it seems to be true. And debt cases are pretty much always brought in state courts.

That means that the debt collector could get tired of you and just dismiss the case at any time.

That’s cool! That’s just what we want and what I’ve been saying you should go for, right?

Yes, but if the debt collector simply dismisses your case, it could also sue you again later or sell the debt to someone else who would sue you later, and that is definitely not cool! You need the case dismissed “with prejudice” to keep it from coming back.

Counterclaims Stop Them from Suing You Again!

So how do you keep them from dismissing the suit and refiling the suit later? You do this by filing a counterclaim against them. A plaintiff can dismiss its own lawsuit, but not your claim against it.

Unless you agree. So if they want to dismiss the case against you either because your claims are good or because they don’t want to spend the money chasing you, they either have to settle the case with you, or they’re still left defending against your counterclaim. They never do that, because then they’d be bound to lose money one way or another. They’d either have to pay you or their lawyers (or both), — and without the chance of collecting anything from you. The worst of all worlds. They won’t do that. Instead, they’ll settle the whole case with you.

So a counterclaim gives you power over the plaintiff and lets you keep it around till they agree to destroy the debt (or “extinguish” it, as it is called). A counterclaim means you can put the harassment to an end. And sometimes your counterclaim can be worth a lot more than their lawsuit against you was in the first place.

About Your Legal Leg Up

Your Legal Leg Up is a business dedicated to helping people fight debt collectors without having to hire expensive lawyers to do it. We offer you everything you need to defend your rights – with special help through our membership services to help make the process smoother, easier, and less worrisome. YourLegalLegUp.com has been in operation since 2007. Before that, Ken Gibert practiced law representing people being sued for debt among other types of consumer law.

If you would like to get a personalized evaluation of your situation, follow this link: https://yourlegallegup.com/pages/evaluation.

For further help, consider our Manuals and Memberships. We have materials on debt negotiations and settlement, forcing debt collectors to leave you alone, credit repair, and many other issues that arise when you are facing debt trouble.

Click here to sign up for our free newsletter, Fightdebt.