Sep 24

By Andrea Peterson – The Washington Post

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (or AO) has a plan to restore online access to documents that were controversially removed in August from PACER, the online system for accessing public court records, a spokesperson said.

“The Administrative Office is working to restore electronic access to these cases by converting the docket sheets in these cases to PDF format which will allow us to make them available in PACER,” said David Sellers, assistant director for public affairs at the AO, in a statement to the Washington Post. “This process will be completed in the four appellate courts by the end of October. We are also working to provide a similar solution for the dockets on the legacy system in the California Central bankruptcy court.”

PACER is a digital warehouse for U.S. court documents in the public domain. The system is managed by the AO and funded through a fee structure that includes charging 10 cents per page of search results within the systems and 10 cents per actual page of public court documents. Public domain advocates have long criticized those fees and argued that the system is difficult to navigate for the average citizen. These concerns led to the development of tools to help create a free archives of court documents, but those archives currently contain only a fraction of the information available through PACER. [read more]


Sep 24

By Patrick Lunsford – insideARM

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals Monday denied a petition to rehear an FDCPA case that involved an account number being visible through the clear window of an envelope containing a debt collection letter.

ACA International had the first news of the rejection. The trade group said that the defendant in Douglass v. Convergent Outsourcing had its petition denied without comment.

Two weeks ago, Convergent filed its petition after the Third Circuit unanimously overturned a district court ruling in the firm’s favor. The collection agency filed its petition for rehearing en banc (before all judges in the circuit) or by another three-judge panel.

Convergent sent a collection letter for a past due mobile phone bill with the debtor’s account number – a number used internally, which the defendant referred to as a tracking number — visible through the transparent address window of an envelope. Convergent had previously won a summary judgment in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruling that the account number was “benign language.”

But the Third Circuit panel disagreed, writing, “The account number is a core piece of information pertaining to Douglass’s status as a debtor and Convergent’s debt collection effort. Disclosed to the public, it could be used to expose her financial predicament. Because Convergent’s disclosure implicates core privacy concerns, it cannot be deemed benign.” [read more]


Sep 24

By Kenneth G. Eade – OpEdNews

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), enacted by Congress in 1971, was put into place because the banking system is dependent upon fair and accurate credit reporting and unfair credit reporting methods undermine the confidence of the public in that system. The three major credit reporting agencies (CRA’s), Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax, suffered a major blow last year when a federal court in California ruled that equitable relief is allowed under the FCRA. The case sought declaratory and injunctive relief against the three major CRA’s for failing to correct inaccuracies on a credit report which had lingered on the report in some cases, for over one year, despite numerous requests to reinvestigate under the FCRA. The complaint sought to enjoin them from reporting the negative items. The CRA’s moved to dismiss the complaint, contending that injunctions are not available to private plaintiffs under the FCRA. The Court disagreed.

Consumer credit reporting agencies, like Experian, Trans Union and Equifax, are charged by the FCRA with the exercise of due care in accurately and completely reporting credit information. Any item on a credit report which is “incomplete or inaccurate” after reinvestigation under the FCRA must be deleted. Thanks to today’s court decision, if the credit reporting agency does not delete it, you can force them to with the injunction power vested in the Courts. But most people do not have the financial wherewithal to mount a lawsuit against the giant conglomerates and are left to suffer the fate brought on by sloppy and negligent investigations. [read more]


Sep 23

By Vauhini Vara – The New Yorker

It can be hard to tell what remains, these days, of the Occupy movement. On the third anniversary of the first protests in New York, activists are fighting one another in court for control of the Twitter handle @OccupyWallStNYC, while the flow of new articles on OccupyWallSt.org, the movement’s original Web site, has slowed to a trickle. One initiative that came out of the movement, though, the Rolling Jubilee, has shown some staying power. A couple of years ago, a group of Occupy activists who were working to combat the growing debt problem for low- and middle-income people began educating themselves about how debt works. They learned that when companies are owed money—whether in the form of credit-card debt, unpaid medical bills, or student loans—they can sell the obligations to other firms. These forms of credit often aren’t repaid, making them a high-risk purchase, so buyers typically pay only a tiny fraction of the debts’ face value. Then the new owners seek out the original debtors and try to claim the full amount.

The activists had an idea: What if they bought the original debt at its usual deep discount, then, instead of going after the debtors, simply cancelled it? They decided to raise fifty thousand dollars but ended up with seven hundred thousand dollars after some high-profile supporters helped spread the word. Their first action was to pay four hundred thousand dollars for nearly fifteen million dollars in medical bills owed by more than two thousand patients. The debtors received letters in the mail from the Rolling Jubilee informing them of their freedom. [read more]


Sep 23

By Patrick Lunsford – insideARM

A district judge in New York this week certified a class action TCPA case against a debt collection agency where the defendant argued it had express prior consent to call a cell phone because the plaintiff had provided that number to the creditor. The ruling referenced and ignored an FCC order that allowed for autodialed calls to cell phones with express consent.

In Zyburo v. NCSPlus, Inc., before the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant had repeatedly called his cell phone using an automated dialing system in violation of the TCPA. When Zyburo moved to certify a class, NCSPlus strongly defended.

The defendant argued the case was improper for class certification because many of the proposed class members had allegedly provided the defendant — or at least the underlying creditor — with consent. The defendant based this argument on the 2008 ruling by the FCC in which the Commission held the “provision of a cell phone number to a creditor…reasonably evidences prior express consent to be contacted at that number regarding the debt.” [read more]


Sep 22

By David O. Klein – Lexology

In a split decision, the First Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld a lower court ruling that a collection letter send by a law firm violated the FDCPA because it gave the impression that the consumer could not dispute the debt and that payment was the only option to avoid litigation.

The case, Pollard v. Law Office of Mandy L. Spaulding, began after the consumer received an initial communication from Spaulding demanding payment for a $611 debt. Spaulding had been contracted after at least one other collection agency had attempted to recover the debt.

The letter from Spaulding was written on firm letterhead and was signed by the attorney. Despite containing the required disclosures, the plaintiff felt that the strongly-worded language used in the letter, and even the disclosure language itself, overshadowed her right to dispute.

At particular issue was the use of the phrases “not inclined to use further resources attempting to collect this debt before filing suit” and that the attorney was “obligated to my client to pursue the next logical course of action without delay” in the body of the letter. [read more]