The Supreme Court recently ruled that it is legal for contracted attorneys in special cases to use Attorney General’s letterhead. You may be scratching your head and asking yourself: Why did this case make it all the way up to the Supreme Court of the United States? Don’t the Justices have bigger things to worry about?
Believe it or not, as an Attorney who sues debt collectors for a living, this is a very important case. Suing debt collectors and debt collection law firms can be very tricky. We use a ‘least sophisticated’ consumer standard in most of these cases. So, when evaluating any debt collection activities, we must put ourselves and our clients in the shoes of the least sophisticated consumer.
The case brought to the Supreme Court questioned whether or not it was legal for contract attorneys (hired to collect state debts) to use Attorney General’s letterhead when sending out debt collection letters.
The reason why this case was brought up with the Supreme Court is that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) states that third-party debt collectors cannot mislead or deceive consumers when collecting consumer debt. Some people believed that using letterhead not belonging to the lawyers responsible for collection state debt was deceitful to the least sophisticated consumer.
However, the Supreme Court has found that this practice is not deceitful, since these lawyers do represent the state. The court noted and found the following to be true in this case:
“Special counsel create no false impression in doing just what they have been instructed to do… use of the Attorney General’s letterhead conveys on whose authority special counsel writes to the debtor.”
What the Law Does Protect Against
It is still unlawful for any third party debt collector to try and collect a debt using measures of deceit. The case above demonstrated that the debt collectors did not violate any laws, but any debt collector masquerading as someone else or something else is illegal. Even though I really don’t like to see a consumer lose a case to a debt collector, I believe that the Supreme Court made the proper ruling.
This case is an important one, since it does draw a line in the sand between what is legal when it comes to the Fair Debt Collection Act and what is clearly misleading and illegal. If you believe that someone is trying to collect a debt by violating the Fair Debt Collection Act, be sure to contact a reputable, trusted attorney.
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