Buffalo, NY — The Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow consumers to challenge telemarketers in federal courts, rather than limiting these lawsuits to state courts, is a huge win for cell phone owners being harassed by collectors. In Mims v. Arrow Financial Services, LLC, Marcus Mims of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., sued Arrow in federal court for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), passed in 1991. Mims is seeking the $1,500 per violation allowed by the TCPA for calls made that were not permitted by the cell phone subscriber. The debt collection industry makes these calls by robo-dialing and leaving automated messages, a technology which was originated for the use of debt collectors.
“This law, the TCPA, was essentially written to prohibit the debt collection industry from harassing debtors by calling their cell phones. This is an industry which has no qualms about calling people 10 or more times a day using this automated system. They completely ignore the consumers’ right to privacy,” said Jeffrey Freedman, senior partner, Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys at Law.
“The main concern of consumer rights attorneys is that debtors are being harassed and they deserve their day in court to both stop the harassment and obtain retribution. But an additional issue is that ultimately the consumer is paying to be harassed by debt collectors who are using up cell phone time with these automated systems.”
Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, TCPA cases were shuttled back and forth between state and federal courts, depending on the state or region in which they were filed. Debt collectors prefer the cases be heard in state courts, because the judges in state courts, often overwhelmed by other cases, view them as a federal issue, since the TCPA is a federal law. When a TCPA case is filed in a state court, it often drags on for an extended period of time until the debtor settles for less than the law allows.
“The debt collection industry wanted the Supreme Court to rule that TCPA cases only be tried in state courts because they do better in state court,” Freedman said. “Ultimately, the industry would like to see the TCPA overturned so that they are free to harass consumers as often as they see fit. Their sole interest is in making a living and they will use any means to do that.”
The decision was unanimous among Supreme Court members, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writing, “Nothing in the text, structure, purpose or legislative history of the TCPA purports to deprive U.S. district courts of the jurisdiction they ordinarily have.”
TCPA lawsuits are often filed in conjunction with Fair Debt Collection Practice Act (FDCPA) suits, where debtors seek retribution for harassment (such as frequent phone calls, calls to family or friends, calls to work phone numbers, and threats of legal actions that are not allowed under the FDCPA) by collectors.