A recent Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling has given consumers more protection from creditors seeking payment on outstanding debts while leaving some questions unanswered for creditors. The court has ruled in Armata v. Target Corporation, that creditors are not exempt from rules that limit contact with consumers who owe them money.
A copy of the decision can be found here.
In this case, the consumer, Debra Armata, incurred debt through her Target-brand debit card, and this debt became more than 30 days past due. Target then began to collect on the debt and contacted Armata using a predictive dialer. These devices transfer the cardholders who do answer the phone to a live representative about 95 percent of the time with the other five percent of the time leading the person to a recorded message. There are no voicemails left if the person does not answer the phone.
Under Massachusetts law, debt collection laws limit how many times a creditor can try to contact a consumer telephonically to collect on a debt, limiting these calls to two every seven days. However, according to the Massachusetts Attorney General, any unsuccessful attempts by the creditor do not constitute initiation of communication if the creditor was “truly unable” to reach the debtor or leave a message.
Target did not argue that it contacted the plaintiff more than two times in seven days. However, the company argued it did not initiate communications because it uses an auto dialer and does not leave voicemails if no one answers. The company stated it was exempt from these regulations for this reason as it was “truly unable” to reach Armata.
The Court disputed this argument stating that Target was trying to create too large of a loophole that would essentially allow any creditor to avoid the limits imposed by state law by using auto dialing technology. It would leave debtors unprotected from these continuous communications.
The attorney general’s term “truly unable” was better defined in the opinion. One example given by the court was if the person did not answer the phone and did not set up his or her voicemail. If that situation occurred or the person’s voicemail was full, or phone disconnected, then the company would qualify as being “truly unable” to reach the consumer.
The court also clarified that creditors who use automatic dialers or those who voluntarily decide to not leave voicemail messages, such as Target, are subject to the state’s regulations.
Target had also argued that the company was not able to leave voicemail messages because doing this would risk violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The court pointed out that the company did not fall within the restrictions of the FDCPA, since that law covers third-party debt collection agencies and not the actual creditors themselves, such as Target.
Click here to read more on this story.
If you have questions on this topic or are in financial crisis and considering filing for bankruptcy, contact an experienced Miami bankruptcy attorney who can advise you of all of your options. As an experienced CPA as well as a proven bankruptcy lawyer, Timothy Kingcade knows how to help clients take full advantage of the bankruptcy laws to protect their assets and get successful results. Since 1996 Kingcade Garcia McMaken has been helping people from all walks of life build a better tomorrow. Our attorneys’ help thousands of people every year take advantage of their rights under bankruptcy protection to restart, rebuild and recover. The day you hire our firm, we will contact your creditors to stop the harassment. You can also find useful consumer information on the Kingcade Garcia McMaken website at www.miamibankruptcy.com.