The U.S. Supreme Court declined to expand a federal law protecting consumers against harassment and threats in debt collection attempts. The court unanimously upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a proposed consumer class action lawsuit against the auto-lender Santander Consumer USA Holdings Inc. over allegations it violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
The case came down to the definition of “creditor” and “debt collector” and whether a company that buys debt should be treated as a creditor, not subject to the the collections law. The law applies only to companies that collect debts on behalf of others and does not apply to businesses like Santander who purchases the distressed debt from other companies after it defaults, the Supreme Court ruled.
The ruling was the first written by the court’s newest justice, Donald Trump-appointee Neil Gorsuch, who wrote that any changes to the law should come from the U.S. Congress, not the court. The four Maryland residents who had defaulted on their car loans filed the proposed class action lawsuit in 2012 in federal court, accusing Santander of violations of the debt collection law including misrepresenting debt loads and bypassing the debtors’ lawyers.
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