Articles Posted in Recent Case Decisions

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In a recent decision of Thornton v. Wolpoff and Abramson, No. 07-12016, by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the court rejected Wolpoff and Abramson’s argument that the Ms. Thornton’s attorney should not receive the Court ordered attorney fees as required by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) to a successful plaintiff.

Ms. Thornton had sued Wolpoff for violations of the FDCPA related to Wolpoff’s collection activities surrounding a balance on a credit card bill that had belonged to her ex-husband. The jury found that Wolpoff had violated the law, but only awarded Ms. Thornton nominal damages in the amount of $1.

After the trial, the court awarded Ms. Thornton’s attorney fees at a rate of $250 per hour and in the amount of $7,500. This was significantly less that what was asked for by the plaintiff, due to the court’s finding that the case could have been settled by the parties at an early stage of the litigation for a nominal amount of money. It was also significantly more that asked for by Wolpoff.

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The Alabama Appellate Watch is an excellent blog by Lightfoot, Franklin and White, LLC. The Appellate Watch blog focuses on the decisions normally released every Friday by the Alabama Supreme Court and the Court of Civil Appeals. It contains the full text of each decision and a good analysis of the civil cases.

We have found the lawyers at Lightfoot to be excellent and honorable opponents and we expect to always find the posts at Appellate Watch to be the same.

We recommend that you take a look at this fine blog as the Alabama Supreme Court and the Court of Civil Appeals do release decisions that affect Alabama consumers.

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This opinion from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the arguments of Equifax in this six figure verdict except on two grounds. The emotional distress damages were reduced to $150,000 and the trial court was instructed to conduct a hearing on the attorney’s fee award.

A good analysis of the impact of identity theft is provided by Denise Richardson in her fine blog post. We recommend this to your reading. She also has a link to the opinion so you can read it yourself.

While we disagree with the reduction of the emotional distress damages, overall this opinion benefits consumers and for that we are thankful.

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A serious problem for Alabama consumers and consumers around the country is the wide spread practice of forcing consumers to “accept” arbitration agreements. These often say that the consumer can not file or participate in any class action. Thus, times where an Alabama consumer is cheated out of $50 has to be filed individually which, as a practical matter, means most cases are not filed and consumers are left frustrated.

The Ninth circuit recently ruled that these class action waivers are unconscionable under California law. Read this short post by the Consumer Law & Policy blog for more information and the direct link to the case.

This is an excellent decision as it is important for Alabama consumers and consumers around the nation to have the option to pursue the bad guys in a class action. While the Ninth circuit does not have authority over Alabama, any good law is helpful to get more and more appellate courts making the right decision.

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Our friend Robert Duff of the Indiana Consumer Law Blog has an interesting post about a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision which holds that when a credit reporting agency (such as Equifax, Experian, or Trans Union) recklessly reports or recklessly investigates your disputes, punitive damages can be considered by the jury. Some areas of the country previously held that only “intentional” conduct would allow this.

The implication? According to Robert Duff:

What does this mean? Well, it’s HUGE! Quite simply, it means that punitive damages will be much, much easier for consumers to obtain under the FCRA. It means that FCRA defendants will have a much more difficult time obtaining summary judgment on punitive damages claims. It means the value of many FCRA lawsuits just went up astronomically, because now consumers can get these claims before a jury. And when that happens, look out! I think we’ll see a slew of large punitive damage verdicts in the next year.

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We ran across a recent blog post on the Trial Lawyer Resource Center blog site that summed up our feelings on the frivolous multimillion lawsuit that was recently tried in Washington DC over a pair of pants. The post was entitled, Crazy Pants Lawyer get Zero: The System Works.

The post makes the point that, while our system of justice is not perfect, it does work. At the end of the day, the plaintiff in that case had the right to file the lawsuit, a bad lawsuit, just like we all have the right to say or do something stupid. However, he did so at his own risk. The case was tried, he had his day in court and the judge found that his case had no merit and, in addition, ordered that he pay the court costs for the defendants.

Few would argue that that was not the correct outcome, though it is not always easy to actually know what the real facts are. One need look no further than the Duke Lacrosse case to see just how fast the facts of a case can be distorted from the media and by outsiders. It didn’t take long for many in media and public to convict those players. However, the system ultimately worked, though slowly.

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Yesterday, in Bach v. First Union, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reduced the verdict for violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The original verdict was $400,000 in compensatory damages and 2.6 million in punitive damages.

The first appeal resulted in the court directing the district court to review the punitive damage award and reduce it. The district court did so by reducing the punitive damage award by $400,000, the amount of the compensatory damages.

On the second appeal, the appellate court said the punitive damages could not exceed the compensatory damages. Thus, the maximum the punitive damage award could be is $400,000 for a total verdict of $800,000 (plus we assume attorney’s fees and costs).

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Our friends at Consumer Law & Policy Blog have a great post on a recent decision that can impact victims of debt collection abuse in Alabama and elsewhere.

In a forceful opinion issued today, Sayyed v. Wolpoff & Abramson, No. 06-1458 (May 9, 2007), the Fourth Circuit rejected a debt-collection law firm’s argument that it enjoys common-law immunity from FDCPA claims that arise out of statements made in the course of litigation.

Farid Sayyed alleged in federal district court that the law firm Wolpoff & Abramson (W & A) had filed, in a state-court debt-collection action, interrogatories and a summary judgment motion that contained false statements. W & A argued that it was absolutely immune from FDCPA claims arising from statements made in litigation, and the district court agreed and dismissed.

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Today the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision styled Gillespie v. Equifax which held that the way that Equifax reports the “Date of Last Activity” potentially violates the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

The plaintiffs defaulted on some debts and they were sold to a debt buyer collection agency. The issue in the case concerned the date of last activity and the rule against keeping negative items for more than seven years (actually seven and a half years – we’ll address this in another post). The way Equifax reports the information, if a consumer makes a payment after an account becomes delinquent, then the date of last activity is the date the last payment was made. This could extend the seven year period in violation of the law.

As the court put it,

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