SW Legal studies in Business

Attorney Could Not Have Reviewed Debt Collection Letters Supposedly Signed By Him
Description Appeals court held that a suit brought by debtors against a lawyer for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act would go forward. The court held that it was unlikely that the lawyer reviewed the 52,000 letters a month that went out under his name, so a jury could find he violated the Act by "renting out" his letterhead for debt collection purposes.
Topic Consumer Protection
Key Words Fair Debt Collection Practices Act; Attorney
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Plaintiffs received letters from the Wexler law firm demanding payment for money allegedly owed to Wexler's client. The plaintiffs sued, contending Wexler violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which prohibits a debt collector to "use any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or implication that any individual is an attorney or that any communication is from an attorney." A lawyer who rents his letterhead to a collection agency is in violation of the Act since the attorney did not review the letter sent in the name of the attorney. Wexler contended that he in fact reviewed all letters; the trial court granted him summary judgment. Plaintiffs appealed.
Decision

Reversed. "A debtor who receives a dunning letter signed by a lawyer will think that a lawyer reviewed the claim and determined that it had at least colorable merit," so the debtor will be deceived in violation of the Act. An average of 52,000 letters were sent to debtors each month on the Wexler letterhead. That would mean that each letter would get Wexler's attention for only a few seconds even if he did no other work. While plaintiffs could not refute Wexler's claim that he reviewed every letter, and so was not in violation of the Act, his claim is dubious. "Wexler's testimony was made incredible, or at least highly implausible, by the evidence of the volume of mail. Wexler is highly unlikely to have reviewed the claim in each letter that went out under his name. A reasonable jury could find for the plaintiffs, so the case will proceed.

Citation Boyd v. Wexler, 275 F.3d 642 (7th Cir., 2002)

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