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Judgment of $19,040.00 is the result of unlawful debt collection efforts by La Jolla Neurosurgical Associates

  • Jared Hartman, Esq.
  • Posted on September 27, 2017

 

On September 18, 2017, Judge Frazier entered judgment against La Jolla Neurosurgical Associates in the amount of $19,040.00 as a result of their unlawful debt collection efforts. A copy of the judgment can be found by clicking HERE.

The case arose out of unlawful attempts by the medical provider to attempt to collect upon a medical debt that is not owed by the patient. California state laws regarding worker’s compensation mandate that no medical debt can be collected from the patient directly if the medical services were a result of an injury that is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the worker’s compensation board.

Unfortunately, La Jolla Neurosurgical Associates began attempting to collect the medical debt from the patient directly, in direct contravention of California’s mandatory laws. The patient’s worker’s compensation attorney even delivered a letter to them instructing them to cease any attempts to collect from the patient directly, and provided them clear instructions on how they could collect the debt through the worker’s compensation process.

However, they refused to abide by the clear instructions and persisted in their efforts to collect from the patient directly. In their collection letters, they used ominous language that clearly misrepresented the legal status of the debt by sternly warning the patient that he personally owed the debt.

By not only misrepresenting the legal status of the debt, but also by persisting in their efforts to contact the patient directly despite having been put on written notice that the patient is represented by an attorney, La Jolla Neurosurgical therefore violated several provisions of the California Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. A copy of the Complaint can be found by clicking HERE.

If you or a loved one are being subjected to debt collection efforts that you feel are unfair or unlawful, please do not hesitate to contact us for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights and whether you may have a case for formal litigation.

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WHAT TO DO WHEN BEING SUED BY A DEBT COLLECTOR

  • Jared Hartman, Esq.
  • Posted on March 28, 2017

 

The National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) has released a series of educational videos to help give basic information to individuals who are faced with debt collection efforts and debt collection lawsuits. The information in these videos is very beneficial, and is information that we are happy to discuss further with respect to any particular situation that you or a loved one may be facing.

Keep in mind that these videos were produced with a nation-wide audience in mind, and there may be laws in your particular state that must be analyzed to determine whether the debt collector has (or has not) violated your rights under your state laws.

We regularly handle debt collection defense cases, and we have strategies in our tool chest that may help you or your loved ones when faced with debt collection lawsuits.

Please watch these videos below, and feel free to call us for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

The first video is entitled: “Dealing with Debt Collectors”. Are you being illegally harassed? If you are having problems with debt collectors, watch this video to learn about your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and state laws.

The second video is called: “I received notice of a lawsuit, what should I do”. If a debt collector files a lawsuit against you to collect a debt, discover what to do next.

The third video is called: “Defending yourself in a lawsuit”. If you want to learn how to represent yourself, hear about common defenses against debt collectors, and gain knowledge of possible outcomes to your trial, then watch this video. NOTE: Our firm does not recommend representing yourself, as you will be facing an attorney with specialized education and training on how to argue their case against you. While it is your right to decide to represent yourself, we advise that you should have legal counsel on your side in order to not run into a legal minefield full of issues and problems that you may not anticipate.

The fourth video is called: “Was I served legal papers properly?” Learn about one of your key defenses. Determine if you were served papers properly.

The Fifth video is entitled: “I have a judgment against me.” If you lost your debt defense case (or did not know it even occurred) and your wages or bank account is being garnished, learn what you can do.

Each of these videos can be viewed on the NACA website, which also includes very helpful information regarding your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and basic information on steps you should take to protect yourself. You can find this webpage at the link below:

http://www.consumeradvocates.org/for-consumers/debt-collection

PLEASE NOTE: Nothing in the above is to be taken as legal advice and is only intended to serve as solicitation for a more in depth consultation. Proper legal advice can only be given after a full consultation to discuss all details of your particular circumstances in a confidential setting.

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OVERSHADOWING VIOLATIONS CLASS CERTIFICATION PRELIMINARILY APPROVED

  • Jared Hartman, Esq.
  • Posted on December 13, 2016

 

Our law firm recently received preliminary approval for class certification in the case of Capps. v. Law Office of Peter Singer, et al. The opinion can be read by clicking HERE.

The case was filed October 26, 2015, alleging that the Law Office of Peter Singer sent debt collection letters to consumers with language that overshadows and contradicts mandatory disclosures that debt collectors are required to provide to consumers to properly advise them of their rights under the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). In particular, 15 U.S.C. 1692g requires third party debt collectors, even law firms that regularly engage in debt collection on behalf of another, must include a notice in their first collection letter that the consumer has 30 days to either dispute the debt, a portion of the debt, or request validation of the debt. If the consumer does provide in writing either a dispute or a request for validation, the debt collector must cease any further efforts to collect the debt until validation is delivered to the consumer. Typically, the validation must involve delivering to the consumer the original creditor’s name and address and/or a copy of a judgment.

This is important, because often-times debts are sold and re-sold between different agencies, and the consumer may not know what the debt pertains to if they do not recognize the current creditor or current collection agency. Providing to the consumer the original creditor’s name and address, at a minimum, should help the consumer to determine whether the debt is validly owed by the consumer, if the debt was actually incurred by someone else and the collector is contacting the wrong person, or if the debt had been paid off in the past and there is a mistake in alleging the debt is still owed. Providing the consumer 30 days to send such a dispute or request for validation provides the consumer with sufficient time to consider his or her choices in how to proceed, and also provides the consumer sufficient time to gather and deliver documents to the debt collector to support a dispute.

Courts have consistently held that any other language in the first collection letter that weakens or confuses this mandatory disclosure amounts to an “overshadowing” violation of the FDCPA.

Plaintiff’s claims in this case are based on the collection letters containing language that attempted to limit the consumers’ rights to take 30 days by urging consumers to pay the debt within 7 days. In particular, the letters claimed that the Law Office of Peter Singer would be entitled to sue the consumers after 7 days if they do not pay the debt or call the debt collector to make payment arrangements. Even though the letters also contained the mandatory 30 day dispute disclosure discussed above, the fact that the letters also contained a threat of lawsuit after merely 7 days of non-payment weakened and overshadowed the consumers’ absolute right to a 30 day dispute period.

On November 21, 2016, the Southern District of California granted the Plaintiff’s motion for preliminary approval of class settlement. The class settlement will entitle 170 members of the class to receive $66.70 each out of the class fund of $11,606.16. Class members can opt out in order to pursue their own claim on an individual basis. A final fairness hearing will be held March 13, 2017 in order for the Court to determine whether the final payments should be distributed to the class members who have not opted out, and in order to finally dispose of the class action if the Court determines that finalizing the class settlement is fair and meets all legal requirements of Rule 23.

A copy of the motion for class preliminary approval can also be found by clicking HERE.

As always, if you or a loved one are being contacted by a debt collector, you should not hesitate to contact us for a free and confidential consultation to determine whether your rights have been violated.

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BEEN VICTIMIZED BY A DEFAULT JUDGMENT BASED ON FRAUDULENT PROOF OF SERVICE?

  • Jared Hartman, Esq.
  • Posted on November 28, 2016

 

Sadly, we have seen numerous incidents of third party debt collectors obtaining default judgment against a consumer based on a proof of service that the consumer claims is fraudulent. This sometimes occurs when the process server simply claimed that the person was served personally, even though we have been able to obtain proof that the consumer did not reside at the address claimed to have been the place for service on the date claimed. More common, however, is that the process server had claimed that substitute service occurred by serving an unidentified JOHN DOE/JANE DOE, even though we are able to obtain proof that no-one other than the consumer resided at the residence on the date alleged, or that the consumer had actually moved from that residence before the alleged service occurred. We have also seen this occur when the process server claimed to have executed substitute service, but failed to show evidence via affidavit of reasonable diligence to first attempt personal service, which also renders the service invalid and consequently renders the default invalid.

In any event, however it may occur, many consumers who have reached out to us only first discovered the default judgment after having received notice from his/her employer that a wage garnishment was about to occur by the debt collector serving a writ of execution upon the judgment. Sometimes, a levy is also placed by the debt collector upon the consumer’s bank accounts, which freezes the finances contained therein and allows the debt collector to withdraw some or all of those finances. Clearly, this can be devastating because it can have a direct impact on the consumer’s ability to budget for living expenses and other necessary life expenses.

If this has happened to you or someone you love, then you must not delay in seeking counsel’s representation. California law requires that the consumer seek to set aside the entry of default and default judgment within six months of first discovering they have occurred. We have unfortunately seen people who have waited, thinking it would just magically go away, or that they have contacted the debt collector directly in an attempt to obtain their agreement to set aside after explaining the service was not legit and only to then be taken advantage of by the debt collector. We have also seen people who have filed hardship paperwork with the court without first contesting the default and without contesting the proof of service, which can be argued as an implicit admission that the service was valid. These are not good options….the best option is to promptly call a consumer attorney to discuss the proper course of seeking to set aside the default and default judgment. There are also very technical requirements that must be met in seeking to do this, and a failure to meet every single technical requirement can result in the motion to set aside being denied with prejudice, which means the consumer has now forever lost any ability to ever seek to set them aside.

Again, the best option is to promptly consult a consumer attorney to discuss the proper course on how to pursue the set aside based upon the consumer’s individual circumstances. One example motion to set aside can be found by clicking HERE.

If we are successful in having the entry of default and default judgment set aside, then it is possible for us to file a counter-suit against the debt collector (and possibly the process server) for engaging in unfair and oppressive conduct and misrepresentations. Many federal courts have ruled that it is not possible to file a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act before obtaining the set aside, because such a lawsuit operates as an indirect appeal of the court’s entry of default without actually having taken an appeal through proper channels. So, the best strategy is to first obtain a court ruling setting aside the entry of default/default judgment and then review the case for a counter-suit.

If you or anyone you know is in such a circumstance, please do not hesitate to contact us promptly for a free and confidential consultation to review your particular circumstances.

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SCRIPPS MEMORIAL HOSPITAL VIOLATES WORKER’S COMPENSATION LAWS

  • Jared Hartman, Esq.
  • Posted on November 8, 2016

 

Getting hurt on the job can be a very traumatic event. Your life can be changed for the worse—not only are you physically hurt, but you risk not being able to perform your job duties any longer and you possibly risk losing your job completely. Depending on the injury, you may not be able to work in your industry at all any more. The lack of ability to provide for yourself and your family leads to emotional issues such as depression, anxiety, and feelings of self-doubt and loss of self-worth. The loss of income possibly results in losing your home to foreclosure due to an inability to pay your mortgage, which could also in turn result in strife within the marriage. All of your dreams and plans for the future are crushed.

Now add to all of these problems the fact that the medical provider has been relentlessly attempting to collect money from you for the medical services that were provided as a direct result of the workplace injury, even though you are struggling financially due to your loss of normal stream of income. Your worker’s compensation attorney sends the medical provider a letter informing them that their exclusive remedy is to file a claim for services with the worker’s compensation board and participate in that process. Your attorney also informs the medical provider that they are not to attempt to contact you directly anymore, because California Labor Code 3751(b) specifically prohibits them from collecting the bill for services from you directly.

Their responses to your attorney’s letter, however, is to retain an outside collection agency who then proceeds to continue collection efforts from you personally. They call you repeatedly at all hours of the day; they send you letters with ominous threatening language. They claim the debt is increasing because of interest and costs and fees, and they threaten that the debt is going to be a negative mark on your consumer credit report. All of this adds to your stress, anxiety, and depression because you thought you were protected and you thought they were going to faithfully comply with your attorney’s instructions to file a claim with the worker’s compensation board.

You lose sleep; you lose faith in the worker’s compensation process; you lose faith and trust in your attorney; you worry about how these bills are going to get paid; you worry about how you will be able to move forward with negative items on your credit report that you are not supposed to be responsible for….

Thankfully, you can go after these unscrupulous companies who are so quick to degrade you and ignore your rights!!

California Labor Code Sections 4600, 5300, 5304, and 5955 provide the basis that the worker’s compensation board has exclusive jurisdiction to handle payment of medical debts that are the subject of a workers’ compensation claim. In order for the medical provider and/or debt collector to seek reimbursement for their medical services, they must submit a claim to the workers’ compensation board so that the board can determine the appropriate amount of pay for the employer and/or employer’s insurance company to provide to the medical providers. If the medical provider and/or debt collector is not satisfied with the board’s ruling, then their sole remedy is to file a petition for reconsideration pursuant to California Labor Code § 5900 and then appellate review pursuant to California Labor Code § 5950.

However, California Labor Code § 3751(b) provides that medical providers shall not collect money directly from the employee for services to cure or relieve the effect of the injury for which a claim form, pursuant to Cal. Lab. Code § 5401, was filed, unless the medical provider has received written notice that liability for the injury has been rejected by the employer and the medical provider has provided a copy of this notice to the patient. Any medical provider who violates Cal. Lab. Code § 3751(b) shall be liable for three times the amount unlawfully collected, plus reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

Semnar & Hartman, LLP regularly ties such unlawful debt collection tactics into a claim for either or both of the Federal or Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Acts, since those laws prohibit any attempt to collect an unauthorized amount in connection with consumer debts. Click HERE to review a complaint recently filed against Scripps Memorial Hospital and Progressive Management Systems for contacting the employee directly several times in complete disregard of a letter sent by the employee’s worker’s compensation attorney.

If you or a loved one are proceeding through a workers’ compensation board claim, but are still receiving debt collection bills and/or phone calls, please do not hesitate to contact us as soon as possible for a free, confidential consultation about your rights.

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BEING HARASSED BY CITY TITLE LOAN, LLC?

  • Jared Hartman, Esq.
  • Posted on November 1, 2016

 

Our law firm is investigating suspected internal policies of telephone harassment by City Title Loan, LLC and are looking for anyone who has received collection calls or letters by them for free and confidential consultations.

A lawsuit filed earlier this year alleges that City Title Loan employees used automatic dialing equipment to place a large volume of calls (in excess of 90 calls) to one of their customers over a period of just a few weeks in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Even though the customer repeatedly asked that the calls cease and asked for routine billing statements as proof of exactly what is owed (which are disclosures that federal law makes mandatory), the business not only refused to comply but also belittled him when threatening that the calls would continue.

The company also proceeded to call the customer’s elderly mother who is living with Parkinson’s disease and uttered threats of collection against her (even though she was only listed as a reference and not a co-obligor), and also threatened to the mother that they were looking to arrest the customer if he did not make a payment (which is false because failing to make a payment is only a breach of contract and is not subject to criminal charges). A copy of the complaint can be read by clicking HERE

Please rest assured, you do have rights! If you are facing collection efforts by City Title Loan (or any other title loan lender, payday lender, bank, creditor, or debt collector), please do not hesitate to contact us a free and confidential consultation to discuss whether your rights have been violated.

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WELLS FARGO PENALIZED OVER UNLAWFUL STUDENT LOAN SERVICING PRACTICES

  • Jared Hartman, Esq.
  • Posted on August 28, 2016

 

On August 22, 2016, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) entered into a consent order with Wells Fargo over the manner in which Wells Fargo has been unlawfully handling its student loan servicing practices. The CFPB is a federal government agency that is tasked with investigating unlawful and unfair practices that creditors, banks, and debt collectors engage in with respect towards consumers. If violations are discovered and alleged, the CFPB has the power to issue a wide array of penalties that could include ordering a business to close its operations. Needless to say, when the CFPB sets its targets on a financial entity, the company should be in fear.

On August 22, 2016, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) entered into a consent order with Wells Fargo over the manner in which Wells Fargo has been unlawfully handling its student loan servicing practices. The CFPB is a federal government agency that is tasked with investigating unlawful and unfair practices that creditors, banks, and debt collectors engage in with respect towards consumers. If violations are discovered and alleged, the CFPB has the power to issue a wide array of penalties that could include ordering a business to close its operations. Needless to say, when the CFPB sets its targets on a financial entity, the company should be in fear.

Before we discuss specifics, it is important to note that inquiries remain on the consumer’s credit reports for two years. Soft inquiries will have less of an effect on the consumer’s credit score than hard ones. So what’s the difference?

  • Processing payments in a way that maximized fees owed by consumers. Specifically, if a borrower made a payment that was not enough to cover the total amount due for all loans in an account, Wells Fargo divided that payment across the loans in a way that maximized late fees rather than satisfying payments for some of the loans. The bank failed to adequately disclose to consumers how it allocated payments across multiple loans, and that consumers have the ability to provide instructions for how to allocate payments to the loans in their account. As a result, consumers were unable to effectively manage their student loan accounts and minimize costs and fees.
  • Billing statements misrepresenting to consumers that paying less than the full amount due in a billing cycle would not satisfy any obligation on an account. In reality, for accounts with multiple loans, partial payments may satisfy at least one loan payment in an account. This misinformation could have deterred borrowers from making partial payments that would have satisfied at least one of the loans in their account, allowing them to avoid certain late fees or delinquency.
  • Illegally charging late fees even though timely payments had been made. Specifically, charging illegal late fees to payments made on the last day of their grace periods, and also charging illegal late fees to certain students who elected to pay their monthly amount due through multiple partial payments instead of one single payment.
  • Failing to update and correct inaccurate, negative information reported to credit reporting agencies about certain borrowers who have made partial payments or overpayments.

For these unlawful practices, Wells Fargo must pay at least $410,000.00 to consumers as compensation for illegal collection fees and late fees, and must allocate partial payments made by a borrower in a manner that satisfies the amount due for as many of the loans as possible, unless the borrower directs otherwise. Wells Fargo must also provide consumers with improved disclosures in billing statements, which must explain how the bank applies and allocates payments and how borrowers can direct payments to any of the loans in their student loan account. Wells Fargo must also remove any negative student loan information that has been inaccurately or incompletely provided to a consumer reporting agency. Wells Fargo must also pay a $3.6 million penalty to the CFPB’s Civil Penalty Fund.

The CFPB’s consent order can be ready by clicking HERE.

Clearly, this is not a light slap on the wrist that banks typically believe they should get, and this strong action by the CFPB should hopefully send a clear message to Wells and other financial institutions that they must take consumer rights very seriously and respect consumers as human beings instead of just another financial account on the books.

If you or a loved one have concerns over any account being serviced or owned by Wells Fargo, please do not hesitate to contact our law firm for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

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THE DEBT BUYING INDUSTRY

  • Jared Hartman, Esq.
  • Posted on August 20, 2016

 

Dealing with a debt buyer can often be a frustrating and stressful experience. In general, debt buyers purchase old debts for a small percentage of how much is owed, and then aggressively pursue collection efforts upon the balance (or large percentage thereof) in order to maximize their ability to profit upon the debt as much as possible. Many debt buyers give their collection agents bonuses and commission based upon the amount they collect, which gives the collection agent incentive to put significant pressure upon the consumer to pay. While this industry is a legitimate and legal industry, the manner in which they operate can easily violate consumer protection laws through misrepresentations about how much is owed, whether interest and collection costs can rightfully be added onto the principle, misrepresentations about potential lawsuits, and in the most extreme cases verbal abuse and personal attacks upon the consumer.

On June 5, 2016, John Oliver highlighted this industry and its flaws in his HBO show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”, which can be viewed here:

his episode of Oliver’s show explains how easy it is for mistakes to be made, because the typical manner in which the debts are sold and bought is simply through Excel spreadsheets with just basic information about the consumer and how much is owed, which might not provide the debt buyer with sufficient information as to whether the debt is legally enforceable, is actually collectible, if prior payments had been made, and whether any legal stipulations had been included in the original loan agreement. Obviously, the debt buyer who purchases the debt for pennies on the dollar would want to engage in as little review of the account as possible, because the more effort that is put into review before collection means there is less profit to be made when compared to the effort being conducted. In short, quickly collecting as much as possible with as little effort as possible yields the most profitable return in favor of the debt buyer.

Oliver also highlights some of the more extreme and disturbing examples of how the debt buyers in this industry can harm consumers through harassment and oppressive conduct. At 7:02 of his episode, Oliver plays recordings of voicemails left by debt collection agents uttering threats of violence, threats of harassment, and even suggesting that one consumer should commit suicide because she/he is a loser. At 7:46, an undercover video is shown where a debt collection agent laughs and jokes about how he likes to call consumers’ employers at the employers’ home in order to put pressure upon the consumer to pay the debt by harassing the consumers’ employer.

Our law firm routinely pursues lawsuits for legal violations committed by debt buyers and debt collection agencies. If a debt collector is contacting you or a loved one, there is a very realistic possibility that they have already violated your rights. Do not hesitate to contact us for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights!