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Judge tosses township jurisdiction challenge in collection cases

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A federal judge has ruled that Marion County collections cases need not be filed in the township where a defendant lives or a contract was signed, a key ruling regarding a practice criticized as “forum shopping.”

On Thursday, Judge William T. Lawrence of the District Court for the Southern District of Indiana dismissed a lawsuit brought by a plaintiff who claimed that an action filed against him in Pike Township violated the Federal Debt Collection Practices Act because he neither lived in the township nor signed a contract there. Township courts in Marion County hear small claims complaints regarding sums of less than $6,000.

“The small claims township courts do not constitute judicial districts,” Lawrence wrote, citing a Circuit Court ruling from Illinois, Newsom v. Friedman, 76 F.3d 813 (7th Cir. 1996). “The venue requirements for filing in small claims court make clear that any township court may hear a claim within the limits of its subject-matter jurisdiction.”

Lawrence dismissed Mark Suesz, individually and on behalf of a class, et al., v. Med-1 Solutions, LLC, 1:12-CV-1517. Med-1 was granted dismissal on its contention that filing in the county where a defendant lived was sufficient. Lawrence wrote the Newsom ruling found that the definition of “judicial district” was unambiguous, and in Indiana, the meaning is the counties that constitute judicial circuits.

“The structure and function of the township small claims courts in Marion County do not fall with the definition of a judicial district. It follows that Med-1 was not required under the FDCPA to file in the township where Suesz lived or signed the contract,” Lawrence ruled. “It was therefore not a violation of FDCPA for Med-1 to file in another township small claims court within Marion County, and Med-1 is entitled to dismissal of the claim against it.”

Suesz also had the opportunity to request a change of venue, Lawrence noted.

Numerous class-action suits have been filed seeking relief under FDCPA for allegations of forum shopping, in which large-volume collections filers concentrated their suits in one of the nine township courts.

Allegations of abuses led to reforms in the courts spurred by an advisory committee formed after Court of Appeals Judge John Baker and Senior Judge Betty Barteau issued a report that recommended an overhaul in the way the courts were structured and reforms in the way they did business. The study and report followed a Wall Street Journal article that focused on forum-shopping.

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  1. Based on several recent Indy Star articles, I would agree that being a case worker would be really hard. You would see the worst of humanity on a daily basis; and when things go wrong guess who gets blamed??!! Not biological parent!! Best of luck to those who entered that line of work.

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  4. Law school is social control the goal to produce a social product. As such it began after the Revolution and has nearly ruined us to this day: "“Scarcely any political question arises in the United States which is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question. Hence all parties are obliged to borrow, in their daily controversies, the ideas, and even the language, peculiar to judicial proceedings. As most public men [i.e., politicians] are, or have been, legal practitioners, they introduce the customs and technicalities of their profession into the management of public affairs. The jury extends this habitude to all classes. The language of the law thus becomes, in some measure, a vulgar tongue; the spirit of the law, which is produced in the schools and courts of justice, gradually penetrates beyond their walls into the bosom of society, where it descends to the lowest classes, so that at last the whole people contract the habits and the tastes of the judicial magistrate.” ? Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

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