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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. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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