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7th Circuit splits over Marion County Small Claims debt collection suit

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Are Marion County Township courts “judicial districts” under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, thus allowing a man to sue a debt collector for bringing an action in an inconvenient township court? Depends on who you ask on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, as the majority ruled in favor of the debt collector Thursday.

Judges Joel Flaum, Ann Claire Williams and Richard Posner decided Mark Suesz, individually and on behalf of a class v. Med-1 Solutions LLC, 13-1821. Med-1 Solutions bought the medical debt of Hendricks County resident Mark Suesz that stemmed from treatment in Lawrence Township in Marion County. The company filed a collection action in Marion County Small Claims Court in Pike Township, on the other side of Marion County. Suesz then filed this lawsuit, seeking damages under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which requires debt collectors to bring suit in the judicial district where the contract was signed or where the consumer resides.

U.S. Judge William Lawrence tossed Suesz’s lawsuit in March after finding the small claims courts were not judicial districts for the purposes of the Act.  Flaum and Williams agreed, relying on Newsom v. Friedman, 76 F.3d 813 (7th Cir. 1996). Using a similar approach as in Newsom, the majority looked at the makeup of courts in Indiana and what should be considered judicial districts here.

“[T]he township courts fall short of constituting freestanding judicial districts for several reasons. First, they fall short under our definition, because the limitations on their authority are not coterminous with township boundaries. We find it especially significant that the statute permits debt collectors to file actions anywhere in the county, rather than limiting the township courts’ reach to township borders. This filing flexibility suggests that the proper judicial district is Marion County as a whole, rather than the individual townships,” Flaum wrote.

“It is also noteworthy that the Marion County Superior Court lacks a small claims docket—which every other superior court in Indiana has. This suggests that the township courts, superior court, and circuit court are meant to function as a symbiotic whole, with the township courts obviating the need for a superior court small claims docket.”

Posner wrote a 10-page dissent, believing Newsom is unsound and needs to be overruled. He pointed out that the majority interpreted the relevant portion of the Act in a vacuum instead of against the background of debt collectors seeking to file actions in the courts that are inconvenient to debtors or where judges are unsympathetic to debtors.

“What’s true is that a debt collector is free to choose a court system (federal, county, city, or township, depending on jurisdictional requirements) in which to file. But once it makes its choice, section 1692i requires it to pick the most convenient court within the system’s territorial limits. That would be Lawrence Township court in this case,” Posner wrote.
 

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  1. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  2. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  3. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  4. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  5. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

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