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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. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

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