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Frequently Asked Questions: For Consumers Facing Debt Collection

Help, I’ve Been Sued by a Debt Collector! What Should I Do?

The highly profitable debt collection industry is dedicated to buying (typically for pennies on the dollar) and collecting on consumer debts like credit card accounts, club or HOA membership fees, or even outstanding parking tickets or court fees. If you are sued by a debt collector claiming the right to collect on a debt you owe, you may have a defense against the case. Defenses can include, for example, lack of proper service of process, mistaken identity, lack of standing to sue you, time-barred debts, or that the claimed amount is incorrect. You may also have additional defenses or even claims of your own against the debt collector if your debt collector violates laws like the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or related state laws.

Unfortunately, many consumers fail to timely respond to a debt-collection lawsuit, leading to entry of a default judgment against them. Once it is entered, a default judgment can allow the debt collector to garnish the defendant’s wages or bank account, or collect on the judgment by seizing other assets. It is possible to ask the court to set aside a default judgment under certain circumstances, but for best results, the defendant should appear in the case and file an answer to the complaint by the deadline listed in the summons.

To prevent entry of a default judgment and ensure you have the best chance of protecting your rights, you should discuss the situation with an attorney promptly after you learn of a debt-collection lawsuit filed against you.

I Haven’t Heard about any Lawsuit against Me, but a Debt Collector Claims I Owe Them Money.

If a debt collector contacts you, before you say the debt is yours (which could affect your rights in defending against the claim), you have the right to review validation of the debt. You should obtain the name and mailing address of the debt collector if you are contacted by telephone and keep this information handy.

Debt collectors and creditors can make mistakes, so it’s important to verify any information about a debt you supposedly owe. By law, debt collectors are required to give you validation of the debt either in your initial communication with them, or within five days of their first contact with you about the account (unless the debt has already been paid). These rules come from the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Validation has to include the amount owed, name of the creditor, and three statements— that: 1) unless the consumer, within thirty days after receipt of the notice, disputes the validity of the debt, or any portion thereof, the debt will be assumed to be valid by the debt collector; 2) if the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within thirty days that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed, the debt collector will obtain verification of the debt or a copy of a judgment against the consumer and a copy of such verification or judgment will be mailed to the consumer by the debt collector; and 3) that if the consumer requests it in writing within 30 days, the debt collector will provide the consumer with the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor. The validation letter gives the consumer a chance to dispute the claimed debt, if the debt collector’s information is wholly or partially inaccurate.

If you don’t receive validation of the debt during or shortly after your first contact with the debt collector, you may send them a written request for validation. If you have questions about whether a debt collector has acted inappropriately in attempting to collect a debt, you should discuss the situation promptly with an attorney familiar with consumer protection laws. An attorney may be able to help you dispute the validity of a debt if you act promptly, within the 30-day period after receiving a validation letter.

How Do I Know if a Debt Collector Has Violated the Law?

Consumer protection laws governing debt collection can be complex to understand and apply. You should discuss your situation with an attorney familiar with consumer protection laws to understand your rights and options for addressing legal claims against debt collectors who violate your rights.

Some of the key rules applicable to debt collectors are listed in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and Washington statutes governing debt collection agencies. For example, they may not:

  • Collect any amount unless authorized by law and/or by agreement (for example, in a credit card agreement you signed);
  • In most circumstances, contact third parties like your friends or family members about your alleged debt, unless you authorize such communications;
  • Engage in harassment or abuse, make false or misleading misrepresentations, or use unfair or unconscionable means to collect a debt.

An attorney can help you understand how the laws apply to the specific facts of your situation.

Will It Cost Me to Discuss My Debt Defense Case with an Attorney?

Generally, attorneys at our law firm offer potential clients a free initial consultation. If you are facing a lawsuit by a debt collector, we may be able to offer you representation for your defense. And if your rights were violated by a debt collector, we may be able to offer you a contingent fee representation for any claims you have under consumer protection laws.

Because a consumer who wins a case under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and related law is generally entitled to receive their attorney fees from the losing party, our firm can represent clients in those cases without having to charge you up front for our attorney’s fee. Please contact us if you would like to discuss your defense in a debt collection case, or your rights as a consumer in the debt collection process.

SEPA/Land Use Appeal Addresses Daylighting of Olympia’s Moxlie Creek

Our firm is pleased to announce a recent appeal we filed on behalf of a local organization, the Olympia Urban Waters League, from a City of Olympia land use and State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) decision. The appealed decision approved a real estate development in the vicinity of an urban stream, Moxlie Creek, a salmon-bearing stream which runs under downtown Olympia in a culvert.

In the League’s initial appeal brief, we argue that the decision fails to acknowledge the proposed development would cause probable, significant, adverse environmental impacts to the water quality in the Moxlie Creek watershed and Budd Bay estuary where it empties. These impacts arise because the development would take up land located at the mouth of a historic estuary which is apparently needed to remedy significant water quality issues in the Bay, including low dissolved oxygen and high levels of nitrates, through a creek daylighting project. Removing urban waterways from buried culverts and exposing them once again to the air is associated with various environmental benefits, and cities around the United States have benefited from creek daylighting efforts. You can read a copy of our initial appeal brief here:

AppealBrief-OUWL-Color-03082018

You can read more about our client’s perspective on Moxlie Creek and the positive effects of daylighting buried urban creeks at their website, https://urban-waters.com/, and their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/OUWLs/.

Case closed: Citizens’ Alliance for Property Rights PAC pays $15k to settle campaign finance enforcement action

Our firm recently settled a campaign finance enforcement action against the Citizens’ Alliance for Property Rights PAC, a political committee registered with the State of Washington. The complaint alleged numerous violations of state law related to the committee’s failures to timely report contributions, expenditures, and lobbyist employer activity. Interestingly, the Executive Director who drew a salary from the PAC was the same person who has filed hundreds of campaign finance complaints against various other candidates, political committees, and other entities in Washington since late 2016, a Thurston County resident named Glen Morgan.

“I’m glad to announce that we have prevailed in this action through a settlement that will benefit the State and send a message to political committees and lobbyist employers to properly report their financial activity,” says Walter Smith of the firm. “These violations bothered me because Mr. Morgan knew enough about the laws to file complaints against others, but his committee failed to live up to those laws. Our firm feels vindicated by this settlement and we see it as an appropriate punishment for hypocritical behavior.”

The defendant has paid $15,000 to resolve this action. As part of the resolution of the case, the firm has tendered $1,000 of the defendant’s settlement payment to the State of Washington.

Unwanted Telemarketing Calls: Know your rights

Almost everyone has probably experienced the annoyance and frustration of answering the phone only to find an unwelcome call from a telemarketer selling some product or service. But did you know that telemarketing calls to your residence or cellular phone may be unlawful, and that consumers may be able to sue and recover damages from the caller? For example, consumers receiving calls with a prerecorded message, calls initiated with an “automated telephone dialing system,” and calls to a consumer’s number that is listed on the Do Not Call registry may violate the law and allow a consumer to recover damages. As one recent order issued by the Federal Communications Commission explains,

consumer consent is required prior to making autodialed or artificial/prerecorded voice message calls—commonly known as robocalls—to emergency telephone lines or to consumers’ wireless phones. Similarly, pursuant to the [Telephone Consumer Protection] Act and the [implementing] Rules, express written consent is required prior to making telephone solicitations to telephone lines registered on the national Do-Not-Call registry. Although Congress and the Commission have long worked to protect consumers from illegal, unwanted, and disruptive robocalls, such calls persist as the number one consumer complaint to the Commission. As technology has advanced, these calls have become more prevalent, more threatening, and even more challenging to prevent. Along with advanced and low cost spoofing technology, nefarious robocallers can easily hide their true identities from consumers and cause a variety of harms, including the disruption of consumer privacy.

In re Best Insurance Contracts, Inc., and Philip Roesel, dba Wilmington Insurance Quotes, DA 17-662, File No. EB-TCD-16-00023195 (citation and order dated August 4, 2017), ¶ II.3.

If you have received unwanted telemarketing calls and want to learn more about your rights as a consumer, contact our firm to request a consultation today. While this post summarizes general points about telemarketing laws, it does not constitute legal advice; our firm conducts a conflict of interest check and requires a written attorney-client agreement before we can advise or represent you.

One lawyer’s overly simplistic South Sound hydrological model

Note:  This is “sub” post that supports other blog entries.

Before embarking on my overly simplistic explanation of Western Washington ground water hydrology, I should disclose, I have a chemical engineering degree and worked as a petroleum reservoir engineer for five years before law school.  I have a reasonably good understanding of the physics governing water flow through an aquifer, wells, treatment systems, and piping, but I definitely am not an expert in the local hydrology or aquifers.  You should consult such an expert about your particular circumstances.

With that disclaimer, the first principle is that actual amount of precipitation we receive over the course of a year hardly ever equals the 50″ average annual precipitation recorded between 1897 and 2015 (using Olympia airport NOAA data).   In 1999, for example, we got a whopping 65″ of precipitation.  The very next year we received only 36 inches.    The average annual precipitation for those two years was 52″ (close to our long term annual average), but one year was unusually wet and the next unusually dry.   The hydrological conditions in your aquifer were likely dramatically different in those two summers and different from conditions that exist in the “average” year.

Second, South Sound watersheds receive a lot more precipitation (about 85% of the annual total) from October 1 through April than during the rest of the year.    On average the Olympia airport receives about one-half inch rain for all of July.  In November, December, and January, there are many single days that receive that much precipitation

Third, the groundwater reservoir (aquifer) that your water well taps into is probably hydraulically connected to the aquifer that  your neighbors are (or will be) pumping from and to the surface water bodies (i.e., streams and lakes) that recharge the aquifer.   Those hydraulic connections mean that your groundwater withdrawal will to some extent reduce the amount of water available for your neighbors to pump and/or the water available for aquifer recharge. Correspondingly, your neighbor’s groundwater withdrawals will reduce the amount of water available for you to pump from the aquifer.     Equally important the amount of precipitation received in the watershed affects the aquifer recharge and the amount of groundwater available for your well.

These principles result in the observation that local groundwater levels typically peak around March 15th and reaches their lowest level in November although those dates can vary significantly in any year.   The seasonal variation in ground water levels is easily seen in measurements taken in wells.   For example in published data from water wells located in the Scatter Creek area of South Thurston and North Lewis County, the recorded static water levels typically varied by 15 feet between the wet and dry months of the same water year.  That variation caused some water wells (i.e., those  with pumps set above the lower  static water level) dry up in the summer and fall. This hydraulic variability is not a recent phenomenon; although  population growth (i.e., more wells sucking from the same aquifer) exacerbates the effect. Since the 1950’s summertime groundwater shortages have been reported by homeowners in the Scatter Creek area.