By: Robert J. Nahoum
You have been sued by a debt collector for a consumer debt in a county, city, town or state where you don’t live. Can the debt collector do that?
In legal jargon, the term “venue” refers to the proper geographic place where a court can hear a case. State and federal venue laws govern where a case can be heard and usually include where the defendant resides, where the defendant does business and where the plaintiff does business. In New York State, venue can also be proper in the geographic place where the Plaintiff resides even if that Plaintiff is a business. However, if the case involves a consumer credit transaction where a purchaser, borrower or debtor is the defendant, the case must be brought only in the area where the defendant resides or where the transaction took place.
When enacting federal debt collection laws called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA for short), Congress intended to eliminate abusive debt collection practices by collection agencies and other debt collectors. Among the abusive practices that Congress intended the FDCPA to eliminate was the “problem of ‘forum abuse,’ an unfair practice in which debt collectors file suit against consumers in courts which are so distant or inconvenient that consumers are unable to appear,” thus allowing the debt collector to win a default judgment. S.Rep. No. 95-382, at 5 (1977), reprinted in 1977 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1695, 1699.
The FDCPA’s venue provisions require that consumer debt collection lawsuits be brought “only in the judicial district or similar legal entity in which [the] consumer resides at the commencement of the action” or where the “consumer signed the contract sued upon.”
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO:
If you’ve been sued on a consumer debt in a county, town, city or state where you don’t live and didn’t live at the time the debt was incurred, speak with a qualified consumer protection attorney. Your attorney might be able to have the case thrown out or at least transferred to a proper venue. Also, you may have a case under the FDCPA for venue abuse. If a debt collector violates the FDCPA, you can sue the debt collector for statutory damages up to $1,000.00, actual damages (like pain and suffering) and the debt collector may have to pay for your attorney.
What does this mean for you? The FDCPA gives consumers the power to swing the pendulum in the other direction and call the debt collector to the mat for violating your rights as a consumer. Best of all, if you’re successful, the debt collector may have to pay for your attorney.
If you need help settling or defending a debt collection law suit, stopping harassing debt collectors or suing a debt collector, contact us today to see what we can do for you.