“Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties. Cases in the series can be found by issue and by judge at this link.
Trump Eleventh Circuit judges Andrew Brasher and Robert Luck affirmed a grant of summary judgment against a consumer who contended that a corporate debt collector made indirect misrepresentations to him, in violation of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The January 2021 ruling was in Rivas v Midland Funding LLC.
Manuel Rivas owed around $12,000 on three separate credit card accounts. The bank possessing the accounts sold them to Midland Funding, which has an agreement with its affiliate Midland Credit Management (MCM), under which MCM files lawsuits and collects payments on Midland Funding’s behalf through MCM’s website.
Collection lawsuits were filed against Rivas, and he and Midland Funding entered into a settlement agreement. Under the settlement, Rivas was to pay a total of $1100 in payments of $50 per month at the MCM website, and Midland Funding was to dismiss all three lawsuits by June 19, 2018. If Rivas defaulted on any payments, he would be liable for the full amount he originally owed.
Rivas proceeded to make his monthly payments in 2018. Although when he made his first online payment the website correctly showed he had a balance of $1100, the website misrepresented his balance due after that. Each time he made a payment, the website stated that he still owed more than $4000. The website also showed that there were open claims against him for all three credit card accounts, and the lawsuits against him were not dismissed as scheduled. Rivas “suffered considerable distress,” including “loss of sleep and extreme stress“ due to these misrepresentations, although no efforts were made to collect more than the monthly payments he continued to make.
Rivas sued Midland Funding under FDCPA, contending that it was making indirect but false misrepresentations through the MCM website. A district court granted Midland Funding’s motion for summary judgment without a trial, accepting the argument that it could not be liable under FDCPA for misrepresentations on MCM’s website.
On appeal, Trump judge Brasher wrote a 2-1 opinion, joined by Trump judge Luck, which affirmed the decision in favor of Midland Funding and against Rivas. Brasher maintained that Midland Funding could not be liable under FDCPA because the misrepresentations as to the “amount and legal status” of Rivas’ debt were on MCM’s website, for which Midland Funding was not legally responsible.
Judge Beverly Martin firmly dissented. She explained that under the FDCPA, a corporation can be liable for misrepresentations in a “communication,” which is defined as the “conveying of information regarding a debt directly or indirectly to any person through any medium.” A “reasonable jury” could determine, Martin continued, that Midland Funding made such an indirect communication, and violated the FDCPA’s prohibition on any “false, deceptive or misleading representation” in connection with the collection of a debt. This was because the settlement agreement provided that “[p]ayments are to be made directly” to Midland Funding at the MCM website, which contained the “false or deceptive indirect communications” via the “statements posted” about what Mr. Rivas’ still owed. Under the correct interpretation of FDCPA, Martin concluded, Rivas should have had the opportunity to present his case to a jury, and “reasonable jurors could find” against Midland Funding.
As a result of the decision by Trump judges Brasher and Luck, however, Manuel Rivas will not have the chance to present his claims of indirect false misrepresentations by Midland Funding to a jury. Other consumers in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, the states covered by the 11th Circuit, may well also be harmed by the majority’s narrow interpretation of the federal consumer protection law.