Cert. grant about use of state letterhead by private debt collector

Today the Supreme Court granted cert. in Sheriff v. Gillie, an FDCPA case out of the Sixth Circuit. As described by the court of appeals:

Plaintiffs brought this action under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq., alleging that Defendants utilized a deceptive, misleading, or false representation or means in attempting to collect consumer debts Plaintiffs owed to entities owned and operated by the State of Ohio. The Attorney General intervened on behalf of Defendants, asserting that the alleged misrepresentation—consisting of sending debt-collection notices on the Attorney General’s letterhead—was not a misrepresentation at all and was, in fact, authorized by the Attorney General.

Here’s the Sixth Circuit’s summary of its decision:

Because a jury could reasonably find that the use of the Ohio Attorney General’s letterhead by the “special counsel” acting as independent debt collectors, in the manner and under the circumstances present here, to result in deceptive, misleading and false representations in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, we hereby VACATE the summary judgment in favor of Defendants and REMAND this case to the district court with instructions for the district court to submit to the jury the question as to whether these letters were actually confusing to the least sophisticated consumer.

The questions presented in the petition are:

  1. Are special counsel—lawyers appointed by the Attorney General to undertake his duty to collect debts owed to the State—state “officers” within the meaning of 15 U.S.C. § 1692a(6)(C)?
  2. Is it materially misleading under 15 U.S.C. § 1692e for special counsel to use Attorney General letterhead to convey that they are collecting debts owed to the State on behalf of the Attorney General?

Argument will likely be scheduled this spring.

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