When individual consumers are taken advantage of or treated abusively by retailers, banks, health care providers, and their debt collection companies, often their only protection is finding a local attorney willing to stand up for their rights under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692 et seq., and Washington’s Collection Agency Act, Ch. 19.16 RCW. In one recent case, however, the debt collector tried to exploit a technical loophole in the federal law to avoid accountability. The debt collector then sought an enormous sanction personally against the local attorney who had taken on the case without charge. Ahrend Albrecht entered the case to handle the appeal of sanction award, because the threat of personal sanctions against consumer protection attorneys should not be allowed to deprive individual consumers of access to legal counsel.
In April the Washington State Court of Appeals, Division III, reversed the $70,546.44 award of sanctions that had been entered against the lawyer. See Rose v. FMS, Inc., Cause No. 30380-2-III (Wn. Ct. App., Apr. 30, 2013). In reversing the sanctions award, the court clarified the issue of when a debt may be considered in “default” so as to trigger the protection of these laws and ultimately found that the lawsuit was meritorious and undeserving of sanctions. The lawyer was represented on appeal by George Ahrend. After the Spokesman Review ran an article highlighting the reversal, the collection company sought reconsideration of the ruling, but that request was denied without comment by the Court of Appeals this past week.