The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently affirmed a District Court’s decision that a debt collector seeking post-judgment enforcement costs as part of a writ of garnishment did not violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), nor did the debt collector filing a “continuing lien.” See Archie v. Nagle & Zaller, P.C., 2019 WL 5212213 (4th Cir. Oct. 16, 2019). The plaintiff debtors brought this action against a debt collector/law firm based on debts relating to homeowners association liens. According to plaintiffs, the defendant violated the FDCPA in two ways: first, by seeking post-judgment enforcement costs as part of a writ of garnishment; and second, by filing liens that secured additional, post-recordation costs (i.e., a “continuing lien”). Plaintiffs argued that both practices violated the FDCPA because they used “false, deceptive, or misleading representation[s] or means” and “unfair or unconscionable means” to collect the debts. The District Court found that neither practice violated the FDCPA and granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed. First, the Court found that including post-judgment enforcement costs in writs of garnishment did not violate the FDCPA. In that case, the homeowners association and plaintiff entered into a consent judgment for the plaintiff’s unpaid monthly fees, and the judgment included $83 in costs. When defendant sought to garnish plaintiff’s wages, it added additional costs of pursuing the judgment and the writ. Although plaintiffs argued that these additional costs beyond the $83 violated the FDCPA, the Court disagreed, finding that defendant had simply followed what was allowed under Maryland collection law and had not made any false representations. Second, the Court found that filing a lien that includes additional costs and fees “that may come due after the date this lien was drafted” also did not violate the FDCPA. In that case, the defendant filed a lien against plaintiff’s property for unpaid homeowners fees, and the lien stated that it included the amount owed at the time plus “additional fines, late fees, interest, costs of collection and attorney’s fees actually incurred, if any, as permitted by the Association’s governing documents, that may come due after the date this lien was drafted” and that “[s]aid amount may increase or decrease.” The Court again found that this provision did not violate the FDCPA. Although Maryland law does not expressly permit or prohibit continuing lien clauses, the Court found that “construing the law to forbid them would lead to an impractical and costly result, with creditors obliged to file a new lien every time an additional cost accrued or a partial payment was made.”