Illinois Federal Court Holds That Debt Collector Violated the FDCPA by Telling Consumer That She Was Responsible for Court Costs

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois recently held that a debt collector violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) by telling the debtor that her total balance due included the debt collector’s court costs.  See Oberg v. Blatt, 2015 WL 9478213 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 29, 2015).  In the case, the debt collector filed a lawsuit, after which the debtor called and inquired as to the total amount due on her debt.  She was informed that her amount due included the $307 cost incurred by the firm in filing the lawsuit.  The debtor then filed this lawsuit, alleging that this inclusion of court costs violated the FDCPA’s prohibition on false representations of the amount of the debt.  See 15 USC 1692e(2).  Specifically, she argued that the debt collector was not entitled to its costs until the entry of a judicial order awarding them, and that it violated the FDCPA by claiming otherwise.  Both parties then moved for summary judgment, with the debt collector arguing that its inclusion of court costs in the amount due was not a violation because it was part of a “settlement negotiation.”  The Court granted the debtor’s motion on this issue, however, holding that the debt collector was only entitled to the amount of the debt and had violated the FDCPA by claiming its costs were due at that time.  “By telling her that her balance included the court costs, Blatt represented to Oberg that she was obligated to repay both her debt and Blatt’s court costs. But Oberg was not legally required to pay the $307 fee added to her balance, and as a reasonable, unsophisticated consumer, there is no reason she would have known as much when Blatt’s authorized representative indicated otherwise.” For a copy of the decision, please contact Michael O’Donnell at modonnell@riker.com.