Second Circuit Holds That Nursing Home Debt Is Protected by FDCPA

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently held that a debt collector’s phone calls and letters to a widower and his daughter over a nursing home debt fell under the provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”).  See Eades v. Kennedy, PC Law Offices, 2015 WL 3498784 (2d Cir. 2015).  In the case, a nursing home hired a debt collector to pursue an $8,000 bill for nursing home services after one of its residents passed away.  The debt collector called and wrote to the deceased’s daughter, informing her that she was liable for the debt under Pennsylvania’s indigent support statute (23 Pa. Cons. Stat 4603) and Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (12 Pa. Cons. Stat. 5101-5110).  The debt collector eventually filed a lawsuit in state court against the daughter and the widower.  The daughter and widower responded by filing a complaint in federal court alleging violations of the FDCPA (15 USC 1692) based on the collector’s collection methods.  In opposition, the debt collector argued that the nursing home obligation was not a “debt” under the FDCPA because the obligation to pay arose under state statute, and likened it to a child support obligations, which other courts have held are not “debts” under the FDCPA.  The District Court agreed and dismissed the complaint.  The Second Circuit, however, reversed the District Court’s decision and found that the balance owed constituted a debt under the FDCPA.  While it acknowledged the child support analogy raised by the debt collector, it held that a “debt” is defined as “any obligation or alleged obligation of a consumer to pay money arising out of a transaction in which the money, property, insurance, or services which are the subject of the transaction are primarily for personal, family, or household purposes, whether or not such obligation has been reduced to judgment.”   (15 USC 1692a(5)).  Thus, the relevant determination for the Court is “whether the obligation arose out of a transaction of the type specified in the FDCPA, not whether the obligation is imposed or enforceable by statute.”  The Second Circuit then remanded the case to for the lower court to determine if the debt collector’s actions violated the Act.

For a copy of the decision, please contact Michael O’Donnell at modonnell@riker.com.