Shopping Center Violated Disabled Toddler’s Civil Rights, According to New Federal Complaint

Today, a federal lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan against Texas companies Spigel Properties, Inc. and S & S Shopping Centers, Ltd. on behalf of two-year-old Claire Dykstra of Wyoming and her parents, Andrew and Hiliary Dysktra.  The Defendants own and manage Rogers Plaza Town Center in Wyoming.  The Complaint alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act (PWDCRA).

Claire and her parents are represented by attorneys Scott A. Noto of The Britt Law Group PC and Theodore J. Westbrook of Westbrook Law PLLC.

The lawsuit stems from an incident in which Claire, who was born with a condition that causes delays in learning to walk, was practicing walking with her grandfather and physical therapist at Rogers Plaza. When she stopped to rest and sat on the floor, the property manager told her sitting on the floor was not allowed. After her grandfather explained her condition and her need to take rest breaks periodically, the manager ordered them to leave and not come back. The incident has been publicized by several local media outlets, including local Fox, ABC, and NBC affiliates. In the lawsuit, Claire’s parents allege violation of ADA and PWDCRA provisions that make it unlawful to discriminate against persons with disabilities in providing public accommodations.

Inquiries regarding the case may be directed to Theodore Westbrook or Scott Noto.

TJW

New Class Action Lawsuit Against Mortgage Servicer Real Time Resolutions Claims Threats to Harm Credit Ratings Broke the Law

Mortgage loan servicers typically collect and process payments for mortgage loans on behalf of the owners of those loans. If your loan statements come from Ocwen, Nationstar (now using the quizzical alias “Mr. Cooper”), or Seterus, just to name a few, you are dealing with a servicer. Real Time Resolutions, Inc., another servicer, is the latest target of a consumer class-action lawsuit filed by Westbrook Law PLLC in the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan, Bushouse v. Real Time Resolutions, Inc.

The new lawsuit alleges that Real Time violated federal and state law through its routine practice of threatening consumers with reporting obsolete, negative credit information about them. Whereas the law does not allow credit reporting of most negative items that are past seven years old, 15 U.S.C. § 1691c(a), the complaint alleges that Real Time continues to threaten negative reporting well beyond the seven-year mark. This practice, which could frighten consumers into paying obsolete debts they no longer have any legal obligation to pay, is alleged to violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692e; the Michigan Occupational Code, M.C.L § 339.915; and the Michigan Mortgage Brokers, Lenders, and Servicers Licensing Act, M.C.L. § 445.1672. The plaintiff seeks damages for herself and other Michigan citizens who received the threatening communications.

Our expertise in credit reporting law–i.e., the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act–and consumer collection law informed this lawsuit and many others on behalf of Michigan consumers. If you have concerns about whether a practice by a debt collector or mortgage servicer is fair or lawful, contact us for a consultation.

TJW

Police Department Changes Repossession Policy in Response to Civil Rights Lawsuit Brought by Westbrook Law PLLC

When a repossession agent unexpectedly arrived at our client’s home, the client physically intervened to prevent the unlawful repossession from taking place. Then the agent called the police. When City of Wyoming officers responded to the call, they prevented our client from intervening further and told him and the agent that the agent was free to complete the repossession.

Westbrook Law PLLC brought suit in January of 2018 on behalf of the client, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments by the city and the responding officers. The case, captioned Patterson v. City of Wyoming, ended in a settlement in September of 2018, with the city paying damages as well as implementing a new policy for responding to similar calls.

Due process requires that state actors such as police do not assist with private repossessions without a court order where the vehicle owner disputes the lien holder’s right to repossess the vehicle. This is especially true when the repossession attempt causes a breach of the peace and thereby becomes unlawful under Michigan law. Such a dispute is a civil matter to be resolved in a lawsuit, not a criminal matter, and responding police officers are required to do no more than is necessary to maintain public safety.

If you have had a similar experience with police officers assisting in a repossession, contact us.

TJW

Westbrook Law PLLC Notches Win in Wrongful Repossession Trial

After a trial in December of 2017, the Montcalm County Circuit Court ruled in favor of the defendant and counter-plaintiff, represented by Westbrook Law PLLC, in a case that began as a $5,000.00 deficiency claim by the plaintiff/counter-defendant car dealer, and ended with a judgment against the car dealer for more than $10,000.00.

The case, Powers v. Brown, resulted from the dealer’s claim that the buyer missed an installment payment on his auto loan, thus entitling the dealer to repossess the vehicle and collect a deficiency balance on the loan. However, the evidence introduced at trial showed that the dealer had no contractual right to repossess the vehicle. Relying on Michigan’s conversion statute, M.C.L. § 600.2919a, Westbrook Law PLLC argued on behalf of the buyer that the dealer was liable for damages. The court (J. Schafer) agreed, finding that the dealer was liable for double damages and attorney fees.

TJW

House Financial Services Committee Evaluates Bill to Exempt Collection Lawyers from Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

In December, House Bill H.R. 4550, entitled “Practice of Law Technical Clarification Act of 2017,” was introduced by sponsors Vincente Gonzalez (D-Tex.) and Alexander Mooney (R-W. Va.). If passed, the bill would dramatically limit the legal protections to consumers currently provided by the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692-1692o (“FDCPA”), by completely exempting collection lawyers from liability. Under current law, collection lawyers are treated the same as other debt collectors, and prohibited from engaging in abusive, misleading, or unfair collection practices. See Jerman v. Carlisle, McNellie, Rini, Kramer & Ulrich LPA, 559 U.S. 573 (2010). Westbrook Law PLLC has filed several lawsuits against collection law firms that violated the FDCPA. Those claims would not exist under the law as amended by H.R. 4550, and there is little question that the amendment would enable new and intensified abuses by collection law firms to go unchecked.

H.R. 4550 is currently being evaluated by the House Financial Services Committee, which may approve or kill the bill. Westbrook Law PLLC is actively engaging with committee members to ensure they are aware of the anti-consumer nature of this bill and to request that they do their part to prevent it from becoming law.

TJW

Equifax Leaked Your Personal Information – Now What?

On September 7, 2017, Equifax, one of the “big three” U.S. credit reporting agencies, reported that hackers had gained access to sensitive personal information of 143 million Americans contained within Equifax’s extensive consumer files. If Equifax has a credit file on you–as it does on most Americans–your chances of being affected by this data breach are more than 50%. Equifax has known about this hack since June 29, 2017.

Equifax keeps extensive dossiers of data about consumers and sells that data to prospective creditors, current creditors, and others who subscribe to Equifax’s services. While some news outlets have described the hack as affecting Equifax “customers,” this is not accurate. Equifax has a file on you regardless of whether you have ever consented to it, and it is allowed, subject to the constraints of the Fair Credit Reporting Act 15 U.S.C. § 1681 (“FCRA”), to disclose your information to its subscribers. In other words, you are its product, not its customer.

The data in Equifax’s file typically includes the person’s name, address history, social security number, telephone numbers, a detailed credit history–i.e., open and/or closed loans and credit accounts, amounts owed, amounts and dates of recent payments, and any history of late payments or defaults–and public record information like bankruptcies or judgments. Equifax’s credit file on a consumer typically contains sufficient information to enable an unscrupulous person to steal the consumer’s identify and open fraudulent credit accounts in his or her name. This type of identity theft can result in enormous disruption, including harassment by debt collectors seeking to collect the fraudulently incurred debt, closure or freezing of existing legitimate lines of credit, and inability to obtain new legitimate loans because of damage to the victim’s credit inflicted by failure to repay the fraudulent loans.

Equifax and its main competitors, Trans Union and Experian, are closely regulated by the FCRA and have a duty under the law to ensure “maximum possible accuracy” of consumer reports provided to third parties. Numerous class-action lawsuits have already been filed regarding the data breach, and chances are good that you may be deemed a member of one or more classes and may eventually be entitled to relief accordingly. However, the more immediate concern is potential identity theft and damage to consumers’ credit. If you do not already monitor your credit, now is a good time to start. Note that Equifax, Trans Union and Experian are required by law to provide each consumer with at least one full, free credit report annually. These bureaus provide free credit reports online at www.annualcreditreport.com. In addition, if you are ever denied credit on the basis of an Equifax, Experian, or Trans Union report, you have the legal right to receive a free copy of the report on which the credit denial was based. Exercise this right any time you are denied credit for any reason.

If you discover fraudulent accounts or inaccuracies in any or all of your credit reports, you have the right to dispute the reports and may be entitled to compensation under the FCRA. Westbrook Law PLLC is experienced in representing consumers affected by inaccurate and improper credit reporting, and can provide guidance if you discover credit reporting errors or fraud. Contact us for a consultation.

TJW

Decision in Ricketson v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc. Clarifies the Law on Fair Credit Reporting

On July 18, 2017, the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan issued an important decision in the case of Ricketson v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc., a case brought by Westbrook Law PLLC under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. In the Ricketson case, the plaintiff challenged Experian’s practice of rejecting consumer disputes without investigating them as required by the FCRA.

After noticing an inaccuracy in his Experian credit report, the plaintiff sent a dispute letter to Experian. Instead of investigating the disputed item as the FCRA requires, Experian sent a letter to the plaintiff stating that it had received a “suspicious request” that it believed was from a third party, and would not be investigating the disputed item. The Ricketson lawsuit resulted.

Experian challenged the lawsuit on various technical grounds. It argued that because the disputed information was never shared with any potential creditors, there could be no harm and no standing to hold Experian liable. It also argued that the evidence could not support a finding that its violation of the FCRA had been willful.

In its opinion, penned by Chief Judge Robert J. Jonker, the court rejected Experian’s arguments, finding that the investigation and disclosure requirements of the FCRA must be construed strictly, in order to avoid exactly the kind of harms the plaintiff suffered – mental stress and emotional distress linked to being deprived of accurate information about his credit standing. The court also held that Experian’s policies and procedures for handling disputes could support a jury verdict of willfulness, and thus give rise to punitive damages.

The FCRA is a comprehensive legal framework that strictly controls procedures for maintaining, correcting, and dispensing credit information about consumers. The court’s decision in Ricketson affirms the continuing vitality of the FCRA in protecting consumers’ rights not only to ensure that the information provided by credit reporting agencies about them is accurate, but also to be kept informed about the contents of the credit reporting agencies’ files.

If you discover that inaccurate information about your accounts, debts, or personal information is being reported by a credit reporting agency, contact us to learn more about your legal rights under the FCRA.

TJW