COURT CONSIDERS HARASSMENT IN THE CONTEXT OF THE COLLECTION OF MULTIPLE DEBTS
The United States District Court for the Northern District of California recently rejected a creditor’s argument that multiple debts owed by the same consumer should be treated individually for purposes of contacting the debtor. Joseph v. MacIntyre Cos., L.L.C., 2002 WL 31778700 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 12, 2002). In that case, the collection agency acknowledged that it placed nearly 200 calls to the borrower over a 19‑month period. Id. at *8. In some cases, there were numerous calls made on the same day, even after a request was made for no further calls. Id. The plaintiff alleged violations of, among other things, Section 1692d(5) of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which provides that a debt collector may not engage in any conduct the natural consequence of which is to harass, oppress, or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt, including, without limitation, causing a telephone to ring or engaging any person in telephone conversation repeatedly or continuously with the intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number. See 15 U.S.C. § 1692d(5). The collection agency argued that the volume and frequency of calls was partly excused by the fact that it was collecting on 17 separate debts owed by the borrower. 2002 WL 31778700 at *8 . In rejecting this argument, the court stated:
[The collection agency] cites no authority for the proposition that because it was collecting on multiple debts from the same [borrower], the legal standard for harassing and annoying phone calls is somehow changed; nor is such a distinction apparent from the plain language of . . . 15 U.S.C. § 1692d(5) [of the federal FDCPA]. No evidence was presented that separate calls were made for each debt, nor if such separate calls were made was any explanation given for why the calls could not have been consolidated. The Court doubts that the average consumer, . . ., would perceive, for instance, that four calls close in time from the same party in collection of four $500 debts is less annoying than four calls in collection of a consolidated $2,000 debt.
Id. While the Joseph case represents a somewhat egregious situation, it suggests taking a cautionary approach when collecting multiple debts of a single borrower, at least in the context of frequency of contact with the borrower.