Supreme Court: Party That Buys Defaulted Debt Not A “Debt Collector” Under The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Debt collection (pd)In Henson v. Santander Consumer USA Inc., Justice Gorsuch delivered his first opinion for the Supreme Court, and in doing so, provided an interesting opinion on a relatively boring issue, and subconsciously (I assume) invoked the movie Repo Man, a classic (?) mid-1980's movie starring Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton, which the website, imdb.com, summarized as follows: "Young punk Otto [Estevez] becomes a repo man after helping to steal a car, and stumbles into a world of wackiness as a result."

Neither the facts nor the law in Henson were wacky. Plaintiffs took out loans from CitiFinancial Auto to buy cars, but later defaulted on those loans. Defendant purchased the defaulted loans and sought to collect the debt from plaintiffs in ways that plaintiffs claimed violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The Act, which was designed to curtail "[d]isruptive dinnertime calls, downright deceit and more besides" authorizes private lawsuits and "weighty fines" for anyone who engages in "wayward collection practices." But, it only applies to "debt collectors," a term that is defined to include anyone who "regularly collects or attempts to collect . . . debts owed or due . . . another." The question in Henson was whether a party who purchases debts originated by someone else and then seeks to collect those debts for its own account qualifies as a debt collector." Justice Gorsuch framed the issue as follows:

Everyone agrees that the term ["debt collector"] embraces the repo man – someone hired by a creditor to collect an outstanding debt. What if you purchase a debt and then try to collect it for yourself – does that make you a "debt collector" too? That 's the nub of the dispute now before us.  

The district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit sided with defendant, holding that a party that buys defaulted debt and collects it for its own account is not a "debt collector." In doing so, however, the Fourth Circuit acknowledged that other circuit courts had come to the opposite conclusion. The U.S. Supreme Court took the case to clear up this split. 

Continue reading “Supreme Court: Party That Buys Defaulted Debt Not A “Debt Collector” Under The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act”

Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now . . . Third Circuit Affirms Arbitrators’ Ruling In Favor of Song Writing Duo

Aint no stoppin us now (pd)"Singer-songwriters John Whitehead and Gene McFadden were an integral part of the Philadelphia music scene in the 1970s." So begins the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Whitehead v. The Pullman Group, LLC. (For the uninitiated, click here for a summary of the "Philadelphia Sound" to which this sentence refers and of which plaintiffs Whitehead and McFadden were a part.)

At issue in that case was Whitehead and McFadden's song catalog, which includes, among other things, the publishing rights to their biggest hit, "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now." In 2002, defendant entered  into a contract with Whitehead and McFadden that gave him the exclusive right to purchase the catalog following a 180-day due diligence period. After this period, defendant had the right to terminate the contract upon written notice to Whitehead and McFadden. Defendant claimed that his due diligence revealed several tax liens that  diminished the value of the catalog. He claimed that he communicated this to Whitehead and McFadden over the phone. They responded that they would get back to him with more information, but instead contacted him and told him that they did not want to consummate the transaction, which defendant claimed was a breach of the agreement.

Several years later, after both Whitehead and McFadden died, their estates received an offer from Warner Chappell Music to purchase Whitehead and McFadden's song catalog. Shortly before the deal was completed, however, defendant wrote the estates and notified them of the existence of the 2002 agreement. (The estates were unaware of the deal with defendant prior to receiving this letter.) Shortly thereafter, Warner Chappell Music withdrew its offer. The estates then sued in state court seeking (1) a declaratory judgment that the 2002 contract was void, and (2) damages for defendant's alleged tortious interference with their deal with Warner Chappell Music. Defendant removed the lawsuit to federal court and counterclaimed for his own declaratory judgment and damages for the alleged breach of the 2002 contract. Both sides eventually agreed to arbitrate their disputes. 

 

Continue reading “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now . . . Third Circuit Affirms Arbitrators’ Ruling In Favor of Song Writing Duo”

Game Over! Video Game Legend’s Lawsuit Against Cartoon Network Dismissed

Donkey kong (pd)
When I was a kid, cartoons and video games were far simpler than they are now. We watched Tom and Jerry and played Donkey Kong. The cartoons my kids watch today are often bizarre and the video games they play are way too complicated. A recent lawsuit in federal court, Mitchell v. The Cartoon Network, brought the old and new together, however, as a man who once held world records in Pac Man and Donkey Kong sued because his likeness was allegedly misappropriated in one of those new cartoons my kids like, "The Regular Show." (Incidentally, before you think I am just turning into a curmudgeonly old man, check out "The Regular Show" some time. It is hardly "regular".)

Plaintiff in Mitchell was a "well-known figure in the video gaming community." In addition to holding world records in both Pac Man and Donkey Kong at various times, he also competed in international gaming competitions, and even had his own trading card. But, he is perhaps most famous for his role in a documentary called "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters," which "chronicles another gamer's attempt to surpass Plaintiff's world record for the game Donkey Kong." The district court described plaintiff's appearance in that film as follows:

In the film, Plaintiff is portrayed as succesful but arrogant, beloved by fans, and at times, willing to do whatever it takes to maintain his world record. In particular, the film shows Plaintiff attempting to maintain his world record by questioning his opponent's equipment and the authenticity of his opponent's submission of a filmed high score.

Plaintiff claims that defendants misappropriated his image for use in several episodes of "The Regular Show," which the district court noted is a show that "revolves around the adventures of two anthropomorphic animals, a blue jay named Mordecai and a raccoon named Rigby." One episode in the series included a villain named Garrett Bobby Ferguson, who appeared as a "giant floating head from outer space, with long black hair and a black beard, but no body." In the episode, Mordecai and Rigby are trying to break Ferguson's world record in a game called Broken Bonez that they play at their local coffee shop. (Yes, kids, we used to have to leave the house to play our favorite video games.) After they break the world record, the disembodied Ferguson appears to brag that he still holds the "universe record." Mordecai and Rigby then challenge Ferguson to play for that record. They almost beat his record, but then "throw the match when [Ferguson] begs them to let him win, claiming that he [ ] devoted his entire life to the game, that he played so much his wife left him, and that the universe record is all he has." After Mordecai and Rigby lose, however, Ferguson reveals that he was lying about it all. Mordecai and Rigby then go back and beat Ferguson's "universe record," at which point, the "enraged [Ferguson] explodes into goo." (When asked at breakfast if they ever saw this episode, two of my kids said they had, and they loved it.)

 

Continue reading “Game Over! Video Game Legend’s Lawsuit Against Cartoon Network Dismissed”