ACA International is suing the Attorney General of Massachusetts for enacting emergency regulations that deprive the association’s members of their right to free speech because debt collectors are prohibited from initiating communications with individuals while a state of emergency is in place in the state while it deals with the coronavirus pandemic. ACA International has also filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of the guidance.
By prohibiting debt collectors from being able to initiate communications with individuals, but not prohibiting other types of collection calls — such as those from first-party creditors — the state is infringing on the First Amendment, ACA is alleging in its suit. The emergency regulations are a content-based restriction on free speech and is thus unconstitutional, the association alleges.
“By prohibiting ACA members from initiating calls to consumers, the Regulation largely blocks members from providing them with the best possible resolutions,” ACA argues in its complaint. “Examples of such resolutions include temporary hardship repayment plans that may provide a variety of options for deferring payments or determining longer-term payment plans tailored to individual consumer situations where income has been interrupted for any reason. This is especially true for those with COVID-19 or those on the front lines battling this epidemic.”
ACA’s suit includes declarations from three debt collectors in Massachusetts, detailing the impact that the emergency regulations have had on their businesses. The revenue at one agency is 50% lower thus far in April when compared with the same month last year, because the “lack of ability to communicate with Massachusetts consumers via telephone is negatively impacting the company’s revenues.”