I’ve been writing up summaries of cases where someone is accused of violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act for a while now and, for the first time, I’ve come across a case where one of the defendants is identified as “John Doe” and involves setting up a fake law firm website for the purposes of “intimidating consumers into making” payments for unpaid credit card debts over the phone. A District Court judge in Ohio has granted default judgment in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her more than $16,000 in damages and attorney’s fees.
A copy of the order in the case of Leonard v. John Doe Corp. d/b/a “Goldstein & Weiss,” James Dorman, and Dorman Inc., can be accessed by clicking here. Following a request from the plaintiff, the Court subsequently dismissed John Doe Corp. d/b/a Goldstein & Weiss and Dorman Inc. from the complaint.
Taken from the plaintiff’s first amended complaint, Dorman “participated in a conspiracy” with an entity known as Goldstein & Weiss to create a fake law firm website. Dorman registered the domain name goldsteinandweiss.com (there’s nothing there now) and went to work collecting. He “knowingly agreed to violate the FDCPA” and continues to protect the identity of whomever is behind the law firm. The fake law firm called the plaintiff, insulted her, made derogatory remarks about her disabled child, and engaged in name-calling, according to court documents. The plaintiff offered to enter into a payment plan, but that offer was rejected, according to the complaint.
After hanging up the phone, the plaintiff and her attorney started looking into the law firm and were not able to get in touch with it. She filed suit, alleging the defendants violated several provisions of the FDCPA. In seeking a default judgment, the plaintiff asked for $1,000 in statutory damages under the FDCPA, $5,000 in non-economic damages, and nearly $10,000 in attorney’s fees, all of which were granted in full by Judge Sarah Morrison of the District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division.
In awarding the $5,000, Judge Morrison wrote, “Mr. Dorman’s conduct was ‘inherently degrading’ toward Ms. Leonard. He, through the conspiracy, falsely threatened legal action, verbally berated her, and impersonated an attorney planning to garnish her Social Security payments. These are exactly the type of false and misleading statements that Congress has indicated is injurious to consumers.”