Judge Grants Motion to Remand Hunstein Copycat Back to State Court

This is one of those articles where the lede gets buried, but I think it’s worth reading all the way to the end, especially if you’re interested in Hunstein-related lawsuits. A District court judge in Illinois has granted a plaintiff’s motion to remand a Hunstein case back to state court, but in doing so, essentially made the defendant’s case for why such an alleged disclosure should not be considered to be a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, at least as far as my non-lawyer eyes can see.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Stallworth v. Terrill Outsourcing Group can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff filed a class-action lawsuit in Illinois state court, alleging that the defendants violated Section 1692c(b) of the FDCPA by using a third-party vendor to print and mail collection letters, because the plaintiff did not consent to the vendor seeing information about the debt in question. The defendant removed the case to federal court, after which the plaintiff filed a motion to remand the case back to state court, stipulating that she did not suffer any damages and was only seeking to recover statutory damages, which can be recovered in state court.

The defendant attempted to argue why the case should be kept in federal court, but Judge Harry D. Leinenweber of the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois didn’t see it the way the defendants did and granted the motion to remand the case back to state court, ruling by forgoing any claim for injury in fact, the plaintiff successfully avoided federal jurisdiction.

But before making his ruling, Judge Leinenweber summarized the case using an analogy that essentially shows why Hunstein cases should not be considered to be third-party disclosure violations of the FDCPA. In his words:

“In summary we have a debt collector who utilizes a third party to mail Dunning letters. Thus, the only individual having access to the debt information is the individual who created and mailed the Dunning letter. This ministerial activity is no different from what a lawyer’s secretary normally performs. The fact that a secretary is an employee rather than a contractual worker appears wholly irrelevant. In fact, many lawyers hire contract secretarial services, as well as court reporters. Suppose an attorney who is employed to collect a large debt is forced to file suit against the debtor and in course of the proceeding takes a deposition of the debtor before a court reporter, who is virtually always, like the third-party vendor in this case, a third-party vendor. Court reporters, like the third-party vendor in this case, are not covered by the permissible list of persons to whom the debt information may be disclosed.”

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