TINSLEY v. INTEGRITY FINANCIAL PARTNERS (February 11, 2011)
Integrity Financial Partners (IFP) is a debt collector and was trying to collect a debt from Christopher Tinsley. Tinsley retained a lawyer and had the lawyer send a letter to IFP advising them that Tinsley refused to pay the debt and had no assets. The lawyer further requested that all collection efforts cease and advised IFP to "direct all future communications to our office." When IFP called the lawyer and requested payment, Kinsley filed suit under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Chief Judge Holderman (N.D. Ill.) granted summary judgment to the defendants. Tinsley appeals.
In their opinion, Chief Judge Easterbrook and Judges Manion and Hamilton affirmed. The Court began with § 1692(c)(c) of the Act. That section prohibits any communication by a debt collector with the “consumer" when it is advised that the consumer refuses to pay the debt or asks for no further communication on the debt. Tinsley argues that the prohibition on communicating with the consumer applies equally to communicating with the consumers attorney, his agent. Tinsley relies on the section of the Act that defines "communication" as conveying information directly or indirectly. Surely, he argues, communication with one’s lawyer is an indirect communication to the client. The Court noted that Tinsley's argument had been accepted by at least one district court and had apparently not been considered at the appellate court level. Although expressing some attraction to the argument at a superficial level, the Court reconsidered after it put the section in context. For example, subsections (a) and (b) of the Act are written in such a way that they would make no sense if a consumer and his lawyer were interchangeable. Furthermore, the Court noted that it is unlikely that Congress intended to prohibit all communication with a consumer’s lawyer. Finally, the Act’s definition of consumer does not include lawyer. Taking the Act as a whole, together with its purposes, the Court concluded that IFP's communication with Tinsley's lawyer was not prohibited by the Act.