On April 18, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in Henson v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc., Dkt. No. 16-349, on the question of “[w]hether a company that regularly attempts to collect debts it purchased after the debts had fallen into default is a ‘debt collector’ subject to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act [FDCPA].” The case arose out of a class action filed by four consumers who had defaulted on automobile loans made by an auto lending affiliate of a major bank. The originator hired Respondent to collect the loans on behalf of the lender and Respondent later purchased the delinquent loans as part of a pool. Though Petitioners did not allege that debt collection was the principal purpose of the Respondent’s business, the consumer-plaintiffs had claimed that the Respondent regularly buys and attempts to collect defaulted debts, and that, in this instance, the Respondent engaged in conduct that violated the FDCPA after it bought the loans. In March 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit rejected the consumers’ arguments, concluding that the FDCPA “generally does not regulate creditors when they collect debt on their own account and that, on the facts alleged by the plaintiffs, [the defendant] became a creditor when it purchased the loans before engaging in the challenged practices.” Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit noted that the originator of the loans was irrelevant.
At oral argument before the Supreme Court, the Petitioners cited 15 U.S.C. §1692a(6)(F) and argued that the debts are "owed" to the original lender, but are "due" to the debt buyer. As such, argued Petitioner, a debt buyer should be considered to be collecting debts “owed or due another,” and thus fall within the FDCPA definition of a “debt collector”. Respondent countered that “owed or due another” could only mean that the debt is currently owed to another person. However, Respondent argued, as a debt buyer, it was collecting debts owed to itself, and thus would not be a “debt collector” under the FDCPA. Both sides also presented policy-based arguments. Petitioner suggested that because Respondent was considered a “debt collector” before purchasing the loan, it could not remove itself from the scope of the FDCPA by purchasing the debts. Conversely, Respondent noted that, by purchasing essentially all of the original lender’s loans it had “stepped into [the lender]’s shoes.” Counsel emphasized that Respondent therefore fit the FDCPA definition of “creditor,” and, as a creditor, it had an incentive to maintain a positive relationship with consumers. Read more here.