By: Jeffrey Lapin
Michael Collier, a disabled Army veteran, and his wife, Kim, recently sued Gurstel Chargo, P.A., a Minnesota-based law firm and debt collector, in Arizona for violations of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) as well as for other claims based on the law firm’s attempt to collect a debt. The Colliers claim that the law firm is illegally holding their money and one of its legal assistant’s told Michael that he should have died among many other things. In their lawsuit, the Collier’s are claiming damages under the FDCPA, punitive damages along with other items.
MICHAEL AND KIM COLLIER
Michael Collier sustained head and spine injuries during his service with the Army. Upon his discharge, he was declared 100% disabled and had been receiving Veterans Disability Benefits. These benefits are exempt from garnishment. Mr. Collier did have a $6,000.00 student loan, which he had not been able to make payments on because of his disability. Kim Collier, as Michael’s wife, was also receiving Veteran’s Disability Benefits due to her husband’s disability. She is a student at the University of Phoenix.
THE COLLIER’S LAWSUIT
According to his lawsuit, the Colliers allege the following occurred:
- In January 2011, Gurstel Chargo filed suit against Mr. and Mrs. Collier for a student loan debt, which had been assigned to the law firm to collect.
- In April 2012, Gurstel Chargo filed garnishment paperwork to garnish Kim Collier’s account held at a credit union.
- The credit union froze $6,143.88 in Kim’s savings account.
- Upon notice of the garnishment, Kim and Michael filed an objection to the garnishment stating that the monies frozen were not subject to garnishment pursuant to law.
- At a hearing on the Collier’s objection on May 24, 2012, an attorney for Gurstel Chargo agreed that the credit union funds were not subject to garnishment.
- After the hearing on the way back to parking lot, the attorney for Gurstel Chargo told Michael that he would need a lawyer to get his money back.
- Sometime after the hearing, Michael spoke to an unidentified legal assistant for Gurstel Chargo about getting his money back and was allegedly told by her:
- That he would have to sue to get his money back;
- That he should just sign the funds over as it would make a good down payment on the judgment; and
- “F*** you! Pay us your money! You can’t afford an attorney. You owe us. I hope your wife divorces you’re a**. If you would have served our country better you would not be a disabled veteran living off social security while the rest of us honest Americans work our a** off. Too bad; you should have died.”
The Collier’s lawsuit claims Gurstel Chargo: violated the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act (FDCPA); made unreasonable debt collection efforts and invaded their privacy; and committed “civil conversion” for not returning the garnishment money. They seek: the $6,143.88 that had been garnished from their bank account, statutory and actual damages for violating the FDCP; punitive damages; and attorney fees and costs.
The lawsuit is: Michael Andrew Collier and Kim Collier-Dingman vs. Gurstel Chargo PA, United States District Court for the District of Arizona, Case Number: 2:2012cv02161; Filed: October 10, 2012
GURSTEL CHARGO’S RESPONSE
Gurstel Chargo has not yet filed an answer to the lawsuit. However, on October 15, 2012, their website contained a statement indicating that were taking the lawsuit seriously and were investigating to determine what actually occurred. It also states: “Should these allegations prove to be true, we will take immediate corrective and disciplinary action.” Source: http://www.gurstel.com/home (October 15, 2012)
There are many things a debt collector cannot do to collect a debt under the FDCPA. The violations generally fall into one or more of the following categories: Improperly contacting third parties; Prohibited communications practices; Harassment or abuse; False or misleading representations; Unfair methods to collect a debt; and Failing to validate a disputed debt. The FDCPA permits the collection of actual damages, that is, damages a person actually sustained, and/or statutory damages up to $1,000.00 from a debt collector, for violations of the FDCPA. In addition, if a person wins their FDCPA claim, the debt collector is responsible for paying the consumer’s legal fees and costs.
If the Colliers allegations are true then Gurstel Chargo violated a number of provisions of the FDCPA, including:
- Misleading communications that the Colliers could not get their money back (false or misleading);
- Withholding money that was wrongfully garnished (unfair practice);
- The use of obscene and profane language (abusive);
- Statements implying Michael was a bad soldier and that he has lazy (harassing and abusive); and
- Stating that Michael should have died while serving (abusive).
Unfortunately, the FDCPA only permits, if there are no actual damages, the single $1,000.00 statutory damage amount regardless of the number of violations by a debt collector per account, unlike the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) that allows a statutory damages per violation. In their lawsuit, the Colliers are claiming actual damages.
For more information about the FDCPA please go to our StopBadCollectors website. You can review some relevant information at these links:
- Unfair Debt Collection
- FAQs about debt collection and the FDCPA
- Recommendations Regarding Debt Collectors
- Debts Owed By Deceased Relatives: Do Not Pay
- Protect Yourself Against Phantom Debt Collectors
ABOUT LAPIN LAW OFFICES
Lapin Law Offices represents clients throughout Nebraska against debt collectors that threaten, abuse, harass or violate their rights under the FDCPA. Even if you owe money, the law protects you from these unlawful tactics. You can learn more about your rights by calling us at 402-421-8033 (Lincoln) or 888-525-8819 (Toll Free), submitting your case online (Contact Us) or through our websites: Lapin Law Offices or StopBadCollectors.com. We offer a free consultation and do not charge an attorney fee unless we collect money for you.