Disabled Janitor's $311,000 Victory Against Abusive Firm Trying To Collect $3,800 Debt

They just wouldn’t stop calling, and now they have to pay. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a ruling that a debt collection firm will have to pay a former janitor suffering from a head injury $311,000. Quite a turn of events, considering the debt they were hounding him on was only about $3,800.

The firm had tried to sue him twice over a debt that passed the statute of limitations and made harassing phone calls “around the clock,” according to his answer to their complaint. He got the firm to dismiss the case, and then sued them himself. A jury awarded him $250,000 for emotional distress, $1,000 for statutory violations, and $60,000 in punitive damages.

The man had suffered a head injury while on the job and his wife had surgery. His only income was $736 from Social Security.

How did the craziness get started? Courthouse News Service reports:

A subsidiary of Collect America, which now goes by SquareTwo Financial, paid more than $3,800 to buy McCullough’s account from Chase in 2001. It sued McCullough to collect the debt in 2005 but dismissed the case when McCullough replied that the five-year statute of limitations had already expired.

After the company retained Johnson Rodenburg to pursue collection, the firm requested Collect America to provide information to extend the statute. Collect America incorrectly replied that McCullough had paid $75 on his account in 2004, effectively resetting the clock to run through 2009.

But that 2004 activity was not a payment; it was the return of court costs to Collect America for an earlier attempt to pursue McCullough’s debt. A Johnson Rodenburg lawyer never followed up to request more documentation of the activity, however, and the firm simply sued McCullough in 2007 for about $10,000.

It seems he would have been happy for them to just go away, but when they wouldn’t stop, he fought back. In his answer to their complaint he apologized for his spelling, saying the head injury he suffered made it difficult for him to write. He wrote, “THEY CALLED AROUND THE CLOCK, SO I COULD NOT REST, THEY GOT ME SO WOUND UP AND CONFUSED THE HEALING OF MY HEAD INJURY STOPED!”

“WHEN WILL IT STOP DO I HAVE TO SUE THEM SO I CAN LIVE QUIETLY IN PAIN,” he asked.

Apparently, yes, and now his victory has been upheld. Good luck getting that three-hundred grand, though. You might have to hire a debt collector to get them to pay up.

Firm Can’t Shake $300K Award for Barred Lawsuit [Courthouse News Service] (Thanks to Randy!)
Appellate court affirms jury award in debt-collection case [Billings Gazette]