Judge Narrows Debt|Collector Class Action

     (CN) – A federal judge in Chicago has paved the way for a narrower class action against a debt collection service that used an automatic dialer to call debtors’ cell phones.

     Lead plaintiff James Mitchem says he filled out a personal information form before receiving medical treatment, “believing that the information he provided would be used to collect the bill through mail, not by telephone.”
     When he failed to pay his bill, the doctor’s office gave Mitchem’s phone number to the Illinois Collection Service (ICS), a debt collection agency that uses an automatic dialing system.
     ICS made about 40 phone calls to Mitchem’s cell phone, leaving prerecorded voice messages.
     Mitchem accused ICS of violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by using an automatic dialer to call his cell phone without his consent.
     ICS moved for dismissal, claiming Mitchem and other medical debtors consented to automatic dialing when they provided their cell phone numbers to doctors.
     U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzmán rejected this argument, ruling that Mitchem “has constitutional standing” to challenge the debt collection agency in court.
     But Judge Guzmán refused to certify Mitchem’s proposed class of medical debtors in the 312 area code who received automatically dialed phone calls from ICS since 2005 – a class of at least 325 members.
     Instead, Guzmán said Mitchem could narrow his class description to members who received auto-dialed calls on their cell phones.
     “Because [ICS] is capable of compiling a list of debtors who did not, under plaintiff’s theory, consent to its calls, an appropriately tailored class definition could make consent a class-wide, not an individual, issue,” Guzmán concluded.

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