A Nebraska woman filed a lawsuit seeking class-action status against collection agency General Collection and law firm Truell Murray & Associates, both based in Grand Island, Neb.
The case, filed by Jody Jernigan in U.S. District Court in Omaha, alleges General Collection sent letters that led her to believe her debt would be considered valid by the court system if she did not dispute it. The heart of the issue relates to language included in collection letters stating, "Unless the debtor disputes the debt within 30 days after receipt of the notice, it will be assumed that the debt is valid."
Jernigan, according to the lawsuit, thought the wording meant the Nebraska county court system, a forum commonly used by creditors to legally enforce legitimate collection efforts, would assume the debt was her legal obligation, according to the Omaha World-Herald. Jernigan, the suit states, acknowledges defaulting on a credit line from a lender, and that Truell Murray had sued her in Douglas County Court.
The proposed class includes people sued by Truell Murray on behalf of General Collection in the past year or so for collection of a personal, family or household debt who received the validation letter with the disputed wording. The suit asks for a jury trial.
The language in the collection letter Jernigan received is not what is spelled out in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, according to a Pennsylvania case filed in 2008 in U.S. District Court in Scranton. That court in that case said debt validation notices must specify that only the collector - not others, such as courts or credit scoring companies - will assume the debt is valid.
"An undisputed debt may only assumed to be valid by the debt collector, reads Jernigan's lawsuit, filed by Omaha's Car & Reinbrecht law firm, summarizing language from the federal law.
Lawsuits seeking class-action status follow a lengthy process before heading to any trial. Common objections by defendants that can derail class-actions include arguing that the issues are inappropriate for the forum and that the proposed class representative fails to adequately represent the proposed class.
General Collection and Truell Murray could not be reached for comment. General Collection's website says the company has been in business since 1959. It was bought by Mark Stelk, also named as a defendant in the suit, in 1997. The site says the company's business has tripled under his ownership and now employs 38 people.