LOCATION: University of Virginia
DOCKET NO.: 94-367
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
CITATION: 514 US 291 (1995)
ARGUED: Feb 21, 1995
DECIDED: Apr 18, 1995
Daniel A. Edelman - on behalf of the Respondent
George W. Spellmire - on behalf of the Petitioners
Facts of the case
Media for Heintz v. JenkinsAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 21, 1995 in Heintz v. Jenkins
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 18, 1995 in Heintz v. Jenkins
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinion of the court in number 94-367 Heintz against Jenkins will be announced by Justice Breyer.
Stephen G. Breyer:
The question in this case is whether the term “debt collector” in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act applies to lawyers who regularly collect consumer debts in litigation.
Now, this Act is an Act that basically makes all kinds of harassing phone calls, and not telling the truth about debts that makes them unlawful and that’s engaged in by people who regularly collect consumer debts.
So, the question is there’s a litigating lawyer fall within that definition.
The case was brought by a woman who in fact didn’t pay allegedly a debt that she owed for buying a car, and the lawyer in the case said, you better pay $4,000 for insurance, and she said $4,000, I didn’t promise to pay that $4,000.
I promised to pay a much lower insurance because you bought some insurance in fact that insures the bank against my not paying the debt back.
That was not part of the deal.
It never got to court very far because it was dismissed on the basis that the Act does not cover a litigating lawyer.
So, that’s the question.
Now, we find that it does cover litigating lawyers, and there are two very strong reasons, why?
The first is if you look at the Act, it says in the definition that a debt collector is a person who regularly collects or attempts to collect debts owed to another, and a litigating lawyer, who does that does that.
The second reason is that there is to be an exemption in this law that exempted all lawyers, but Congress focused on that, and repealed the exemption.
Now, compare to those two strong reasons.
The reasons on the other side we thought weren’t so strong.
It was argued that they’re anomalous in this deal, but make it not too sensible this law to apply it to lawyers.
Well, we went through those and found that they weren’t so anomalous as Mr. Heintz had claimed.
And second, there was a statement by a representative who said at the time this Act does not apply to litigating lawyers, but he said it after the law was passed, and if you look at the floor of statements, it looks as if Congress thought that it might well apply to litigating lawyers.
And finally the Federal Trade Commission said we’re not certain it applies, we think it doesn’t, but they weren’t certain, and their statement doesn’t weight strongly enough when looking at the reasons for.
Therefore our decision is that it does apply and the decision is unanimous.