Attorneys, Debt Collection, and Consumer Protection Laws
Ejaz Baluch, 08.23.19
Earlier this summer, I filed a brief in the Maryland Court of Appeals on behalf of David and Tammy Mills, homeowners who found themselves buried in thousands of dollars in fines and fees imposed by their homeowner’s association, and who filed suit for unlawful debt collection practices. The Millses brought claims under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (CPA), which generally prohibits unfair or deceptive practices in the collection of consumer debt, as well as the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act. But the CPA has an exemption for the "professional services" of various groups of professionals, including attorneys. The homeowners association argues here that, because it retained a law firm, Andrews & Lawrence Professional Services, LLC, to collect the money that the Millses allegedly owed, it is completely shielded from any liability for wrongdoing under the CPA.
The association’s argument was rejected below by the Court of Special Appeals, which held that even if attorneys’ “professional services” are exempt from the CPA, a client—here, the homeowners association—is still subject to the CPA. Because the Court of Appeals has never before addressed the scope of the “professional services” exemption as applied to attorneys, the Public Justice Center decided to take the case and defend the lower court’s favorable ruling. In our brief, we argue that the homeowners association should not escape liability for practices that violate the CPA, like imposing unwarranted fines and fees on our clients, just because it hired attorneys to assist it in engaging in those practices.
I will be presenting oral argument to the Court of Appeals on September 9, 2019. The case is co-counseled with Leslie Dickinson of Dickinson Law Firm LLC, who represented the Millses at the trial level and the Court of Special Appeals.