Newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch established his presence and eloquent writing style in his first opinion for the Supreme Court on Monday. Gorsuch began his opinion with a sentence more prose than legal writing: “Disruptive dinnertime calls, downright deceit, and more besides drew Congress’s eye to the debt collection industry.”
His opinion was unanimously backed by the court as they ruled in Henson v. Santander Consumer USA that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act does not apply to debt buyers.
The act simply defines debt collectors as anyone who “regularly collects or attempts to collect…debts owed or due…another” and permits the filing of private lawsuits and fines against them, but the question presented to the court is exactly who qualifies as a “debt collector”.
The case was filed after petitioners who were seeking to buy cars and borrowed money from CitiFinancial Auto, defaulted. Santander Consumer USA purchased the defaulted loans from CitiFinancial and pursued the collection of the credits.
The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling by the district and 4th Circuit courts, stating that Santander may not be labeled a debt collector; therefore, it did not violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act because it sought to collect debts that it purchased for its own account rather than regularly seeking to collecting debts “owed…another”. Santander did not try to collect the loans on someone else’s behalf.
In his opinion, Gorsuch gave a grammar lesson and expanded on the court’s rejection of Henson’s argument that the word “owed” is the past participle of the verb “to owe” to determine which party could be considered a “debt collector.” He stated that past participles are sometimes used in the present tense- like burnt toast or a fallen branch.
Justice Gorsuch concluded by mentioning the court’s strict adherence to the job of the judiciary as a body that shall “apply, not amend, the work of the People’s representatives.” Drawing from a core concept to the structure of the government as a balance of powers, he placed the decision to expand the coverage of the act in the hands of Congress.
Gorsuch was sworn in on April 10, 2017 as the second Supreme Court justice from Colorado.
— Rebecca Voorhees, RVoorhees@circuitmedia.com