In 2004, John and Lisa Askins purchased a used car by entering into a retail installment contract. The Askins made two years of regular payments and then returned the car to Fireside Bank in an attempt to satisfy the loan. But in July 2007, Fireside filed a lawsuit and obtained a default judgment against the Askins. During the next five years, Fireside recovered funds from the Askins through garnishments and then sold the judgment in 2012 to Cavalry Investments, LLC, a debt buyer and collection agency.
What happened next is all-too typical of the problems that arise when debts are bought and sold in bulk with no warranties and limited backup information.
By November 2015, the Askins had paid more than $22,000 for the voluntarily returned car they had originally purchased for $14,813.44, and Cavalry was continuing collection efforts against them. The Askins therefore retained Northwest Justice Project to represent them and dispute the amount owed. But Cavalry was unable to provide an accurate accounting of the debt it had purchased. In fact, Cavalry admitted to the Whitman County Superior Court that prior garnishments had “mistakenly included costs and fees that should not have been included as they were not awarded by the Court.”
The trial court found that Cavalry violated the Washington Collection Agency Act, chapter 19.16.250(1) RCW, by attempting to collect through applications for writs of garnishment, amounts of money greater than allowed by law. Based on these violations, the court ordered that the judgment be stripped to principal in accordance with RCW 19.16.450 and that the judgment had therefore been satisfied.
On March 26, 2020, the Washington Supreme Court agreed, reversing a Court of Appeals decision in Cavalry’s favor, and reinstating the trial court’s order. The Court’s decision provides important debt protections that protect Washington consumers who face exploitative and unlawful debt collection practices.
To see the Court’s opinion, click here.
TMLG attorney, Erika Nusser, co-authored an amicus brief on behalf of Statewide Poverty Action Network and The Northwest Consumer Law Center.