$1.26 million awarded in NM FDCPA lawsuit against law firm Farrell & Sandlin for wrongful garnishment

Apparently Farrell & Sandlin attempted to garnish the wages of the wrong Lucinda Yazzie twice, even after they were informed that she is not the person they were looking for.  A Farrell & Sandlin collector had changed the SSN on the account to the SSN provided by Target, the judgment creditor.  Yes, that’s how low some collectors will stoop!

So many collection attorneys just don’t know when to quit collecting.

They think they are above the law and correctly assume that MOST consumers don’t have the money to retain a COMPETENT attorney.  Chances of getting a  COMPETENT attorney to take a case on contingency and actually litigate it are very much like winning the lottery.

MOST consumer attorneys strive to settle cases EARLY and primarily for their legal fees (thousands of dollars) while the consumer might get deletion from the credit report and a debt buyer might give up its claim against the consumer.

Most consumer attorneys are cream skimming, looking for slam dunk cases that can be settled quickly for minimal work.

Just last week I received an email about a similar garnishment situation:

Cohen and Slamowitz are garnishing my paycheck for an account that they said was established in 1999. The problem with this is that I was 9 years old in 1999. I contacted them and they said that they have my social security number on file, but the birth date is for 1971. They also said that they need 2 months to investigate, but in the interim, they will continue the garnishment. They have already taken 500.00 from my account, and they said that the total due is 10,000. I really don’t trust that they will investigate in that they are already getting the money. Please help because I don’t know what to do.

I wrote back that I would LOVE to help and that she needs to advise them in WRITING and demand the REFUND.  I also offered to draft the letters or to contact them directly and also to draft regulatory complaints, but I haven’t heard back.  I sure hope she DOCUMENTS everything.

Of course consumers in similar situations should file complaints with the attorney’s Bar Association, their state attorney general, the FTC and ideally,  publicize how vile collection attorneys STEAL from people who owe nothing.

Cohen & Slamowitz continues garnishing while KNOWING that they are stealing from an innocent person!

Lucinda Yazzie was very lucky to have her EMPLOYER assist her and her employer actually notified Farrell & Sandlin that they attempted to garnish the wrong person.  Lucinda had an independent 3rd party as WITNESS and she could DOCUMENT in court what happened. Here is an article with details about the suit:

Jury Awards Plaintiff $1.26 million in FDCPA Violation Lawsuit

A federal jury in New Mexico has awarded a plaintiff $1.26 million in a case that accused a collection law firm of twice attempting to garnish her wages for a debt she did not owe, according to an article in the Albuquerque Journal.

Rob Treinen, the attorney for plaintiff Lucinda Yazzie, told the paper that the jury handed down their ruling on Friday against The Law Offices of Farrell & Sandlin and Target National Bank, who was named as a co-defendant in the suit.

This is a very interesting case that sends a strong message about litigation and skip tracing processes in the ARM industry.

The case stretches back to December 2006 when Target National Bank assigned the past due credit card account of Yazzie to Farrell & Sandlin. When Yazzie was initially contacted, she insisted that she had never had a Target credit card and that there was another person in her area with the same name. Yazzie said that she frequently got calls from other creditors attempting to find the other person.

But the law firm filed a suit in April 2007 anyway and got a garnishment order. When they presented the order to Yazzie’s employer, the business insisted that they had the wrong person. The garnishment writ was then dropped.

The process played out again two years later when Farrell & Sandlin won another garnishment order for the same account. This time, Yazzie’s employer not only formally denied the request, but followed up with phone calls, leading to a hearing where both Yazzies were due to show up as well as the collection law firm, which did not appear. The second garnishment order stayed in force until Yazzie filed her own suit against the law firm in March 2010, claiming violations of the FDCPA and other consumer statutes.

During the legal process, it was discovered that Target Bank had indeed supplied Farrell & Sandlin with the correct name, address and Social Security number of the true debtor, not the Lucinda Yazzie named in their garnishment actions. But a former employee of the law firm shortly after receiving the account changed the SSN in the company’s system to that of the Yazzie named in the suit. The firm claimed that this went against company policy and entered a bona fide error defense, which was rejected.

The jury awarded Yazzie $161,000 in actual damages for emotional distress and $1.1 million in punitive damages. Although Target’s attempts to be dismissed from the lawsuit were unsuccessful, the judge noted that the company did not err in the assignment of the account. It is not known what Target’s liability is in the case.

A message with Farrell & Sandlin left by the Albuquerque Journal was not returned Friday. Likewise, insideARM.com’s attempts to contact the firm over the weekend were not successful. The ruling is not yet available for review, so I would suspect the ARM industry will be reading it carefully when it is out there. An important caveat to remember: all of the above information is coming from one source, the plaintiff’s attorney (in addition to some earlier filings that were obtained by insideARM.com).

This is by far the highest FDCPA verdict I’ve ever seen and I’m sure they will appeal or settle for a MUCH lower amount.  It’s also unclear from the article how the jury could award punitive damages as the FDCPA does not allow for punitive damages. Maybe there was a STATE law claim.

I’ll follow this suit and I’ll try to get some of the court documents.  Stay tuned …

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