Dan Churney Jul. 26, 2015, 10:36pm

In Chicago’s federal court, it’s Dial L for Lawsuit, as a Mississippi woman has brought a class-action complaint against a multi-state personal finance company for allegedly violating federal law by making hundreds of thousands of unsolicited, automated telephone calls.

Shirley Williams filed the suit July 22 against First Tower Loan LLC on behalf of herself and a class including others similarly situated, alleging the company violated the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The act prohibits automated and prerecorded phone calls to wireless phone numbers, except for emergencies or with the consent of the person called. The act was enacted to protect the public from the nuisance and privacy invasion of “autodialed” telemarketing. Further, it was recognized wireless customers are charged for such incoming calls. The Federal Communications Commission oversees implementation of the act.

First Tower has more than 180 branches in five states, including Mississippi and Illinois. There are 18 offices in Illinois, all downstate, including Springfield, Kankakee, Bloomington, Macomb, Peoria, Danville and Effingham. But the company also has stationed an agent for service of process in Chicago.

Williams’ complaint asserts she took out a loan from a First Tower office in Hollandale, Miss., around 2012. Over time, the consumer loan company made automated calls to Williams about collecting her alleged debt. Williams said she never gave prior consent for the calls, and on Feb. 13, 2015, she told First Tower by phone to stop calling her cell phone. However, Williams said that after that date she still received six “harassing and unsolicited” calls, most recently on July 3. Williams alleged the calls were in an “artificial or prerecorded voice.”

In seeking class-action status, Williams said she believes there are at least hundreds of thousands of people who have also been the subject of similar calls from First Tower. In light of such a high number of people, Williams asserted it is not practical for each such person to file a suit against First Tower. To this end, Williams noted she has retained counsel experienced in class action suits and violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

Williams is alleging two counts against First Tower – one, the loan company negligently violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and two, the company knowingly and willingly violated the law.

For the first count, Williams wants $500 for herself and every member of the class action for every violation. For the second count, she wants $1,500 for herself and every member for every violation. Williams also seeks attorney fees in the event of a class recovery and costs.

The lawsuit notes possible damages in the case are likely to exceed $5 million.

Williams also has asked the court to prohibit First Tower from making further calls that violate the law. To preserve possible evidence, Williams is asking the court to also require First Tower to preserve any materials, such as recordings, documents and emails that relate to the allegations.

Williams is represented by Salas & Wang, of Chicago and the San Diego firm of Ronald A. Marron. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Robert M. Dow Jr., with a status hearing set for Sept. 15, at which time attorneys are to report whether settlement is possible, according to court documents. If settlement is not possible, they are to report on the nature and length of discovery needed to prepare for trial, the documents said.

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