Judge: Calif. woman's class action can continue vs debt collector Harris & Harris over cell calls

By Jonathan Bilyk | Feb 3, 2017

A Cook County judge has cleared a California woman to continue her class action lawsuit against a Chicago-based debt collector who she accused of breaking federal law in using so-called “skip tracing” to call her on her mobile phone to collect unpaid traffic tickets.

On Jan. 13, Cook County Judge Michael T. Mullen denied a request from debt collection firm Harris & Harris to dismiss the lawsuit brought by plaintiff Keisha Newsom.

The judge’s order did not explain why he refused to dismiss the action.

Newsom, through her attorneys with the firm of Edelson P.C., of Chicago, had filed suit in April in Cook County Circuit Court, centering her complaint on Harris & Harris’ allegedly improper tactics in attempting to collect debts by calling her mobile phone using automated phone dialing systems and prerecorded messages.

The original complaint accused Harris of improperly using so-called “skip tracing” to acquire debtors’ mobile phone numbers. The method essentially mines public databases and other records to locate someone believed to have “skipped” out on unpaid bills and other debts.

Harris would then use the techniques to “surreptitiously” acquire mobile numbers, and then repeatedly call those numbers using automated dialing systems and prerecorded messages.

Court documents indicated Harris & Harris contacted Newsom to attempt to collect on unpaid Las Vegas traffic tickets dating backing to 2007.

Newsom claimed in her complaint she had gotten a new phone number in 2014 or 2015 and did not provide that information to the Harris firm.

However, in a motion to dismiss filed Oct. 26, the Harris firm said Newsom had provided her number to the Las Vegas Municipal Court, and told a court employee the court could call her on that number using an automated phone dialing system and pre-recorded messages. Harris provided a transcript of a recording of that conversation in its motion, and the debt collector argued Newsom’s consent to use the number was transferred to them when the Las Vegas court hired Harris & Harris to pursue collection of Newsom’s debt.

Newsom’s attorneys, however, on Nov. 16, countered she had provided that consent only to the Las Vegas court, and she had expressly demanded in an email written to Harris & Harris in June 2015 to “’cease and desist all communications’ with her.” This, she said, amounted to Newsom retracting her authorization for the collector to contact her on that number using an automated dialing system.

However, Newsom’s filing alleges she received at least one more call from Harris on her mobile phone after that letter had been received and logged by Harris.

“Plaintiff’s consent (to the extent it existed at all) had already been revoked, Defendant (Harris) knew that it had been revoked, and it called her again despite that,” Newsom’s lawyers said in their response to Harris’ dismissal motion.

This meant Newsom should have standing to pursue the lawsuit, her lawyers argued.

The judge ordered Harris to respond to the allegations of the lawsuit by Feb. 10.

Harris & Harris is defended by the firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, of Chicago.

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Organizations in this Story

Edelson PC Harris & Harris Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP

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