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Thursday, October 8, 2009

NY Firm's Debt Collection Practice Violated Federal Law, Judge Finds

NY Firm's Debt Collection Practice Violated Federal Law, Judge Finds
The New York Law Journal by Noeleen G. Walder - October 8, 2009

A law firm that mass produced collection letters and litigation documents violated the federal debt collection act in a matter it filed a decade ago, a federal judge has ruled. In August 2000, Upton, Cohen & Slamowitz, which is now known as Cohen & Slamowitz, sued Arthur Miller, after he failed to respond to a letter signed by Michael Slamowitz. The letter gave Mr. Miller 30 days to contest a $1,678 balance he owed on a Lord & Taylor credit card. In finding the firm liable for violations of §1692(e) of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Eastern District Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf held in Miller v. Upton, Cohen & Slamowitz, 01-CV-1126, that the "attorney review practices prior to both the issuance of the debt-collection letter signed by Slamowitz and the commencement of legal action were inadequate for [FDCPA] purposes, thus rendering misleading these communications with Miller." The decision "digs a grave for attorneys" who send letters and then file suit on behalf of debt buyers with "no information, no documents, and no meaningful attorney review," said Brian L. Bromberg of the Bromberg Law Office, who has represented Mr. Miller for the past eight years. But Thomas A. Leghorn of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, who represented Upton Cohen, said Judge Mauskopf "got it completely wrong." The evidence showed that "at every step of the procedure a lawyer was indeed involved," he said. In July 2000, after Lord & Taylor's outside counsel, Maryland-based Wolpoff & Abramson, made several unsuccessful attempts to collect Mr. Miller's debt, the firm referred the matter to the Long Island firm of Upton, Cohen & Slamowitz. On July 18, Upton, Cohen sent Mr. Miller, a New York state resident, a letter hand signed by Mr. Slamowitz, warning Mr. Miller he had 30 days to dispute the debt. When Mr. Miller failed to respond, the firm sued him for breach of contract and sought to recover $1,618 of the alleged debt and $324 in attorney's fees. After settling the debt with Lord & Taylor, Mr. Miller turned around and sued Wolpoff; Upton Cohen; and the National Attorney Network, a third-party exchange information service that made the referral between the two law firms. In 2001, then-Eastern District Judge Reena Raggi granted all of the defendants' motions for summary judgment. But on appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed and remanded to determine whether Wolpoff or Upton Cohen had conducted a sufficiently meaningful attorney review of Mr. Miller's file. Wolpoff subsequently settled with Mr. Miller, while Upton Cohen renewed its bid for summary judgment. In January 2007, Judge Raymond Dearie allowed Mr. Miller's suit to proceed, finding that Mr. Slamowitz had relied on Lord & Taylor's review of Mr. Miller's account and had conducted a "largely ministerial" review of the facts.

'Superficial Level of Review'

Last summer, during a two-day bench trial, Mr. Slamowitz's partner, David A. Cohen, maintained that the firm's procedures ensured that every debt collection matter referred to it underwent an additional level of attorney review. "This is not a claim that came into the office magically," Mr. Cohen testified, adding that the firm had been working with Lord & Taylor "for many years." In addition to the firm's internal review procedures, Mr. Cohen, according to the decision, "described his familiarity with and confidence in Wolpoff's debt collection policies." However, "notwithstanding Cohen's description and characterization of the screening procedures," Judge Mauskopf concluded that the firm's computer system allowed a debt collection letter to be generated "on little more than the debtor's identifying information, the client name, and the balance due." She held that the "superficial level of review undertaken by Mr. Slamowitz was insufficient under" §1692(e) of the debt collection act, which prohibits falsely representing or implying "that any individual is an attorney or that any communication is from an attorney." Judge Mauskopf concluded that simply reviewing "basic debtor information— the information equivalent of 'name, rank and serial number'—without more, is insufficient data on which to form a reasoned professional judgment as to the appropriateness of a collection action." In this case, the debt collection act would "at a minimum have required" Mr. Slamowitz to review data that he "wholly ignored," including Mr. Miller's underlying credit card agreement with Lord & Taylor and the store's client file.

At trial, Mr. Slamowitz conceded his "ignorance of two pivotal, though easily ascertainable facts: that Miller's credit card agreement was governed by Ohio law, and that Ohio law precluded" the firm's claim for attorney's fees, Judge Mauskopf wrote. She also pointed out that the firm's computer records confirmed Mr. "Slamowitz's complete lack of involvement" in the Miller case until Nov. 30, 2000—months after the Miller case commenced. Noting that Messrs. Cohen and Slamowitz issued "no fewer than 211 debt collection letters" on July 18, 2000, she said the volume of business by the firm, "coupled with practices followed in the Miller matter, supports the conclusion that debt collection letter and litigation documents were regularly mass-produced at [Upton Cohen] by non-lawyers at the push of a button." And the judge held that Lord & Taylor and Wolpoff's prior review of Mr. Miller's file did not absolve Upton Cohen's attorneys "of their professional obligations" to independently review the matter. Mr. Bromberg acknowledged that Judge Mauskopf's ruling is "somewhat limited" by a 2005 Second Circuit decision allowing a debt collection law firm to limit its liability by including a disclaimer on its letters stating that a file has not been reviewed by an attorney, but he said the decision nonetheless is "a very strong statement by the court that you must absolutely engage in a meaningful review, and not the mere pretense of a review" before you file a collection action. And although Mr. Miller's damages are capped at $1,000, Mr. Bromberg said Upton Cohen's "scorched earth" tactics could cost it hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney's fees, which he contends it owes under the debt collection statute. However, Mr. Leghorn said the statute provides that attorney's fees must be reasonably related to the recovery obtained and the utility of the decision, which he said was limited. And he noted that Mr. Bromberg's fees go back to when he had multiple causes of action, the bulk of which were dismissed by the Second Circuit. Upton Cohen has not decided whether to appeal, Mr. Leghorn said. The court will hold an inquest to determine fees, but it has not yet been scheduled.

19 comments:

ny esq said...

These guys even give slimy lawyers a bad name.

Anonymous said...

Greed will bring all the bad ones down.

CRIME BUSTERS!!!!!! said...

WOW...They're suing me in District Court in Hempstead..Their summons and complaint was taped to my door. Subsequently, after receiveing the S & C, I called Cohen & Slamowitz to try to resolve the matter..After several conversations with them, I became very suspicious and decided to tape record her..They wanted me to enter into a STIPULATION Agreement..but was going to get a DEFAULT JUDGEMENT against me from the Judge as COLLATERAL..she told me that I didn't haved to respond to the Summons and Complaint and I didn't have to attend Court either..then I decided to GOOGLE Cohen & Slamowitz and BOY I couldn't believe what I saw..

Anonymous said...

Cumo did a press confrence sometine ago were he said that he was going to throw out over 100,000 complainta that were not served corectly. Cumo did that as a PR stunt. NONE of those over 100,000 complaints will be thrown out. The ones that the law firms took the money out of the peooples bank account will get some money back.
Being that they tack on high intrest and charges you still will pay them off. Say you owe $500
They tack on $1,500 now you owe $2,000. They took the $2,000 out of your account even though you were never served. They give you back a few hundred, maybe $500
Cumo`s office will not answer how much you will get back.
Cumo and the other AG are letting them get away with this. Cumo should do what he said and dismiss the 100,000+ complaints.

Anonymous said...

here we go again, self-gratifying
governed lawyers, who are allowing the firm to take over our courts!

the anti christ &friends!

Anonymous said...

that is the way the banks have been run for decades, that is why they finally went under, the FEDS warned in 2004 the banks were in trouble and they could do nothing......

the banks have been playing a shell game for decades!

that is because the bank records are all false and they can not find the original amount owed,
they just jack up the debt, sell it out to another bank,and the next bank tells you they can only go by what they purchased the debt for, they can give you no reconciliation of your account..

if you retain lawyer they just sell it out for a higher amount

been going on for decades!

LUISA said...

GOOGLE COHEN & SLAMOWITZ...THEY ARE BEING SUED BY LOTS OF PEOPLE AND THE CASES ARE IN THE SOUTHERN AND EASTERN DISTRICT COURTS.

COHEN & SLAMOWITZ ARE SUING ME. I HAD A COURT DATE THIS PAST TUESDAY IN HEMPSTEAD DISTRICT COURT. I TOLD JUDGE BONNE P. CHAIKIN WHAT WAS GOING ON AND HOW THEY TRIED TO SCAM ME INTO SIGNING A STIPULATION AGREEMENT AND THAT THEY TOLD ME THEY WERE GOING TO GET A DEFAULT JUDGMENT BY THE JUDGE AGAINST ME AS COLLATERAL AND THAT I DIDN'T HAVE TO GO TO COURT. I FILED COMPLAINTS WITH THE F.B.I AND WITH ANDREW CUOMO, THE NY ATTORNEY GENERAL. JUDGE CHAIKIN, SAID "WOW, YOU WERE ONE OF THE SMART ONE'S TO HAVE CAUGHT THEM"..THEN THE JUDGE ASKED ME IF I WANTED TO GO OUTSIDE TO TRY TO SETTLE WITH THEM..I SAID TO THE JUDGE, WOULD YOU WANT TO SETTLE A CASE WITH SOMEONE WHO TRIED TO CON YOU? THE JUDGE ADJOURNED THE CASE FOR THREE MONTHS PENDING THE OUTCOME OF THE INVESTIGATION.

IF ANYONE NEEDS INFORMATION PERTAINING TO COHEN & SLAMOWITZ, PLEASE CONTACT ME AT (516) 652-1639.

Anonymous said...

go get em luisa! from upstate!

Report Liberty Acquisitions LLC and Busch Professional Corporation to the Attorney General said...

Report Liberty Acquisitions LLC and Busch Professional Corporation to the Attorney General attorney.general@state.co.us; and the Better Business Bureau info@denver.bbb.org; info@bbbsc.org;

File a formal complaint with the Attorney General's office against Liberty Acquisitions LLC debt collectors and Busch Professional Corporation attorneys and lawyers.
http://www.coloradoattorneygeneral.gov/departments/consumer_protection/file_consumer_complaint
http://www.coloradoattorneygeneral.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/cab/cabcmplform.pdf

John W. Suthers
Attorney General
1525 Sherman St. 7th floor
Denver, CO 80203

Also email the complaint about Liberty Acquisitions LLC and Busch Professional Corporation.
attorney.general@state.co.us
cab@state.co.us
info@denver.bbb.org

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See Video of Senator John L. Sampson's 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption

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