Sheriff v. Gillie

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Consumer Credit
  • Date Filed: May 16, 2016
  • Case #: 15-338
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: GINSBURG, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
  • Full Text Opinion

Independent Counsels' use of the Ohio Attorney General's letterhead to collect debt was not a misleading or deceptive practice under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, when the attorneys were acting as special counsel on behalf of the Attorney General, for purposes of collecting debts for the state and its instrumentalities.

Petitioners were special counsel, independent attorneys contracted to collect debts from debtors owing the State of Ohio and its intrumentalities, to the Ohio Attorney General. In performance of their duties and as required by the Attorney General, Petitioners corresponded with debtors, including Respondants, on the Attorney General's letterhead. Respondants filed a class action suit in federal court, alleging that the use of the Attorney General's letter head by Petitioners was a deceptive and misleading practice used to collect debt in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"). At the trial court, the Attorney General intervened, seeking declaratory judgment that Petitioners, as "special" or "independant" counsel, should qualify under the state officer exemption to the FDCPA. The district court agreed with the Attorney General and granted summary judgment for Petitioners. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit held that Petitioners were indepedant contractors who were not entitled to the state officer exception and vacated the lower court's judgment. The Supreme Court assumed, arguendo, that Petitioners were not state officers under the Act, but utlimately held that the practice of using the Attorney General's letterhead was not deceptive or misleading. The Court reasoned that use of such letterhead accurately identified that Petitioners were attoreys indepedant of the Attorney General's office. The court's position was strengthened by the fact that Petitioner's contact information was conspicuosly placed on the correspondence and that Petitioners, as special counsel, acted on behalf of the Attoreny General. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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