In the case, CitiFinancial Auto loaned money to the Petitioners, who subsequently defaulted on the loans. Santander Consumer USA, Inc. purchased the defaulted loans from CitiFinancial Auto, and subsequently sought to collect on the debt in ways that the Petitioners claimed violated the FDCPA. The District Court and Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Santander that "the company didn't qualify as a debt collector because it didn't regularly seek to collect debts 'owed ... another,' but sought instead only to collect debts that it purchased and owned."
Agreeing with the Fourth Circuit, the Supreme Court rejected the Petitioner's arguments that Congress intended the FDCPA to regulate the conduct of any party collecting a debt aside from the party that originated the debt. The Court found that the plain language of the FDCPA focused on third party collection agents regularly collecting for a debt owner - not on a debt owner seeking to collect debts for itself. The Court reasoned: "[a]fter all and again, under the definition at issue before us you have to attempt to collect debts owed another before you can ever qualify as a debt collector [under the FDCPA]."
In reaching this conclusion, the Court rejected the Petitioner's argument advocating for a judicially created expansion of the FDCPA. The petitioner argued that had Congress been aware that the debt buying market would explode from the time the FDCPA was enacted in 1977, Congress would have treated debt buyers like traditional debt collectors to heighten the consumer protections of the Act. The Court refused this invitation, and refrained from speculating on Congress' intent on an otherwise constitutionally valid text.
This decision is a victory for debt buyers, and brings a measure of clarity to the issue of whether debt buyers face liability when collecting their own debt under the FDCPA. However, the Court declined to address the issue of whether a debt buyer could nonetheless qualify as a debt collector because "the principal purpose" of the debt buyer's business was the "collection of any debts." Future litigation in this area is certain.► Back to News & Resources