West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Limits the Scope of the Consumer Credit Protection Act
As many of you know, the West Virginia Consumer Credit Protection Act (“WVCCPA” or “Act”) is a remedial statute designed to protect West Virginia citizens from oppressive, unreasonable, and abusive conduct from debt collectors. In recent years, the downturn in the economy has led to an increase in WVCCPA litigation, especially cases involving out of state lenders/creditors. In Young v. EOSCCA (January 2017 Term No. 16-0151), the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals was faced with the issue of who constitutes a consumer under the WVCCPA in an appeal from the Circuit Court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of the creditor, EOSCCA. Specifically, Ms. Young alleged that she received numerous phone calls at her home from EOSCCA; however, Ms. Young did not have any specific debt in connection with the calls that EOSCCA made to her home phone. Rather, the calls EOSCCA made to Ms. Young were in an attempt to locate a customer who was delinquent on his account.
On appeal, Ms. Young contends that she should be permitted to pursue a cause of action under the Act against EOSCCA despite the fact that the communications were not related to a debt she personally owed. Thus, Ms. Young argued that she is a “consumer” in a generic fashion based on debts she owes to creditors other than EOSCCA’s client, and as such, the Act allows a claim when abusive debt collection practices are being made in connection with the debt owed by a third party.
In its analysis, the Court stated the two statutory definitions of consumer in the Act are “a natural person who incurs debt pursuant to a consumer credit sale or a consumer loan, or debt or other obligations pursuant to a consumer lease,” and “any natural person obligated or allegedly obligated to pay any debt.” The Court stated that Ms. Young could not hold herself out as an “alleged debtor” based on repetitive calls to her home, as no evidence was submitted that EOSCCA ever identified Ms. Young as a debtor or sought to communicate that she personally owed money, and as such, she was unable to show that she was obligated to pay. In turn, the Court disagreed with Ms. Young’s position that she is a “generic” consumer based on the fact that she owes money to other creditors by holding that the Legislature designed the Act in terms of connecting the prohibited debt collection practices to the specific debt at issue.
Finally, the Court held that under the Act, the term “consumer” has a specific definition and only those persons meeting that definition may bring a private cause of action, and that by limiting the right to recover for a violation of the Act to those persons defined as “consumers,” the Legislature has expressly prohibited any persons falling outside the definition of “consumer” from seeking damages and statutory penalties pursuant to the provisions of the Act.
In closing, although the holding of the Court in this matter may not seem significant, it is a positive case for creditors in the state of West Virginia, who must always be cognizant of the very long reach of the Act and its severe penalties and fee shifting results.
For more information about this article, please contact Greg Kennedy at 304.596.2277or firstname.lastname@example.org