Is collection of unpaid legal fees governed by the Florida Consumer Collection Protection Act?

Yes, according to a recent First DCA opinion. The issue of whether an attorney’s attempt to collect unpaid legal fees is an act of debt collection, as defined by the FCCPA, was recently addressed in the First District Court of Appeals.

Appellants alleged abusive conduct in a debt collection on behalf of their prior counsel. The lower court dismissed appellant’s counterclaim finding that an attorney seeking fees for past legal services did not fall under the purview of § 599.72, Florida Statutes (2009). More so, the final judgment included an award of attorneys’ fees to be paid equally between appellant and her counsel.  However, the First DCA reversed and remanded the ruling. It held that appellant’s debt to her counsel was a consumer debt because it was an, “obligation of a consumer to pay money arising out of a transaction in which the… services are the subject of the transaction are primarily for personal… purposes…”, § 559.55(1), Florida Statutes (2009).

In May 2006, appellant retained her counsel in a legal matter. Appellant was to pay her attorney $2,500 in advance of any representation. Payment was not made and her counsel subsequently filed a small claims action. Appellant then brought a $15,000 counterclaim against her attorney for a violation of the FCCPA. Appellee moved to dismiss claim, alleging that they were not debt collectors. The circuit court agreed and held that the statute defines debt collectors as, “entities collecting the consumer accounts of others and not creditors collecting their own accounts.” Appelle also moved for sanctions and the court entered to buy custom essay online of attorney’s fees in their favor. The circuit court explained that the appellants knew or should have known that the claim was not supported by Florida case law or Florida statutory law.

However, the first DCA disagreed with the circuit court, specifically relying on the language of  § 559.55 (5) & (6). The language affords a much broader definition of the terms “debt collector” and “creditor”.  Thus, Appellee’s activity was governed by the FCCPA. Therefore, the first DCA reversed the final judgment and the award of attorney’s fees.

Morgan v. Wilkins, et al, Case no.: 1D11-0237

Authored by: Marlowe Fox, Esq.

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