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Collection from PA State

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I received a collection letter from a law firm called "Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson LLC". It says they are attempting to collect a debt for the PA Office of Inspector General, and it says "Welfare Overpayment". I'm unsure of what this is about, nor do I know any details other than the amount due which is over $2k. 

 

The letter also mentions "this is not a threat to file a lawsuit. At this time, no attorney has personally reviewed the particular circumstances of your account," and it asks for me to call a certain person at the company and gives a phone number.

 

1. Since this doesn't mention a 30 day notice, should I still send a DV letter? If not, what is my next step?

2. Does anyone know what the SOL (if any) would be in PA for a collections concerning "welfare overpayments"? 

 

Thank you much!

 

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Linebarger list of names has LONG held contracts to collect on government debt...they do a lot of overdue taxes and other municipal debt.  Being in debt to a government agency is rarely a good situation to be in given that they often have administrative avenues to pursue AND they WILL add a number of fees to the total (by law) in addition to the statutory late charges and interest that will be ticking into the balance. 

 

Right now, ONLY you know in this conversation whether you received funds from the State.  If you did, then it appears you were paid too much or received funds that you were later deemed not to have been eligible to receive.  Keep in mind that some jurisdictions withhold the ability to renew things like licenses and registrations when funds are owed to the State.  If you still live in the jurisdiction and are subject to a State income tax, they can and often will withhold any returns. 

 

While there are SOME who will undoubtedly come along and tell you to treat it like any other collection, just keep in mind that it is YOUR bank account that the State likely already has access to.  Do you REALLY want to wake up one day to find that the State has dipped in and taken what they were owed? 

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1 hour ago, centex said:

Linebarger list of names has LONG held contracts to collect on government debt...they do a lot of overdue taxes and other municipal debt.  Being in debt to a government agency is rarely a good situation to be in given that they often have administrative avenues to pursue AND they WILL add a number of fees to the total (by law) in addition to the statutory late charges and interest that will be ticking into the balance. 

 

Right now, ONLY you know in this conversation whether you received funds from the State.  If you did, then it appears you were paid too much or received funds that you were later deemed not to have been eligible to receive.  Keep in mind that some jurisdictions withhold the ability to renew things like licenses and registrations when funds are owed to the State.  If you still live in the jurisdiction and are subject to a State income tax, they can and often will withhold any returns. 

 

While there are SOME who will undoubtedly come along and tell you to treat it like any other collection, just keep in mind that it is YOUR bank account that the State likely already has access to.  Do you REALLY want to wake up one day to find that the State has dipped in and taken what they were owed? 

Thanks for the reply, you bring up some good points.

 

I was on my State's medical assistance for a while, but I dont remember anyone saying I owed them money or ineligible for assistance or anything like that. I did move, so that could be the issue if they mailed something after I moved. Thats the only thing I can think of.

 

Unfortunately, I have nothing in my bank account for the State to take, if they try and go that route. I barely make enough money from my job to survive because of COVID. How would you go about this type of collection if you truly couldn't pay them (even if the debt was real)?

 

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2 hours ago, Ynocaus said:

Thanks for the reply, you bring up some good points.

 

I was on my State's medical assistance for a while, but I dont remember anyone saying I owed them money or ineligible for assistance or anything like that. I did move, so that could be the issue if they mailed something after I moved. Thats the only thing I can think of.

 

Unfortunately, I have nothing in my bank account for the State to take, if they try and go that route. I barely make enough money from my job to survive because of COVID. How would you go about this type of collection if you truly couldn't pay them (even if the debt was real)?

 

If you moved, then the mail they sent likely bounced back, which resulted in quickly farming it out to the contract entity (Linebarger).  You deal with government debt by getting in front of things...MOST agencies will enter into payment arrangements.  Remember also that they DO NOT CARE if you barely make ends meet.  That does not stop the government from taking what exists in the account(s) that they discern may have funds.  And they often like to do it on payday dates on a calendar. 

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4 hours ago, centex said:

If you moved, then the mail they sent likely bounced back, which resulted in quickly farming it out to the contract entity (Linebarger).  You deal with government debt by getting in front of things...MOST agencies will enter into payment arrangements.  Remember also that they DO NOT CARE if you barely make ends meet.  That does not stop the government from taking what exists in the account(s) that they discern may have funds.  And they often like to do it on payday dates on a calendar. 

 

Thank you for the information. I might be looking at bankruptcy because I dont see how I can overcome this debt plus all my other debt. 

 

Does anyone happen to know if there is a SOL on a State debt in PA? I only saw that theres no SOL on State TAX debt. Im assuming this wouldnt qualify as tax debt, going by the description in the letter. 

Edited by Ynocaus

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Sounds like the law firm violated the FDCPA.  (you are in the 3rd circuit)

 

Lesher v. Law Offices of Mitchell N. Kay, PC

 

The second letter was also printed on the Law Firm's letterhead and offered a repayment plan or settlement offer and again directed Lesher to the back of the letter for "important information." The backs of both letters read, in pertinent part, "[a]t this point in time, no attorney with this firm has personally reviewed the particular circumstances of your account."

 

Lesher filed suit and alleged violations of Section 1692e of the FDCPA asserting that the letters were misleading and (i) caused him to believe that an attorney was involved in the debt collection and (ii) that an attorney would take legal action against him. The Law Firm argued that the letters were settlement letters and not dunning letters; however the Court rejected the argument as insignificant because "both types of communications must comply with" the FDCPA.[iii] Despite the disclaimers on the backs of the letters, the district court "found that the least sophisticated debtor, upon receiving these letters, would believe that they had been sent by an attorney who might pursue legal action if he did not pay the debt."[iv] The district court granted Lesher's motion for summary judgment and awarded $1,000 in damages. The Third Circuit affirmed the decision.

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16 hours ago, Ynocaus said:

 

Thank you for the information. I might be looking at bankruptcy because I dont see how I can overcome this debt plus all my other debt. 

 

 

Trust me that I understand the concept of "the straw that broke the camel's back".  I'll suggest this could be all the more reason to deal with this matter proactively, at a time when you might have greater flexibility in establishing repayment terms (than, for example, if they should be imposed upon you).

 

The state is likely to appreciate prompt compliance with the letter and may be willing to accept an initial repayment agreement for something like $20/mo for the first year, with future payments to be negotiated based upon your resources at that time.  It's also possible that they might negotiate a reduced settlement, if you have access to credit or other funds that would permit you to pay immediately.

 

I'm inclined to suggest that you pursue repayment directly with the PA Inspector General's office rather than reply to the collector.  I expect you'll find a more reasoned ear.

 

In the event that you decide to "deal with" the collector and resist payment of the debt, please understand that the most likely result is that the collector will report back to the IG's office that you were unwilling to pay the debt and that the IG may escalate collection.  I advise getting in front of this debt instead.

 

 

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16 hours ago, Ynocaus said:

 

Thank you for the information. I might be looking at bankruptcy because I dont see how I can overcome this debt plus all my other debt. 

 

Does anyone happen to know if there is a SOL on a State debt in PA? I only saw that theres no SOL on State TAX debt. Im assuming this wouldnt qualify as tax debt, going by the description in the letter. 

If you are contemplating BK, then you NEED to speak with a practitioner in YOUR jurisdiction who can properly advise you as to whether State debt would even be dischargeable.  There is some government debt which may be discharged and some that cannot be discharged.  I don't live in PA, never have lived in PA and have no clients in that jurisdiction, thus leaving me with zero interest in undertaking a crash course in PA law. 

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Oh...and be wary of relying 1) upon cases that are almost a decade in age and 2) have only snippets taken out of context. 

 

If you actually take the time to real ALL of the Lesher dicta, the reasons will be readily apparent.

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Age means nothing if the case has not been overturned since the decision was rendered. I won a motion with a case from 1927. They are a debt collection law firm subject to the FDCPA. They did the exact same thing OPs CA did. They were sued, lost, and the decision was upheld at the Appellate level. Judges like snippets; especially the part where it says the Appellate Court upheld the decision.

 

Lesher is on point; everything fits. The Court even disregarded the disclaimers, and it's the correct circuit. Instead of dismissing it out of hand, why not state your legal argument as to why it isn't at the very least persuasive if not binding?

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23 hours ago, centex said:

Oh...and be wary of relying 1) upon cases that are almost a decade in age and 2) have only snippets taken out of context. 

 

If you actually take the time to real ALL of the Lesher dicta, the reasons will be readily apparent.

Citing the same as Lesher v. Law Offices of Mitchell N. Kay, PC, Third Circuit:

  • Brown v. Card Service Center, 464 F.3d 450
  • If we're arguing whether the OP is the "least sophisticated consumer" in regard to collection letters: Rosenau v. Unifund Corp., 539 F.3d 218

 

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On 12/1/2020 at 7:26 AM, legaleagle2012 said:

Despite the disclaimers on the backs of the letters, the district court "found that the least sophisticated debtor, upon receiving these letters, would believe that they had been sent by an attorney who might pursue legal action if he did not pay the debt."

The OP did not state if the disclaimer is on the front or back of the letter.    That is one factor that could make a difference.  In Lesher, the court noted that the disclaimer was on the back of the letter. 

 

Nor do we believe that the disclaimers included in the letters, which are printed on the backs...”

 

The court cited the 5th Circuit in Gonzales v. Kay.  “There are some letters that, as a matter of law, are not deceptive based on the language and placement of a disclaimer.

 

If the disclaimer is on the front, here is the most recent 3rd Circuit decision.  While not precedent, the court referenced its own ruling in Lesher.

 

Powell v. Aldous & Associates, PLLC (2019)

 

“In granting Aldous's motion, the District Court's analysis was consistent with our approach in Lesher. The District Court expressly states that its conclusion that the attorney disclaimer at issue in this case is sufficient is premised on "[m]any factors." JA 18. It proceeds to explain those factors: (a) the disclaimer is (i) in a bold, normal size font, (ii) located on the front of a one-page letter, (iii) set apart in a separate paragraph, and (b) the letter is not signed by an attorney. Id. We agree that, given the totality of the letter, such a disclaimer is sufficient to dispel the impression of meaningful attorney involvement.

 

Likewise, Powell's section 1692e(5) claim fails because, for the reasons provided by the District Court, we also conclude that the letter would not lead the least sophisticated consumer to believe that a lawsuit was being threatened. In so holding, because Powell's arguments related to his section 1692e(10) claims depend on the same facts and arguments as those for his sections 1692e(3) and (5) claims, we do not find the sort of ambiguity Powell suggests in support of his section 1692e(10) claim.

 

We will therefore affirm the District Court's dismissal of Powell's FDCPA claims.”

 

The OP’s letter states “this is not a threat to file a lawsuit.”   Such a statement would not lead the OP to believe a lawsuit was being threatened. 

Edited by Bluesie58

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1) Age is not, in and of itself, a bar to use...however,

2) Many current practices have evolved to take into account what what covered in decade-old cases

3) The entirety of a fact pattern matters

4) Don't be like convicts who look to take a sentence out of context

5) Which comes back to the entirety of the dicta being something that matters

6) Encouraging litigation where no basis has been shown to exist is irresponsible

7) There are reasons why no competent attorney will tell a client at the first meeting they will be filing a case- evaluations HAVE to be performed as to the merits of a case, especially given the low return to the plaintiff even if one prevails with a verdict (few cases of ANY type actually go to the trial docket, not even in criminal matters). 

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First of all, litigation, as you know, is hardly ever a slam dunk. I read the entire decision in Lesher; I am not one who cherry picks a sentence that creates an argument for me. I create the argument based upon the facts the posters give us, then look for a good case that supports that argument in the poster's jurisdiction. 

 

In this case, information is minimal, as always, but you go with what you get. I doubt the poster can or will go pro se on this matter; if they had that ability, they wouldn't even be here. I "assume" the poster can or will consult with a good consumer attorney and refer that attorney to Lesher.

 

As for Powell, placement of the disclaimer was on the FRONT of a ONE page letter. In Lesher, the disclaimer was on the BACK of a two page letter, hence two different decisions by the Court which, in my opinion, makes no sense. In Lesher, the front contained a sentence  which directed Lesher to the back of the letter for "important information." (disclaimer) It seems like parsing to the extreme to call one letter deceptive and the other not, mainly because of what? The consumer was too lazy to read the other side of the letter and the other lawyer wanted to save a sheet of paper?

 

It's not like they sent him a 400 page novel with a disclaimer hidden on page 398. Both letters in both cases contain essentially the same disclaimer, yet the Court made two different decisions. I guess it wasn't worth the G note fine to take this to the Supreme Court and have it unraveled. Me, I would opine that if the consumer receives the disclaimer it counts, no matter where on the letter it appears.

 

As Bluesie pointed out, we don't know where the disclaimer was located on OP's letter. He should tell us.

 

 

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