My name is Chris Roberts. I am an attorney who represents people in class action lawsuits and other cases against debt collectors, payday lenders, telemarketers, and other companies. A class action lawsuit is a way for a large group of people to bring a single lawsuit against a company for a wrong it has committed repeatedly and routinely.
The benefit of a class action lawsuit is that it not only has the power to change a business’s conduct but it can also help hundreds or thousands of people along the way.
Consider this example: A debt collector improperly obtains a judgment against a person for $1,000. The debt collector may correct this wrong and return $1,000 to the person, but is this really an incentive for the debt collector to change conduct and review protocols for how it obtains judgments? What if the debt collector improperly took $1,000 judgments against 150 people? Suddenly, the debt collector could be responsible for $150,000 in judgments. That is a simple example of how a class action lawsuit can create greater incentives for the debt collector to do things the right way.
This is a type of class action we recently settled. We represented a class of over 160 Missouri consumers, against whom a debt collector had improperly obtained judgments. The approximate total amount of the judgments was $300,000. Through a class action lawsuit, we forced the debt collector to refund every penny it collected from these people after it obtained the judgments and to eliminate all $300,000 of debt. This is real change and value that not only benefited my client but also over 160 other Missouri consumers.
However, we also represent consumers in individual cases who are facing an impossible situation. My favorite story comes from a case we tried in St. Louis City last year.
It was almost payday. Every two weeks, a single mother of two anxiously awaited her paycheck. She needed it to put food on the table for her kids, pay the utilities, and pay her car note.
But this payday was different. The mother’s human resources manager brought her into the office just before payday and told her that 25 percent of her pay would be withheld because they had received a wage garnishment from a payday lender.
What did the single mother do? Years earlier, she had been in financial distress and taken out a $1,000 payday loan to pay her daughter’s unexpected hospital bills. She was not a lawyer, so she thought it was legal for the payday lender to take her wages, since she made the mistake of not repaying the loan. So, she did her best to scrape by.
Paycheck after paycheck was garnished. Nearly three years later, the payday lender had taken almost $6,000 of her wages for a $1,000 loan. Yet, because of the loan’s enormous interest rate, she still owed her payday lender over $2,500. There was no end in sight.
She needed to do something. The only thing to do was fight back. So she did.
My client contacted me to see if something could be done to stop the payday lender from garnishing her wages. There was.
Before a person’s wages are garnished, they must first be served with the lawsuit papers. This is critical in the law because the service of the lawsuit papers is the only way a person learns about the lawsuit and gets an opportunity to defend the lawsuit in court. This is a basic idea referred to as due process.
We are all entitled to due process. The payday lender did not think my client was.
Once I looked at the court file, I quickly learned that my client was never served with the lawsuit papers. Even worse, the payday lender filed papers with the court on two separate occasions stating that my client was never served, yet he garnished my client’s wages for years and had no plan to stop.
Things suddenly changed when I brought the misconduct to the court’s attention. The payday lender immediately stopped the garnishment and returned every penny to my client.
But my client was not finished. We filed a lawsuit against the payday lender for improperly garnishing my client’s wages. The payday lender’s actions put a single mother in distress for years. She had to borrow money. She could not sleep at night because of the financial stress of the garnishment. She cried at work. She struggled to pay her bills.
While the payday lender deprived my client of her original day in court, my client got her day in front of a jury of her peers. We told a jury what happened, and they were not pleased.
The jury awarded my client $224,000, and now payday has a different meaning.
My name is Chris Roberts. I represent consumers in cases against debt collectors, high interest lenders, telemarketers, and other businesses. I pride myself on helping my clients turn what seems to be an impossible set of circumstances into a positive situation. It was truly an honor to represent a client who had the courage to stand up and fight back. It was even more of an honor to give my client her day in court.