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A decade-long series of 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rulings and advisory opinions in Fair Debt Collection Practices Act cases has created a unique body of law that some consumer lawyers say has made related litigation more complicated and expensive. Lawyers who represent consumers also assert that the 7th Circuit’s heavy hand on the FDCPA has created “gratuitous” circuit splits. They also charge that the court’s “advice” to debtors runs the risks of fostering other violations of both the law and professional ethical standards. But the debt collection industry’s lawyers welcome the active role that some of the 7th Circuit’s judges play in clarifying the statute and advising debt collectors on how to avoid violating it-much the same clarity that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) seeks from Congress in its recent 2005 annual FDCPA report. Manuel H. Newburger of Barron & Newburger, an Austin, Texas-based national consumer-protection law practice, said that, in addition to the court’s other FDCPA decisions, its advisory opinions “have left us scratching our heads.” “In each of these cases, it is as if the court took an approach based upon economic efficiency and decided to tell the collection lawyers how they could get it right rather than allow case after case to come before the court before someone finally fell into doing it right,” said Newburger, who also teaches consumer protection law at the University of Texas School of Law. “Courts don’t give advisory opinions,” he added. “They rule on the issues before them, not on how they will rule in the future on other facts.” Revolution begins The revolution began when the 7th Circuit Judge Frank H. Easterbrook replaced the FDCPA’s “least sophisticated consumer” standard with an “unsophisticated” consumer, which made it more difficult for plaintiffs to prove that debt collectors acted deceptively. Easterbrook also instructed courts in a concurring opinion to consider claims alleging deceptive or misleading conduct as questions of fact, rather than questions of law, as they are in the other circuits. Gammon v. GC Services, 27 F.3d 1254 (7th Cir. 1994).
An active 7th Circuit Key debtor-creditor rulings, and reaction:

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