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Judge Rules That Massachusetts’ Emergency Debt Collection Ban Is Unconstitutional

A map of Massachusetts with a red pushpin in Boston

Wed, 05/13/2020 - 14:37

At the end of March, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey filed emergency regulations banning the collection of consumer debt during the COVID-19 crisis, including a 90 day ban on debt collection calls and text messages to Massachusetts residents. Last week, a judge issued an injunction preventing the Attorney General from enforcing that ban.

The injunction was in response to a lawsuit filed by the debt collection trade organization ACA International. ACA Int’l argued that the ban was an unconstitutional restriction of free speech. The AG countered by claiming that current circumstances give collectors undue influence and that shelter in place orders make debt collection calls more of disturbance than they would be under normal conditions.

The court did not find the AG’s argument to be compelling, noting that debt collection does not violate social distancing rules and improper or fraudulent debt collection is already illegal. The court also found that the ban was an unconstitutional, content-based (sound familiar?) restriction on free speech, writing: “it singles out one group debt collectors and imposes a blanket suppression order on their ability to use what they believe is their most effective means of communication, the telephone.”

The court's injunction also prevents the AG from enforcing a band on debt collection lawsuits. The court did not find the fact that Massachusetts was in a declared state of emergency to be sufficient cause to restrict the rights of debt collectors.