September 26, 2019: Earlier this month, 2018-2019 PJC Murnaghan Fellow Ejaz Baluch, Jr., presented oral argument before the Maryland Court of Appeals on behalf of David and Tammy Mills, homeowners who found themselves buried in thousands of dollars in fines and fees from their homeowner’s association and subject to unlawful debt collection practices. As alleged in the Millses’ case, using an outside law firm, the association attempted to combine disputed fines and fees, legal costs and attorney’s fees, and legitimate annual assessment fees and then claimed that the entire balance was overdue assessments. When the Milles made payments, the firm applied them to the disputed fees rather than the annual assessments, creating a spiral of debt. The firm also attempted to collect debt that was time-barred, and in some cases, tried to collect the same debt multiple times.
The Millses sued the homeowners’ association under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (CPA), which generally prohibits unfair or deceptive practices in the collection of consumer debt. But the CPA has an exemption for the “professional services” of various groups of professionals, including attorneys. The homeowners’ association argued that, because it retained a law firm to collect the money that the Millses allegedly owed, it is completely shielded from any liability for wrongdoing under the CPA. Ejaz argued that the homeowners’ association should not escape liability for such practices, like imposing unwarranted fines and fees on our clients, just because it hired attorneys to assist with those practices.
You can watch Ejaz’s oral argument here (starting around 20:00) and read about the case in this post on the Murnaghan Fellowship’s blog.