Supreme Court Split in Unexpected Ways During Oral Arguments for Obduskey v. McCarthy & Holthus LLP

On Monday, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Obduskey v. McCarthy & Holthus LLP. As a brief recap, the case questions whether a law firm engaging in non-judicial foreclosure is considered a debt collector under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed an amicus brief in this case back in November, siding with McCarthy & Holthus (McCarthy) on the issue.

The crux of the oral arguments seemed to rest on whether the FDCPA intended the exclusion of those enforcing a security interest to mean only those who do not engage with consumers. The justices asked counsel for both parties to discuss the difference between a law firm engaging in non-judicial foreclosure versus a repossessor. McCarthy’s counsel argued that there is no distinction, both are enforcing a security interest, whereas Obduskey’s attorney argued that sending a pre-foreclosure notice constitutes debt collection. Some of the justices seemed to side with Obduskey’s attorney. differentiating that repossessor only engages with the collateral “in the dark of night,” whereas a foreclosure attorney engages with the consumer by, for example, sending a pre-foreclosure notice.

In a rather unexpected turn, two of the right-leaning, pro-business justices -- Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh -- both seemed to side with Obduskey's counsel on this question.  Since such a notice encourages payment, Chief Justice Roberts referred to it as “indirect collection.” Justice Kavanaugh, the newest addition to the Supreme Court’s bench, likewise indicated that the purpose of a foreclosure notice is to tell someone that they need to pay or they will lose their home.

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