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Law firm violated debt collection statute, federal suit alleges
Court Issues | 2008/03/01 20:22
Pauline Sumowski filed suit in federal court Feb. 27, alleging the law firm Baker, Miller, Markoff & Krasny, LLC of Chicago violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692, when trying to collect a debt owed by her deceased husband.

According to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, Al Sumowski opened a consumer credit card account with Discover Bank roughly 30 years ago and was the only authorized user on the account.

Sumowski claims that 10 years after her husband's death in 1990, Discover began sending billing statements directly to her demanding payment on the account.

"Mrs. Sumowski assumed that she was somehow liable for the Discover account and accordingly, she tried her best to make payments on it," the complaint states.

"When Mrs. Sumowski began having trouble paying some of her debts in 2006, due to increased family and household expenses, she was unable to make any further payments to Discover."

She claims that after missing payments, the Baker firm, on behalf of Discover, filed suit against her in Madison County on March 5, 2007, despite the fact that the debt is not owed by her.

Sumowski claims she was forced to hire an attorney and learned that she was not liable for the Discover account owed by her late husband.

According to Sumowski, the Baker firm attached a purported affidavit along with purported terms and conditions for the account that the firm claimed formed the basis of the original contract between Sumowski and Discover.

"That generic agreement, however, is incomplete, is dated several years after the alleged account at issue was opened, and thus, is not the agreement that governs the account at issue," the complaint states. "In fact, no evidence of any signed agreement between Mrs. Sumowski and Discover was attached to the State Court Lawsuit."

Sumowski also claims none of the billing statements that were offered as exhibits contained any new charges but only contained a demand for payment of a past due balance, late fees, penalties and credit protection services.

She claims the day her case was scheduled for trial, the Baker firm dismissed the suit.

According to Sumowski, the Baker firm violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by:

  • Falsely claiming that she owed the alleged Discover debt;
  • Falsely claiming that the account agreement attached to the complaint was a contract between Discover and herself;
  • Falsely stating in a sworn affidavit attached to the complaint that Discover's business records had been reviewed and confirmed that she owed a balance to Discover; and
  • Filing a lawsuit against her on a time-barred debt.

    Represented by David J. Philipps and Bonnie C. Dragotto of Palos Hills, Sumowski is seeking a judgment for actual and statutory damages, costs and reasonable attorneys' fees. The case has been assigned to District Judge Michael Reagan.

  • Law Firm Warns Of Looming Katrina Lawsuit Deadline
    Legal Network | 2008/02/28 22:05
    That's significant not only in it being leap year, but it's also exactly six months until the deadline for anyone with a Katrina insurance dispute to file a lawsuit against insurance companies. Now one law firm is launching a campaign telling people who haven't decided whether to take their claim to court, not to wait until it's too late.

    The Merlin Law Group has already fought for hundreds of people unhappy with how their insurance companies handled their Katrina claims. Attorney Chip Merlin says he worries about the thousands who have yet to join the battle.

    "There's a whole bunch of people who've filed claims and they've been paid," said Merlin. "Sometimes they've been paid a little bit, sometimes they've been paid a lot. But they're still owed some more. Insurance companies bank on people just giving up."

    Beginning February 29th, the Merlin Law Group will start running print and television ads letting people know the clock it ticking down.

    "The deadline effectively stops people's ability to collect from the insurance company," Merlin said. "You have to have a lawsuit filed by that time. It doesn't mean the lawsuit is over with. It just means you have to have it filed."

    Merlin says he's not concerned about where people who lost their homes and businesses go to find legal representation, just that they go and quickly.

    "I don't think it's right for insurance companies to cheat people and not pay the full amount that's owed," said Merlin. "I've devoted my adult life to this and I believe that, regardless if they go to my law firm or any other law firm anywhere, it would be really wrong in our society if we allowed insurance companies to cheat people. They shouldn't just let the claim go away because they don't think it's worth the hassle."

    Attorney Chip Merlin says many attorneys don't charge to review the merits of a claim, and will work on contingency. He says as the deadline for Katrina suits loomed in Louisiana last year, people were lined up outside the courthouse.

    U.S. court orders Black to prison on Monday
    Law Firm News | 2008/02/28 21:47

    Media mogul Conrad Black has lost his bid to be freed on bond and will have to report to a Florida prison on Monday.

    A U.S. federal appeals court in Chicago on Thursday ruled that Black must go to jail while his appeal of his fraud and obstruction of justice convictions moves through the court system.

    The Montreal-born Black was convicted July 13 of obstructing justice and defrauding shareholders of his former newspaper company, Hollinger International Inc. He was sentenced to 6½ years in prison and ordered to start serving his time on March 3.

    The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday did, however, agree to free Black's two co-defendants on bond while they appeal their own fraud sentences.

    Former Hollinger executive John Boultbee was sentenced to 27 months in jail while his colleague Peter Atkinson received a 24-month jail sentence.

    In explaining the decision not to free Black, the three appeal court judges who ruled on Black's case noted that he was convicted of one offence that the other Hollinger executives were not — the obstruction of justice.

    eBay Settles Patent Dispute With MercExchange
    Topics | 2008/02/28 19:17

    eBay has agreed to settle a patent dispute with MercExchange. The online auction company told investors Thursday it would buy MercExchange's patents and MercExchange would dismiss all claims and appeals regarding a lawsuit it filed seven years ago.

    "We're pleased to have been able to reach a settlement with MercExchange," Mike Jacobson, eBay senior VP and general counsel, said in a prepared statement. "In addition to resolving the litigation, this settlement gives us access to additional intellectual property that will help improve and further secure our marketplaces."

    MercExchange claimed credit for eBay's fixed price auction options through eBay's "Buy It Now" feature, saying the online auction infringed on three of its patents. According to records from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, MercExchange filed for the patents in 1995, 1999, and 2001.

    eBay tried to fight a judgment that would have cost the company about $30 million. The case went up and back down the U.S. court system. In December of 2007, a U.S. District Court ruling concluded in December that the court lacked authority to consider eBay's motion for summary judgment.

    eBay claimed then that it did not infringe on MercExchange's '265 patents and that it owed no damages.

    eBay said it will buy three patents, related technology and inventions, as well as a license to a search patent portfolio that is separate from the lawsuit.

    The companies did not disclose other settlement terms, which eBay said are confidential. eBay said the settlement should not affect its 2007 results or 2008 financial guidance from January's fourth quarter earnings release.

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