MIAMI — A debt collection agency headquartered in Houston has been named in a lawsuit for alleged violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) after it allegedly called a woman while trying to collect a debt from someone else.

According to the complaint filed by Cristina Labreau in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Florida, Miami Division, Synergetic Communications Inc., which operates under the name SynCom, repeatedly made calls to her phone number in an attempt to collect a debt from Pedro Mendez. Labreau alleges that these calls continued to be made to her number using an automatic telephone dialing system even though she had informed the SynCom that it had the wrong number.

“We don’t have an automatic dialer,” Ebony Jackson, a manager at SynCom, told the Florida Record.

It’s not known, however, if the company had an automatic dialer at the time it allegedly violated the TCPA and the FDCPA in 2014.

The TCPA was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 in an effort to protect consumers from sales or telemarketing calls that tie up phone lines and fax machines.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was signed into law in 1977 but has been amended multiple times since then. The act was instituted to protect consumers from illegal collection activity such as phone calls that threaten violence or harm and repeatedly using the phone to contact debtors, along with a host of other abusive collection behaviors.

The Labreau case, however, differs slightly from common cases due to the fact that the debt SynCom was trying to collect wasn’t hers. In the complaint filed by Labreau’s attorneys Amanda J. Allen and William Peerce Howard of The Consumer Protection Firm, PLLC in Tampa, the she alleges that the calls were made as an attempt to collect a debt from a Mendez.

“The problem with the TCPA is they over-incentivize plaintiffs and it creates the threat of strict liability for small businesses and the threat of vicarious liability for larger companies,” William Large of the Florida Justice Reform Institute said.

It is true that lawsuits filed under the TCPA have increased dramatically in recent years. According to WebRecon LLC, which compiles reports about the number of TCPA and FDCPA cases, there were only 14 TCPA litigants in the nation in 2007, compared to 4,860 in 2016. From 2015 to 2016 alone, the number of TCPA litigants rose 31.8 percent. Meanwhile, the number of FCDPA litigants dropped from nearly 12,000 to just over 10,000 from 2015 to 2016, a decrease of 12 percent.

“The TCPA has become a destructive force that threatens companies for technical violations that cause no actual injury or harm to any consumer,” Large said.

He’s not alone in that assessment.

Ajit Pai, who serves as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, wrote a dissenting statement about rule changes to the TCPA when he was still a commissioner, saying that “in practice the TCPA has strayed far from its original purpose.”

“The TCPA has become a destructive force that threatens companies for technical violations that cause no actual injury or harm to any consumer,” Large said.

His statements are in line with the dissenting statement from then-Commissioner Pai, who wrote that the 2015 order and interpretation of the TCPA by the FCC would “make abuse of the TCPA much, much easier. And the primary beneficiaries will be trial lawyers, not the American public.”

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida will have to determine the merits of Labreau’s case, but the tri-county area is seen as very plaintiff-friendly, which may lead to a win for Labreau’s legal team.

“Florida is seen as a plaintiff friendly jurisdiction, especially in the tri-county area, which is Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County,” Large said.

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