UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
March 22, 1994
Dear Mr. Halverson:
This is in response to your letter of February 3, 1994 concerning several issues under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (Act) about which you are concerned.
You first ask whether Section 813 of the Act, which addresses private actions, covers actions by a state attorney general's office or other state agency against a debt collector and, if so, whether the one-year statute of limitations described in Section 813(d) would apply to such actions. Section 813 imposes liability on debt collectors for violations ". . . with respect to any person . . .." The word "person" is not defined in the Act but is used fairly consistently in other sections to refer either to individuals or corporations. See Sections 803(6)(B) and (F), 804, 805(b) and 812. To my knowledge, however, the word "person" has not been used in the Act to refer to a government agency, whether federal or state. Neither has the federal Act ever been interpreted by this office to confer enforcement authority on a state (without a comparable state Act), and there appears to be no basis for doing so now. Since we have no basis for assuming that the scope of the word "person" covers government agencies, the question of whether there is a one-year statute of limitations for Section 813 actions by government agencies appears to be moot.
Second, the term "debt collector' is defined in Section 803(6) of the Act as any "person who uses any instrumentality of interstate commerce or the mails in any business the principal purpose of which is the collection of any debts or who regularly collects or attempts to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another." The president of a collection agency or a collection manager would be covered; shareholders probably would not be covered.
Third, you ask whether the limitation of $500,000 or 1% in Section 813(2)(B) of the Act covers state entities. Our answer is that since we do not believe Section 813 confers authority on states to enforce the federal Act, the limitation would not apply.
I trust this has been helpful.
John F. LeFevre