Ms. McLean was first admitted to ManorCare, a nursing home, in July 2006, signing a contract (through her son, James McLean, who held her Power of Attorney) agreeing to all costs, including attorneys’ fees, for collection of unpaid amounts. The contract provided that it would remain in effect if she was discharged but re-admitted within 15 days. In 2007, following her discharged from the nursing home, Mr. Ray sued Ms. McLean on behalf of ManorCare, with the matter being resolved by the parties.
Ms. McLean was re-admitted approximately to the nursing home about 20 months later, without signing a new contract and payment disputes arose a second time, with Mr. Ray eventually again filing suit against her. The lawsuit incorrectly asserted, however, that Ms. McLean had continuously resided in the nursing home and as such was liable for attorneys’ fees and costs under the original contract. Despite being alerted of this error, both by the McLean and also by his own secretary, Mr. Ray did not remove the demand for attorneys’s fees for several months. Additionally, Mr. Ray sought to have a guardian and conservator appointed for Ms. McLean, alleging that the non-payment of the nursing home bill constituted neglect by her son. Ms. McLean brought a multiple count FDCPA claim against Mr. Ray, with the pertinent assertion on appeal being that Mr. Ray misrepresented the amount of the debt by including attorneys’ fees. The District Court granted summary judgment and Ms. McLean appealed.
The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that pursuant to Amond v. Brincefield, Barnett & Assocs., P.C., 175 F.3d 1013 (4th Cir. 1999) lawyers “cannot be held liable for what appears to be an honest dispute regarding the amount of the debt, so long as there exists a color able factual basis for the higher amount claimed by their client.” As such, Mr. Ray was permitted to rely on his client’s word, even if a careful review of his own files would have contradicted such word.
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