We say that there are “no magic bullets” in debt defense, but every so often we find a few things that seem almost like they would or should be. However, the sort of “magic bullets” we refer to, and that don’t work, are simple, formulaic things like writing the word “refused” on the summons or claiming that it is illegal to use your name, or that using all capital letters matters in some way. Some people think these things have magical attributes that will bring you easy victory. In fact, they really have no legal significance, and spending energy on them is more likely to hurt your case than help it.
Certain things, however, can make a dramatic impact on your case. They won’t magically end the fight or reliably make the debt collectors go away all by themselves, but they can make a big difference if you know what to do with them. One of these things is the Assignment Contract, the agreement assigning the debt in question from the original creditor to the debt collector. In many cases, winning the fight to obtain discovery of the assignment contract will win the case outright.
An assignment contract is the contract between the original creditor and the debt collector whereby the original creditor sells debts to the debt collector. Selling debts is perfectly legal and is a widespread and commercially reasonable thing to do. Unless your contract with the original creditor prohibits transfer or assignment(very rare in consumer debt), there’s nothing wrong with doing it.
You don’t expect these things to be done on an individual basis, though, do you? No. Consumer debts are bought and sold by the hundreds of thousands at a time. The original creditors – often banks, utilities like phone companies, or gyms – create “portfolios” of debt which they sell to junk debt buyers according to certain terms. These terms are found in the assignment contracts, and assignment contacts are not little things. They are lengthy contracts of 20-30 pages that apply to all of the debts bought and sold in a given transaction.
The assignment contracts set the rules for what the debt collector can get from the original creditor if it needs to sue to collect the debts, how long the original creditor has to provide the material, and how much getting that information will cost. The contracts have many interesting features, and the debt collectors will assuredly NOT want you to see them. In fact, in many cases, the debt collectors would rather dismiss their case against you than let you see the contract.
Assignment contracts are not bills of sale. The bill of sale is a one-page document that says something “All the debts identified in Exhibit A, attached, are hereby sold and assigned to Company X.” As we have often pointed out, debt collectors often hate to provide the bill of sale or, more often, the accounts subject to a bill of sale.
They REALLY don’t want to give you the assignment contract.
There are two main things the assignment contracts contain that debt collectors do not want you to know about. They don’t want you to know what they think of their own records, and they don’t want you to know how much time, and how much money, it takes for them to obtain records from the original creditors.
As you will notice if you take the time to read through the assignment contracts, original creditors sell debts to debt collectors “as is” and without any warranty. Specifically, that means that the original creditor specifically disclaims any guarantee that the debts or supporting information they’re selling to the debt collectors are legitimate, accurate, or trustworthy. The natural and intuitive conclusion to be drawn from that is that the records are NOT reliably accurate. Nevertheless, some courts have ruled that they are sufficiently trustworthy to justify admission of the documents in question. The argument needed to use lack of warranty is therefore sophisticated.
Another important fact about the Assignment Contracts is that they usually establish that the debt collector can obtain certain specific documents from a certain, very small percentage of debts. And the original creditors give themselves a minimum of sixty (60) days to provide requested information upon receiving the request. Both of these facts are hugely important to people representing themselves pro se – and for the pro se movement at large.
Sixty days is longer than the amount of time permitted in any state’s rules of discovery of which we are aware. That means, in plain English, that if you request documents, the debt collector will never be able to provide you documents within the time permitted by law. They can get extensions – the courts are generous with time, normally – but even with extensions they may not be able to provide the documents within the required time. Therefore, you should push hard to get the information.
It may even be that in California this arrangement violates the California Rules of Civil Procedure – and you have an even more powerful weapon at your disposal to attack their case.
It is also extremely important to the pro se movement as a whole, and to everyone in it individually, that the original creditors charge for documents and only require themselves to provide documents in a small percentage of the debts. If EVERYONE asked for documents, the costs would simply bury the debt collectors, and the delays would likely make it impossible for them to answer discovery at all. They would have to change their whole way of doing business.
You don’t have to have the Assignment Contracts to make life harder for debt collectors and better for you. If the debt collectors after you are among the many who use credit damage as a collection tool, you can start the ball rolling even faster than through formal discovery. If you get your credit report, find them on there, and dispute the debt under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, they will have thirty (30) days to “conduct a reasonable investigation” into the dispute. Since they can’t get access to information in most cases in less than 60 days, they will either have to withdraw the negative information or you will have a lawsuit against them. Since the FCRA gives you attorney fees if you win that suit, you could get a lawyer to do a lot of the work for you.
And if they do withdraw the reference, you can use that against them in your defense in their suit against you.
Under all the circumstances, it makes a lot of sense for pro se defendants (and everybody else being sued for debt) to use the discovery process to get the assignment contracts. The debt collectors do not want to provide this to you, and they will lie about its existence, deceive you if they can, and stonewall you to the limits of their ability if you push for it. We are developing tools for our members to use to make this fight a little easier.
 There are groups of people who energetically claim that things like this make a difference. They are unable to point to a respected authority (like a court opinion) that backs them up, but this doesn’t stop them.