Champagne v. Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP

Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP (“Linebarger”) has an exclusive contract with the Iowa Judicial Branch to act as the sole private company collecting court debt, including court costs, such as filing or docketing fees  and appointed counsel fees. Linebarger collected more than $58.6 million in court debt from Iowans and received nearly $12 million in collection fees between 2012 and 2018.

When Linebarger sends collection notices, it adds the maximum collection fee allowed by statute—25 percent—to each debt and instructs debtors to pay the total amount  without differentiating the underlying debt from the collection fees. The collection notices mischaracterize the amounts owed and contain false and misleading statements, including threats that failure to pay may result in driver’s license revocation or contempt of court. The notices further fail to make clear that a debtor cannot lawfully be jailed for failing to pay court debt unless a court determines the nonpayment was willful. Additionally, Linebarger’s collection letters to one Plaintiff sought to collect fees that were assessed months after the final disposition of the case, even though no court had ever entered a judgment ordering payment.

Plaintiffs allege that Linebarger’s actions violate the Due Process Clause, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and Iowa Debt Collection Practices Act:  

  • Plaintiffs allege that Linebarger violated their due process rights when it collected money for fees that had not been ordered by a court as required by Iowa law and in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. 
  • Plaintiffs allege that Linebarger acted in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by: (1) falsely representing the character, amount, or legal status of the debts it was seeking to collect by failing to itemize each of their debts and specify collection fees; (2) implying that nonpayment will result in arrest when arrest in this instance would be unlawful; (3) threatening that nonpayment of court debt could result in contempt proceedings and Plaintiff’s driver’s licenses being revoked when those actions could not be legally taken; (4) using false representations or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect any debt by their actions; (5) failing to disclose that it was attempting to collect a debt and failing to disclose in all subsequent communications that the communications were from a debt collector; (6) attempting to collect appointed counsel fees that were assessed in violation of a court order and not expressly permitted by law; and (7) failing to provide required debt verification notices.
  • Plaintiffs allege that Linebarger violated the Iowa Debt Collection Practices Act by: (1) attempting to collect a debt by means of a false threat and threatening to take action prohibited by law by stating that Plaintiffs’ nonpayment of attorney fees could result in contempt of court proceedings and stating that nonpayment of attorney fees could result in their licenses being revoked and (2) attempting to collect a debt through intentional misrepresentation or representation which tends to create a false impression of the character, extent, or amount of a debt by their actions above. 

Plaintiffs seek to recover compensatory and statutory damages, attorneys’ fees and costs, and interest. Ms. Champagne additionally seeks an order enjoining Linebarger from engaging in extrajudicial collection of court debt.

You can read the full complaint here.

Due Process, Violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Violation the Iowa Debt Collection Practices Act
September 1, 2020
Iowa Legal Aid; Terrell Marshall Law Group PLLC; Public Justice, P.C.