Northern District, IL – June 1, 2012 – It is clear that no one is immune to lawsuits or the dangers of alleged wrongful acts by its employees. Unfortunately, even a well-known and reputable company such as Equitable Services of Chicago can come under fire if one or more of its employees is accused of crossing the line.
In their allegations, Equitable Services agents, who are unnamed in the lawsuit, allegedly “terrorized” a mother and daughter during a repossession that occurred in 2010.
The suit was brought about by a Rosalind Jackson and her daughter Rashai Jackson who claim that upon discovery of two Repo Men towing away Rosalind Jackson’s vehicle, they both ran outside “opened the door to the vehicle and got into it.”
“The agents continued to hook the vehicle up to the tow truck and then raised the rear of the vehicle with Rashai still in the vehicle and with the door of the vehicle open. The agents started to tow the vehicle out of the driveway with Rashai still in the vehicle. Rosalind then yelled for the agents to stop towing the vehicle and to put it down because her daughter was in the vehicle. Rosalind then jumped into the vehicle with her daughter. The agents continued to tow the vehicle out of the driveway and into the street,” according to the lawsuit claims.
The suit further claims that “Throughout this incident, Rosalind’s mother, children, and individuals from neighboring residences yelled at the agents to stop towing the vehicle away with individuals in the vehicle and the vehicle’s doors open.”
Officers allegedly arrived during the repossession and told the agents to stop towing the vehicle and return it to the borrowers residence, to which they complied, according to the plaintiffs allegations.
Equitable and co-defendant AFS Acceptance, did manage to get the claims of the daughter dismissed by the court for having to standing to file claim under the loosely interpreted collections activity which was cause for the FDCPA allegations of breach of peace for her lack of standing in not having been a borrower or person subject to the repossession.
On another legal note was the dismissal of charges of negligence in hiring which the Judge, Elaine E. Bucklo wrote, “Turning next to the negligence and willful/wanton claims against Equitable relating to the hiring, training, and supervision of their repossession agents, these claims are dismissed for all the reasons given with respect to plaintiffs’ similar claims against AFS. Plaintiffs put forward no facts which would indicate that Equitable knew or should have known that its agents would breach the peace. Further, plaintiffs do not allege any facts that Equitable failed to use reasonable care in selecting its agents or that Equitable knew of past situations where its agents committee. To support a finding of willful and wanton hiring, supervision and retention, plaintiffs must also show “a deliberate intention to harm or an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others[.]”
Despite the plaintiff’s equally disruptive role in the Breach of Peace issue, the Judge allowed these claims to stand due to the agents continued involvement in towing the vehicle away with the women inside the vehicle. “While plaintiffs certainly played a role in any breach
of the peace, Equitable’s employees, despite the fact that plaintiffs jumped into the vehicle, raised the rear of the vehicle and actually towed the vehicle away from the driveway with two individuals in the vehicle and the doors open. All this was done while plaintiffs’ family members and neighbors yelled at the agents to stop towing the vehicle.”
AFS and Equitable’s attempts to dismiss the charges of intentional infliction of emotional distress were denied and the claims still stand. In the Judges opinion, “The tow truck operators obviously exerted control over the plaintiffs in that they controlled the time and location in which plaintiffs could safely exit the vehicle.2 Given the facts (as alleged by plaintiffs), plaintiffs’ claim survives at this stage.
The Judge concluded “The conduct alleged – towing two women down the street with the doors opened – is sufficiently outrageous in nature as to constitute a basis for recovery under intentional infliction of emotional distress. There is no suggestion that the tow truck operators were unaware of the women’s presence in the vehicle, and thus the most likely explanation of the agents’ behavior is that they intended to severely frighten the women.
With FDCPA lawsuits at record highs over the past several years, it is not surprising that the FDCPA allegations were filed, but what is surprising is that there is no mention of the actual agents by name in the suit or that they themselves were not named as co-defendants. Their roles in the case may yet to be seen in deposition and testimony.
Kelly McGivern of Equitable Services has stated in their defense “We have been sued by individuals who have accused our company and our field agent of actions which never happened. The claim of action in this suit contains behavior that is obviously inconsistent with our company policy, and outside the realm of our agents professional demeanor. The claims made in this suit are untrue. Our agent did not act as alleged, and did not “exert control over the plaintiffs” in any way. In fact, it was our agent that called the police several times, in attempt to diffuse the situation that was being inflated by the plaintiffs. A police report was never generated and there were no arrests made.”
Editors Note: All parties to this case are presumed innocent until proven otherwise by a court of law. In the litigation frenzied legal world of collections and repossessions, such allegations have become rampant and often filed with the mere strategy of forcing defendants into settlement to mitigate legal costs and save professional reputation.