Court upholds $311K award against debt collector

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A North Dakota law firm accused of trying to collect a $3,800 debt after the statute of limitations expired is now the one that owes a lot of money.

An appellate court has upheld a $311,000 jury award to a Montana man who sued the firm in 2007 over a violation of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Johnson, Rodenburg & Lauinger appealed the April 2009 summary judgment and damages awarded to Timothy McCollough of Laurel. The case was heard in July by a special panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Billings, including retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

The panel issued a decision Friday upholding the damages. They include $1,000 statutory maximum for violating the debt collection law, $60,000 in punitive damages and $250,000 for emotional distress.

"I'm just so giddy it's all over. We're finally able to take a deep breath," McCullough told The Billings Gazette on Friday. "We knew we had a good case, but it just went on forever."

McCullough said he hoped the case showed debt collectors that "people are going to know they don't have to take the garbage. They can fight back."

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