Mass. AG Moves to Dismiss ACA Lawsuit on Collection Call Ban for Mootness


It sounds like the drama in Massachusetts over the outbound collection call ban is making its way through litigation. On Friday, October 23, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (AG) moved to dismiss the ACA International lawsuit filed against her office in response to the AG’s emergency regulations that attempted to ban outbound collection calls. The AG’s argument is that ACA’s lawsuit is now moot since the controversy is over—the emergency regulations would have expired by now and, therefore, they were not an issue any longer.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread in the United States, many states began enacting emergency regulations to manage the situation. This included the Massachusetts AG’s office, with the above-referenced emergency regulation. This occurred at the beginning of April. By the end of the month, ACA International filed a lawsuit against the AG’s office, arguing that the emergency regulation was unconstitutional as an unlawful restriction on free speech.

At the beginning of May, the judge in the case granted a temporary restraining order that restricted the AG’s office from enforcing the order until the court could reach a full decision on the merits of the case. The court reasoned that the regulation did not materially advance the substantial governmental interest in preserving domestic tranquility during the pandemic crisis, which calls into question the constitutionality of the restriction. The court also found that ACA International—specifically, its member companies—could face irreparable harm if the regulation is enforced while the lawsuit is pending.

insideARM Perspective

On its face, this sounds like good news—the emergency regulation expired and there is no more threat that this specific ban on outbound collection calls will impact the industry. In a more academic sense, it would be unfortunate if the suit got dismissed prior to a full decision on the merits of the constitutionality of such a call ban. The granting of the temporary restraining order only shows that such a call ban might violate the First Amendment. A decision on the merits would be a more definitive statement that could serve as a bedrock defense in case any other similar regulation is attempted. For now, we will wait and see how things unfold.

 

Article by Katie Grzechnik Neill