Jackson couple sues Tenn. mortgage company over collection tactics

By Lawrence Smith | Apr 9, 2010

RIPLEY - A Jackson County couple allege their mortgage lender crossed the line in attempting to collect on their delinquent account.

Charles E. and Tammy J. Hatcher of Ravenswood filed suit on March 31 against Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance. In their complaint filed in Jackson Circuit Court, the Hatchers allege the Maryville, Tenn.-based company employed inappropriate techniques, including threats of arrest, and relaying message through third-parties, in an attempt to get the Hatchers current on their mortgage payments.

According to their suit, the Hatchers contracted with Vanderbilt on May 30, 2007 to finance the purchase of their mobile home. They made regularly, monthly payments until July 2008 when the Hatchers became temporarily unemployed.

After falling two months behind in their mortgage payment, the Hatchers say they contacted Vanderbilt to work out payment plan. They allege Vanderbilt refused to cooperate and "threatened foreclosure unless a payment was forthcoming."

On an unspecified date, the Hatchers sold property they owned to cure the arrearage. They maintain the proceeds from the sale was able to keep them current until May 2009 when, combined with Charles' permanent lay off five months earlier, the money began to dwindle causing them to fall behind in their payments.

On a date not specified, the Hatchers allege representatives from Vanderbilt began calling "two to three times a day, Monday through Saturday." They singled out one representative named "Kendell" who "threatened that the police would kick them out and padlock the door so that [they] would not be able to remove their belongings."

Other representatives threatened seizure of the Hatcher's personal belongings, and suggested they find "a better place to live so their kids would not be homeless." On more that one occasion, Tammy alleges a Vanderbilt representative called her a "liar" when she said a payment would be forthcoming from the portion of student loans she intended to use as living expenses.

On at least two occasions in August and September, the Hatchers allege Vanderbilt informed their friends they were behind on their mortgage. The Hatchers say both the mother of one of their son's youth football teammates, and an in-law told them relayed to them a message from Vanderbilt about the need to make a payment.

Sometime in September, the Hatchers say Vanderbilt informed them making any more payments was fruitless as there was nothing they could do to save their home. Shortly thereafter, the Hatchers began looking for new housing.

On a date not specified, Vanderbilt sent the Hatchers a letter saying they were willing to work out a plan to get them current on the mortgage. The agreement called for the Hatchers to make lump sum payments once their student loans were disbursed.

According to their suit, the Hatchers made three payments of $1,830 in late September, early October and in January.

Despite the three lump-sum payments, the Hatchers allege Vanderbilt continued to inform third-parties about the delinquency in their mortgage. The parties included a neighbor, and Tammy's mother and step-father after the January payment was made.

In their suit, the Hatchers accuse Vanderbilt of unlawful debt collection, unreasonable publication and misrepresenting the status of their account. As a result of Vanderbilt's actions, the Hatchers allege they "suffered fear of loss of home, and annoyance and inconvenience associated with the abusive and unconscionable servicing of their contract."

The Hatchers seek damages in the amount of $4,300 in civil penalties for each violation of the state Consumer Credit and Protection Act, attorney fees and court costs. They are represented by Sara Bird with Mountain State Justice of Charleston.

The case is assigned to Judge Thomas C. Evans III

Jackson Circuit Court, case number 10-C-41

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