Lincoln man says debt suit belongs back in circuit court

By Kelly Holleran | Jun 9, 2010

HUNTINGTON -- A man claims his lawsuit against a debt collector belongs in circuit court because it is not clear how much debt he owes.

HUNTINGTON -- A man claims his lawsuit against a debt collector belongs in circuit court because it is not clear how much debt he owes.

Butch Woodrum originally filed a lawsuit in Lincoln Circuit Court against Mapother and Mapother and Steven Mulrooney, alleging they used illegal practices in an attempt to collect debt from him.

From about Nov. 22, 2005, through 2007, Woodrum claims he received debt collection correspondence from a number of collectors regarding a debt he allegedly owed to a creditor known as Midland Funding NCC-2 Corporation.

At some point, Woodrum hired an attorney to represent him in regard to the debt collection claims, and by October 2009, Woodrum had reached a universal settlement of several of his alleged debts and debt collection violations, according to his complaint.

Even after his settlement, though, Woodrum claims he continued to receive letters from the defendants. In one letter, dated Nov. 13, Mapother and Mapother proposed a settlement with Woodrum in regards to an alleged judgment against him, the suit states.

"As you are fully aware, a Judgment has been ordered against you regarding the above-referenced account," the letter signed by Mulrooney says. "This judgment may allow us to attach your non-exempt assets, such as your wages, bank accounts, and your real estate."

On Feb. 9, Woodrum received another letter that included similar content, the complaint says.

Not only did the defendants attempt to contact Woodrum through the letters, but they also attempted to call him, his relatives and neighbors in regards to the debt, according to his complaint.

Woodrum, however, says he has no knowledge of the judgment rendered against him and has received no legal action regarding his alleged debt.

"As a result of Defendants' actions, Plaintiff suffered monetary loss, incidental, consequential, actual, and compensatory damages, emotional and mental distress aggravation, anxiety, damage to his creditworthiness and reputation, annoyance and inconvenience," the suit states.

Woodrum alleges unlawful debt collection against the defendants, saying they unreasonably published information relating to an alleged indebtedness and used fraudulent representations in an attempt to collect his debt.

But the defendants contend they did no wrong and would like to see Woodrum's complaint against them dismissed with prejudice.

"All claims against Defendants must be dismissed for failure to state a claim," the defendants' answer states. "At all relevant times to the transactions and occurrences giving rise to the allegations set forth in Plaintiff's complaint, Defendants complied with all applicable provisions of the United States Code and West Virginia Code, and the applicable interpretations of those provisions by the applicable branches, departments, divisions, and offices of the United States Government and the Government of the State of West Virginia."

In addition, the defendants claim they did not violate any laws when attempting to collect the debt from Woodrum.

In his complaint, Woodrum seeks a judgment declaring the debts canceled, a declaratory judgment declaring the acts to be in violation of the West Virginia Consumer Credit Protection Act, a permanent injunction against the defendants ordering them to cease from engaging in unlawful acts, economic, additional, consequential, incidental, actual and punitive damages, plus costs, attorneys' fees, pre- and post-judgment interest and other relief the court deems just.

The Kentucky-based Mapother and Mapother and Mulrooney removed the case to U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia April 13 because it says it is resident of a different state than West Virginia resident Woodrum and because Woodrum seeks more than $75,000.

"The complaint does not, by its terms, state an amount demanded, but examination of its claims, especially the reference to damages and attorneys' fees, make it apparent that the amount in controversy exceeds the $75,000 statutory minimum," the defendants' removal states.

Woodrum admits he is resident of a different state than the defendants, but argues the complaint cannot be removed to federal court because the defendants cannot prove he is seeking more than $75,000.

"The only actual damages known to Plaintiff at this time consist of general compensatory damages -- including aggravation, annoyance, and inconvenience," his remand states. "While it is remotely possible that a jury could award a significant amount for such damages, it is not very likely."

For the statutory damages he seeks, Woodrum claims he is entitled to recover only $4,414 for each letter, providing him with a maximum award of $8,828. Additionally, attorney's fees in the case should not exceed $25,000, Woodrum's motion to remand states.

Therefore, Woodrum claims the defendants are unable to demonstrate that he seeks more than $75,000, and the case should be remanded to Lincoln Circuit Court, he says.

Cameron S. McKinney and David L. Grubb of The Grubb Law Group in Charleston will be representing Woodrum.

E. Taylor George of Mapother and Mapother in Huntington will be representing the defendants.

U.S. District Court case number: 2:10-478

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