Public Citizen served as co-counsel in this California-wide class action. The case challenged arrangements under which local prosecutors rent their name and authority to private debt collectors, who use false threats of prosecution to coerce people who have written bad checks to pay various fees. The fees are then split between the debt collectors and the prosecutors. The case included claims under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Due Process Clause. Public Citizen litigated similar cases, in cooperation with private co-counsel, in Indiana and Florida.
Public Citizen took primary responsibility for litigating the constitutional claims and for responding to a series of novel defenses raised by the debt collectors—including abstention doctrines and state sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. The company appealed the sovereign immunity defense to the Ninth Circuit and we secured an appellate victory holding that private contractors cannot claim sovereign immunity.