Ben Carter Law PLLC has filed a class action lawsuit Jefferson County Circuit Court against attorney Marilyn Hartley, one of Louisville's largest private tax collectors. Ms. Hartley collects taxes under an assumed name, "DETCO".
In Kentucky, local governments fund their operations in part by selling unpaid property taxes as "Certificates of Delinquency" to individuals and businesses. These Certificates of Delinquency give these individuals and businesses the right to collect delinquent taxes. Today, 115 individuals and businesses have registered to purchase Certificates of Delinquency and function across the Commonwealth as private tax collectors. In the past, delinquent taxpayers didn't know what to expect from these private tax collectors: some were responsible and honest while others crushed delinquent taxpayers by charging them exorbitant, unjustified fees and costs and sometimes forcing the taxpayer's home into foreclosure.
In 2012, the Kentucky legislature passed new laws and the Department of Revenue issued new regulations in an effort to curb the most abusive practices and ensure that third-party purchasers treated Kentucky's delinquent taxpayers fairly and uniformly. When a third party purchaser like Marilyn Hartley buys a Certificate of Delinquency, these new laws and regulations require third party purchasers to provide important information to delinquent taxpayers. The laws and regulations ensure transparency from the third party purchaser and require the third party purchaser to explain to the delinquent taxpayer the taxpayer's rights, obligations, and alternatives now that a third party purchaser owns the Certificate of Delinquency.
Transparency from the third party purchaser, fair treatment of an individual delinquent taxpayer, and equal treatment of taxpayers across the industry are important goals to the legislature: the new law forbids third party purchasers from charging interest, fees, or costs to a delinquent taxpayer's account unless they have provided the required information to the delinquent taxpayer.
On January 22, 2013, I filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of my client—James C. Brown—and 459 other delinquent taxpayers who have been harmed by the failure of Marilyn Hartley to provide them with necessary, required information about their rights, obligations, and alternatives after she purchased their Certificates of Delinquency. Ms. Hartley purchased more Certificates of Delinquency in Jefferson County last year than any other third-party purchaser.
Despite her failure to provide delinquent taxpayers with the required information, Ms. Hartley is charging interest, attorney's fees, administrative fees, and—in some cases—payment plan servicing fees. The law does not allow Ms. Hartley to charge interest and fees until after she has sent a proper notice of transfer that contains all of the information required by the new law. I believe that Ms. Hartley has unlawfully charged to the accounts of Mr. Brown and the Class members 1% interest per month, at least $52,900 for administrative fees, and at least $80,500 for attorney's fees.
The heart of the suit is summed up in paragraph 146 of the Complaint:
In short, Defendant’s entire course of conduct—from her effort to obfuscate the true relationship between Marilyn Hartley and DETCO, to her failure to provide proper notice of transfer, to her failure to itemize both the amount currently due and the amount due under a payment plan, to her unlawfully inflated claims of amounts due under a payment plan, to her presentation of a payment plan as a one-time opportunity with a limited time to accept, to her citation to expired law—is an elaborate artifice designed to disorient hundreds of consumers, confront them with a placeless and faceless creditor, “DETCO”, and intimidate them into paying her hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest, attorney’s fees, administrative fees, and servicing fees to which she is simply not entitled under the law.
This lawsuit seeks to force Ms. Hartley to refund to the accounts of the Class members all of the unlawful interest and fees she has charged to the delinquent taxpayers' accounts. My client is asking for an injunction that would prohibit Ms. Hartley from charging fees and interest to the accounts until she has sent a notice that complies with Kentucky laws and regulations. Further, the lawsuit seeks to recover additional damages because Marilyn Hartley made false and misleading statements to get some delinquent taxpayers to enter into a payment plan agreement with her that requires them to pay interest and fees to Ms. Hartley to which she is not entitled. Finally, the lawsuit seeks punitive damages. Punitive damages in this case will serve three functions. They will:
- Punish the Defendant for charging delinquent taxpayers interest and fees that the law forbids her from charging,
- Make an example of the Defendant for other third party purchasers who might be tempted to line their pockets with bogus and unlawful interest and fees, and
- Level the playing field for the third party purchasers who are abiding by the law and yet have been injured by the competitive advantage Ms. Hartley has enjoyed by charging delinquent taxpayers unlawful interest and fees.
If you have been contacted by Marilyn Hartley or DETCO or if you are currently paying DETCO under a repayment plan, you can contact me online, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (502) 509-3231.
There are 115 other third party purchasers of Certificate of Delinquency operating in the Commonwealth of Kentucky today. If you suspect you are being charged too much by a third party purchaser or would like me to review a letter you received about your delinquent taxes, please contact me.