Bernal v. NRA Group, LLC, No. 17-3629 (7th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Bernal bought a monthly pass to Six Flags amusement parks. The contract said that if he fell behind on his payments, he would “be billed for any amounts that are due and owing plus any costs (including reasonable attorney’s fees) incurred by [Six Flags] in attempting to collect amounts due.” After Bernal missed several monthly payments, Six Flags hired AR, a debt collector. Under their contract, AR could charge Six Flags a 5% management fee plus an additional amount based on the number of days the debt was delinquent (in this case, an additional 20%), as is common in the market. AR hired NRA, a subcontractor, which sent Bernal a collection letter asking for the $267.31 he owed, plus $43.28 in costs. Reasoning that it could not have cost $43.28 to mail a single collection letter, Bernal filed a class-action lawsuit under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, alleging that NRA charged a fee not “expressly authorized by the agreement creating the debt,” 15 U.S.C. 1692f(1). The Seventh Circuit affirmed a judgment for NRA. A debt collector’s fee counts as a collection cost under that language. The contract unambiguously permits Six Flags to recover any cost it incurs in collecting past-due payments, and that includes a standard collection fee.