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Action Collection Service, Inc. v. Black

Court of Appeals of Idaho

November 16, 2017

ACTION COLLECTION SERVICE, INC., an Idaho corporation, Plaintiff-Respondent,
HARMONY L. BLACK, aka McCULLOUGH, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the District Court of the Third Judicial District, State of Idaho, Canyon County. Hon. George D. Carey, District Judge.

         Judgment of the district court, vacated.

          Thomas J. Katsilometes, PLLC; Boise, for appellant. Thomas J. Katsilometes argued.

          Shearer & Bonney, PC; Shaun R. Bonney, Boise, for respondent. Shaun R. Bonney argued.

          HUSKEY, Judge

         Harmony L. Black appeals from the judgment awarding Action Collection Service, Inc. (ACS) an amount of $3, 546.40 for a debt originally owed to the Idaho Department of Juvenile Correction (IDJC) which was then assigned to ACS. Black asserts the district court: (1) erred in finding that a contract existed between IDJC and ACS; (2) abused its discretion by determining that the hearing held in the district court constituted a hearing under Idaho Code § 20-524; and (3) erred in finding IDJC's assignment to ACS valid. The district court's judgment awarding ACS the amount of $3, 546.40 is vacated.



         In September 2007, Black's minor child was placed in IDJC's custody. At that time, the magistrate did not order Black to reimburse IDJC for her child's support or treatment. While in custody, IDJC expended costs for the child's support and treatment. From time to time, IDJC sent notices to Black, asserting Black was obliged to contribute $235.00 a month to pay for her child's support and treatment pursuant to I.C. § 20-524. However, Black never agreed to pay that amount. Yet, in the last two months of the child's custody in IDJC, Black made two payments of $235.00 to IDJC. Black claimed those payments amounted to ransom for her child's release. Black's child was released from IDJC's custody in July 2009. Despite the absence of any court order requiring payment, IDJC determined it was entitled to $4, 465.00 reimbursement from Black for its treatment and support of her child, which IDJC calculated according to the $235.00 monthly rate with a reduction for the two previous payments. At no point did IDJC request a court hearing to determine whether $4, 465.00 was a reasonable sum of payment.[1] Rather, IDJC attempted, without success, to collect the reimbursement from Black.

         IDJC then assigned Black's alleged debt to ACS in December 2009 pursuant to a blanket assignment agreement entered in May 2006 between IDJC and ACS. The first paragraph of that contract states the contract extends through May 2007. However, a later paragraph of the contract states the contract remains in force until terminated by giving fifteen days written notice. At no point did IDJC or ACS terminate the contract by providing written notice. After ACS attempted, without success, to collect from Black, ACS brought suit in March 2012 against Black to recover $4, 465.00. In addition, ACS sought an additional 33 percent fee for collecting Black's alleged debt, in the amount of $1, 473.45, pursuant to its contract with IDJC and I.C. § 67-2358(1)(b). ACS also sought pre-judgment interest on the alleged debt. The magistrate granted ACS's motion for summary judgment in the case, awarding $5, 938.45 in principal, $1, 306.47 in interest, $2, 595.00 in attorney fees, and $118.00 in costs, for a total of $9, 957.92. Black appealed the magistrate's decision and judgment to the district court. The district court vacated the judgment and remanded the case to the magistrate. ACS appealed the district court's decision. This Court affirmed the district court's decision in part and remanded the case to the magistrate court.

         Upon remand, the magistrate conducted one full day of trial in February 2016, but then identified a conflict with the case and the trial was continued until July 2016, when it was resumed by an assigned district court judge. The district court entered judgment for ACS in the amount of $3, 546.40, including a 33 percent collection fee in the amount of $884.40 under I.C. § 67-2358(1)(b), but did not grant pre-judgment interest because the principal amount was not mathematically or definitely ascertainable. The district court found that the blanket assignment agreement between IDJC and ACS remained in force during IDJC's 2009 assignment of Black's debt to ACS, found that the trial constituted a hearing under I.C. § 20-524, and entered judgment for ACS. Black timely appeals to this Court.



         When a trial court's discretionary decision is reviewed on appeal, the appellate court conducts a multi-tiered inquiry to determine whether the lower court correctly perceived the issue as one of discretion; acted within the boundaries of such discretion and consistently with any legal standards applicable to the specific choices before it; and reached its decision by an exercise ...

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