How to Use the Doctrine of Unclean Hands

Chloe Meltzer

February 25, 2021

Don't let debt collectors take your car!

Summary: Debt collectors are supposed to play by the rules. But that doesn't mean they'll always be on the up and up. Find out if they've violated the doctrine of unclean hands.

The doctrine of unclean hands, also alternatively known as the “dirty hands doctrine,” is an equitable defense in which someone who is being sued by a debt collector argues that a debt collector is not entitled to obtain an equitable remedy. This is often because the debt collector has acted unethically or in bad faith. Typically the burden of proof rests with the person who is being pursued for the debt. This proof will often come in the form of an FDCPA violation.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Protects Debtors

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, known as the FDCPA, is a federal law that limits how a debt collector may act when attempting to collect a debt. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act covers how debt collection is reported in credit reports, but there are also state laws to provide alternative protections.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collection companies from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect debts from you. This includes the collection of mortgages, credit card debt, medical debt, and any other personal, family, or household debts.

It is good to note that the FDCPA does not cover business debts or collections by the original creditor to whom you first became indebted. The FDCPA only covers third-party debt collectors.

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Restrictions on Communications by Debt Collectors:

  • Time and place: Debt collectors may not contact you at unusual times such as before 8 am, and after 9 pm. They also may not contact you at a place they know is inconvenient to you, such as work. If a debt collector knows that you are not allowed to receive the debt collector's communications at work, they may not contact you at work.
  • Harassment: Debt collectors may not harass you regarding debt. Whether this is by phone or through written mail.
  • Representation by an attorney: If you have an attorney, and a debt collector is aware of this, then the debt collector must stop contacting you. They instead must contact your attorney.

If a Debt Collector Continues to Contact You:

You legally have the right to tell a debt collector to stop contacting you. If you do tell a debt collector in writing to stop contacting you, then the debt collector has no right to contact you unless:

  • They are confirming there will be no further contact
  • They must notify you that the debt collector or the creditor may take legal action against you

It is important to note that although the debt collector may stop contacting you, they do not need to stop pursuing you in other legal ways.

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Reasons Creditors Might Have “Unclean Hands”

The “clean hands doctrine” is an argument against a debt collector who has acted unethically or in bad faith concerning debt. If you are defending yourself against a debt collector, you must prove that the debt collector has not acted in good faith, or that their “hands are unclean.”

Fraudulently Inducing You to Sign a Contract

If a seller sues you for payments on a contract, you may claim that the seller has “unclean hands” because they forced you to sign the contract. Bringing this to court under the doctrine of clean hands does not mean that the judge will decide based on fairness. Instead, if you can prove that you were forced into signing a contract, then the seller will have acted wrongly, and you will not be forced to pay the debt in question.

Faking Estimates

Imagine you are being sued for failure to pay the full amount for the construction of your home. You come to find that the estimates were faked from subcontractors to justify the original bid you were given for the project. This would be a moment where you can use the doctrine of clean hands.

Harassing or Threatening You

One common reason when you can invoke the doctrine of clean hands is if you are being pursued for debt with harassment or threatening. This might include the debt collector attempting to prevent you from going to court by harassing you, concealing crucial evidence, and improper attempts to dispose of it.

It is essential that you only use the doctrine of unclean hands when you have full evidence that the other side in your lawsuit is doing something illegal. Whether it is an immoral act, purposefully lying, or doing some form of illegal activity, you must be sure that you have proof.

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SoloSuit makes it easy to respond to a debt collection lawsuit.

How it works: SoloSuit is a step-by-step web-app that asks you all the necessary questions to complete your answer. Upon completion, you can either print the completed forms and mail in the hard copies to the courts or you can pay SoloSuit to file it for you and to have an attorney review the document.

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