14.4 Seconds is Not a Reasonable Inquiry Under Any Circumstances

Last week, in an article for the New York Times, Jessica Silver-Greenberg included this tidbit:

In a 2009 deposition, an employee of a large debt-buying company testified to signing roughly 2,000 affidavits a day.

When a debt buyer (i.e., a company that bought the right to collect a debt from the creditor who originally loaned the money) brings a lawsuit, it has to prove it has the right to collect the debt. Usually it does this by providing affidavits.

Now, whenever anyone submits something to a court, they are implicitly certifying to the court that, among other things, they have made an “inquiry reasonable under the circumstances” into the evidence supporting any statements of fact. I’m paraphrasing, but you can read the federal Rule 11 for the full text. Most states have the same or a substantially similar rule.

Silver-Greenberg did not include a link to the source of the quote above, but I found more detail in another NYT article, this one by David Segal.

Cherie Thomas, who works for Asta Funding, a debt buyer in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., said in a 2007 deposition that she had signed 2,000 affidavits a day.

That works out to one affidavit every 14.4 seconds if she works an eight-hour day. With an hour for lunch and breaks, it’s one affidavit every 12.6 seconds. In either case, it’s not long enough to do an inquiry reasonable under any circumstances.

It is especially not long enough to do an inquiry reasonable under these circumstances, where the affiant (the person signing the affidavit) must — at a minimum — make sure the chain of title is unbroken from the original creditor and that she has the necessary documentation from each sale. She should also probably check the names and dates and numbers, since errors are common. And maybe I’m way out in left field here, but it seems like it might be a good idea to double-check into whether the consumer actually owes the debt.

None of that is possible in 14.4 seconds.