A Granite City man filed a federal lawsuit against a Chicago law firm alleging it violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) when the firm sued him in Cook County rather than Madison County.

Robert Harris claims the law firm Friedman and Wexler attempted to collect a delinquent consumer debt allegedly owed to Beneficial Illinois, Inc.

According to the complaint filed in East St. Louis on Jan. 22, Friedman and Wexler is an Illinois limited liability company and law firm that acts as a debt collector, as defined by § 1692a of the FDCPA.

Harris claims Beneficial made an unsecured loan to him on May 24, 2004. He claims he fell behind on paying his debts, including the loan he had with Beneficial, causing Beneficial to hire Friedman and Wexler to collect the debt.

According to Harris, the initial letter demanding payment was sent to him on March 8, 2007, causing him to make payment arrangements of $180 a month with the first payment due on April 10, 2007.

Harris claims before the date the payment was due, he sent an initial payment of $1,210, and a month later made a payment of $180.

He claims the law firm sent him a letter on April 23, 2007, wrongly claiming that formal payment arrangements had not been made.

Harris claims that despite making two payments on time, one which was much more than was arranged, Friedman and Wexler filed a lawsuit against him in Cook County on April 27.

"The lawsuit was wrongly filed in Cook County, Illinois, despite the fact that Mr. Harris lives in Granite City, Madison County, Illinois, which is also where the underlying loan transaction with Beneficial occurred," the complaint states.

Harris claims he was unable to afford to defend the lawsuit in the "distant forum" which caused a default judgment to be entered against him.

"Section 1692i(2) of the FDCPA states that a debt collector who brings any legal action must do so only in the judicial district where the contract at issue was signed or where the consumer resides at the commencement of the lawsuit," the complaint states.

"Defendant's violation of § 1692i(2) of the FDCPA renders it liable for actual and statutory damages, costs, and reasonable attorneys' fees," the complaint also states.

Harris claims the law firm used "unfair or unconscionable" means to collect or attempt to collect his debt by suing him in the wrong venue even though he was making timely payments pursuant to an agreed-upon payment plan.

He also claims that the firm falsely stated the amount of the debt in the lawsuit that was filed in Cook County.

Represented by David J. Philipps and Bonnie C. Dragotto of Palos Hills, Ill., Harris is seeking a judgment for actual and statutory damages, costs, and reasonable attorneys' fees as provided by §1692k(a) of the FDCPA.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge William Stiehl.

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