South Carolina Fair Debt Collection Practices Act SECTION 37-5-108. Unconscionability; inducement by unconscionable conduct.
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(1) With respect to a transaction that is, gives rise to, or leads the debtor to believe will give rise to, a consumer credit transaction, if the court as a matter of law finds:
(a) the agreement or transaction to have been unconscionable at the time it was made, or to have been induced by unconscionable conduct, the court may refuse to enforce the agreement; or
(b) any term or part of the agreement or transaction to have been unconscionable at the time it was made, the court may refuse to enforce the agreement, enforce the remainder of the agreement without the unconscionable term or part, or so limit the application of any unconscionable term or part as to avoid any unconscionable result and award the consumer any actual damages he has sustained.
(2) With respect to a consumer credit transaction, if the court as a matter of law finds that a person has engaged in, is engaging in, or is likely to engage in unconscionable conduct in collecting a debt arising from that transaction, the court may grant an injunction. In addition, the consumer has a cause of action to recover actual damages and, in an action other than a class action, a right to recover from the person violating this section a penalty in the amount determined by the court of not less than one hundred dollars nor more than one thousand dollars. For purposes of this subsection and subsection (3), the term ‘collecting a debt’ in a consumer credit transaction includes the collection or the attempt to collect any rental charge or any other fee or charge or any item rented to a lessee in connection with a consumer rental-purchase agreement as described in Section 37-2-701(6).
(3) If it is claimed or appears to the court that the agreement or transaction or any term or part thereof may be unconscionable, or that a person has engaged in, is engaging in, or is likely to engage in unconscionable conduct in collecting a debt, the parties shall be afforded a reasonable opportunity to present evidence as to the setting, purpose, and effect of the agreement or transaction or term or part thereof, or of the conduct, to aid the court in making the determination.
(4)(a) In applying subsection (1), consideration must be given to applicable factors, such as, but without limitation:
(i) in the case of a consumer credit sale, consumer lease, or consumer rental-purchase agreement, knowledge by the seller or lessor at the time of the sale or lease of the inability of the consumer to receive substantial benefits from the property or services sold or leased;
(ii) in the case of a consumer credit sale, consumer lease, consumer rental-purchase agreement, or consumer loan, gross disparity between the price of the property or services sold, leased, or loaned and the value of the property, services, or loan measured by the price at which similar property, services, or loans are readily obtainable in consumer credit transactions by like consumers;
(iii) the fact that the creditor contracted for or received separate charges for insurance with respect to a consumer credit sale, consumer loan, or consumer rental-purchase agreement with the effect of making the sale or loan unconscionable, considered as a whole, when including the sale of insurance from which the consumer receives no potential benefit as referenced in Section 37-4-106(1)(a);
(iv) the fact that the seller, lessor, or lender knowingly has taken advantage of the inability of the consumer or debtor reasonably to protect his interests by reason of physical or mental infirmities, ignorance, illiteracy, inability to understand the language of the agreement, or similar factors;
(v) taking a nonpurchase money, nonpossessory security interest in household goods defined as the following: clothing, furniture, appliances, one radio and one television, linens, china, crockery, kitchenware, and personal effects, including wedding rings of the consumer and his dependents; except that when a purchase money consumer credit transaction is refinanced or consolidated, the security lawfully collateralizing the previous consumer credit transaction continues to secure the new consumer credit transaction, even if the new consumer credit transaction is for a larger amount or is in other respects a nonpurchase money consumer credit transaction; and further, that a nonpurchase money, nonpossessory security interest may be taken in a work of art, electronic entertainment equipment, except one television and one radio, items acquired as antiques and which are over one hundred years of age, and jewelry, except wedding rings.
In construing subitem (v), the courts must be guided by the interpretations and rulings of the federal courts and the Federal Trade Commission to the Credit Trade Regulation Rule (16 C.F.R. PART 444).
(b) In applying subsection (1), consideration may be given to the extension of credit to a consumer if, considering the consumer’s current and expected income, current obligations, and employment status, the creditor knows or should know that the consumer is unable to make the scheduled payment on the obligation when due. Rental renewals necessary to acquire ownership in a consumer rental-purchase agreement are not obligations contemplated in this item (b).
(5) In applying subsection (2), consideration shall be given to each of the following factors, among others, as applicable:
(a) using or threatening to use force, violence, or criminal prosecution against the consumer or members of his family, including harm to the physical person, reputation, or property of any person;
(b) communicating with the consumer or a member of his family at frequent intervals during a twenty-four hour period or at unusual hours or under other circumstances so that it is a reasonable inference that the primary purpose of the communication was to harass the consumer. The term ‘communication’ means the conveying of information regarding a debt directly or indirectly to any person through any medium. A creditor or debt collector may not:
(i) communicate with a consumer at any unusual time or place known or which should be known to be inconvenient to the consumer. In the absence of knowledge of circumstances to the contrary, it may be assumed that a convenient time to communicate with a consumer is between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.; or
(ii) communicate with a consumer who is represented by an attorney when such fact is known to the creditor or debt collector unless the attorney consents to direct communication or fails to respond within ten days to a communication;
(iii) contact a consumer at his place of employment after the consumer or his employer has requested in writing that no contacts be made at such place of employment or except as may be otherwise permitted by statute or to verify the consumer’s employment;
(iv) communicate with anyone other than the consumer, his attorney, a consumer reporting agency if otherwise permitted by law, the attorney of the creditor or debt collector, unless the consumer or a court of competent jurisdiction has given prior direct permission;
(v) use obscene or profane language or language the natural consequence of which is to abuse the hearer or reader;
(vi) publish a list of consumers who allegedly refuse to pay debts, except to a consumer reporting agency;
(vii) cause a telephone to ring repeatedly during a twenty-four hour period or engage any person in a telephone conversation with intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number;
(viii) advertise for sale any debt to coerce payment of the debt;
(ix) communicate with a consumer regarding a debt by postcard;
(x) deposit or threaten to deposit any postdated check or other postdated payment instrument requested by the creditor prior to the date on such check or instrument;
(xi) take or threaten to take any nonjudicial action to effect dispossession or disablement of property if:
(aa) there is no present right to possession of the property claimed as collateral through an enforceable security interest or other ownership interest;
(bb) there is no present intention to take possession of the property; or
(cc) the property is exempt by law from such dispossession or disablement; or
(xii) cause charges to be incurred by any person for communications to the consumer by concealment of the true purpose of the communication, such charges include, but are not limited to, collect telephone calls and telegram fees.
(c) using fraudulent, deceptive, or misleading representations in connection with the collection of a consumer credit transaction. Such false representations shall include:
(i) the character, amount, or legal status of any debt;
(ii) any services rendered or fees which may be received, unless such fees are expressly authorized by law;
(iii) a claim of an individual that he is an attorney or that any communication is from an attorney;
(iv) any claim or implication that nonpayment of any debt will result in arrest, imprisonment, garnishment, seizure, or attachment unless the remedy is legally permitted to the creditor and the claim or implication is not used for the purpose of harassment or abuse of process;
(v) a claim or implication that the consumer committed any crime or other conduct to disgrace the consumer; or
(vi) any written communication which simulates or appears to be a document authorized, issued, or approved by any state or federal agency or court or creates a false impression as to its source;
(d) causing or threatening to cause injury to the consumer’s reputation or economic status by disclosing information affecting the consumer’s reputation for creditworthiness with knowledge or reason to know that the information is false; communicating with the consumer’s employer before obtaining a final judgment against the consumer, except as permitted by statute or to verify the consumer’s employment; disclosing to a person, with knowledge or reason to know that the person does not have a legitimate business need for the information, or in any way prohibited by statute, information affecting the consumer’s credit or other reputation; or disclosing information concerning the existence of a debt known to be disputed by the consumer without disclosing that fact;
(e) engaging in conduct with knowledge that like conduct has been restrained or enjoined by a court in a civil action by the administrator against any person pursuant to the provisions on injunctions against fraudulent or unconscionable agreements or conduct (Section 37-6-111).
(6) No action at law claiming unconscionable debt collection may be commenced in any court until at least thirty days after the facts and circumstances of any claim of unconscionable conduct in collecting a debt arising out of a consumer credit transaction has been filed in writing with the administrator of the Department of Consumer Affairs. The administrator shall immediately provide to the person or organization complained against with a copy of any complaint alleging unconscionable debt collection practices filed with the Department of Consumer Affairs. The administrator shall immediately provide to the Director of the Consumer Finance Division of the Board of Financial Institutions a copy of any written claim of unconscionable conduct in collecting a debt filed against a supervised lender under this title or a restricted lender under Title 34. A creditor or debt collector may only take such action as is authorized by law to protect its collateral during the thirty-day state agency review period. The administrator shall take immediate steps to investigate, evaluate, and attempt to resolve such complaints. The administrator and director shall jointly take immediate steps to investigate, evaluate, and attempt to resolve complaints involving supervised and restricted lenders. If in an action, properly filed after the thirty-day state agency review period with regard to conduct in collecting a debt arising out of a consumer credit transaction, in which unconscionability is claimed the court finds unconscionability pursuant to subsection (1) or (2), the court shall award reasonable fees to the attorney for the consumer or debtor. If the court does not find unconscionability and the consumer or debtor claiming unconscionability has brought or maintained an action he knew to be groundless, the court may award reasonable fees to the attorney for the party against whom the claim is made. In determining attorney’s fees, the amount of the recovery on behalf of the consumer is not controlling.
(7) The remedies of this section are in addition to remedies available for the same conduct under law other than this title.
(8) For the purpose of this section, a charge or practice expressly permitted by this title is not in itself unconscionable.
(9) Nothing in this title may be construed to prevent a finding of unconscionability where a creditor assesses an origination charge, prepaid finance charge, service, or other prepaid charge which substantially exceeds the usual and customary charge for the particular type of consumer credit transaction. In such a transaction the court shall consider the relative sophistication of the debtor and the creditor, the relative bargaining power of the debtor and creditor, and any oral or written representations made by the creditor regarding the credit service charge or the loan finance charge of the consumer credit transaction.