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Man wins $311,000 from debt collectors

BILLINGS, Mont., March 9 (UPI) -- A law firm has been ordered to pay a Montana man $311,000 for hounding him to pay his debts.

A special panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, including retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, has upheld the federal jury award to Timothy McCollough of Laurel, reports The Gazette of Billings, Mont., where the case was argued.

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The jury found in April 2009 that the North Dakota firm of Johnson, Rodenburg & Lauinger had broken Montana's unfair trade law and its pursuit of McCollough was malicious and an abuse of process. It awarded $250,000 for emotional distress, the maximum of $1,000 for violating the law, and the maximum allowable $60,000 in punitive damages.

McCollough said after his victory Friday that debt collectors should now be on notice that "people are going to know they don't have to take the garbage. They can fight back."

McCollough had old credit card debts and worked to pay them, despite a head injury that left him disabled and on Social Security, which is exempt from collections.

In 2007, JRL sued him for $9,800, including $6,000 in legal fees and interest. McCollough got the case dismissed and sued JRL for breaking debt collection laws.

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