The Supreme Court Press “Petition of the Month”TM for March 2016 is Mark Sheriff / Eric Jones et al. v. Pamela Gillie et al., Supreme Court Dkt. No. 15-338, an appeal coming out of the Sixth Circuit. The case Mark Sheriff et al. v. Pamela Gillie et al. was granted certiorari, with oral argument scheduled for March 29, 2016. Eric Jones et al also filed a petition in this case, and appears as a Respondent in Support of Petitioners in Sheriff et al. at the Merits Stage. The Jones et al.petition and mertis brief was filed by attorney Boyd Gentry of the the Law Offices of Boyd W. Gentry.
This case asks whether Congress, through the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, meant to interfere with the way in which a State engages in a sovereign function—its debt collection. Ohio requires its Attorney General to collect debts owed to the State. It authorizes the Attorney General to “appoint special counsel,” in addition to employees, “to represent the state in connection with” this debt collection. The law requires that the Attorney General give special counsel the office’s letterhead for use in collecting tax debts, and the Attorney General has read the law as giving him discretion over whether those counsel use that letterhead for other debts owed to the State. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act bars “debt collectors” from “us[ing] any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means,” 15 U.S.C. § 1692e, but expressly does not apply to “any officer or employee” of a “State to the extent that collecting or attempting to collect any debt is in the performance of his official duties,” id. § 1692a(6)(C). In this case, a divided Sixth Circuit held that special counsel do not qualify for this state exemption and that a jury could find their use of state letterhead “misleading.” The case presents two questions: