A janitor who accused a collection agency of harassment and unfair collection practices over a $39 debt, has been awarded nearly $1 million by a Sacramento Superior Court jury.
Frank Cistaro said he felt like he had "slain a giant dragon" after the verdict came back Friday afternoon.
Cistaro's attorney, Gary Callahan, told the Sacramento Union that the award is believed to be the largest punitive amount levied against a collection agency.
The jury awarded Cistaro a $777,839 punitive fee for abuse of the collection process by GC Services Corp., one of the nation's largest collection agencies. He was also awarded $200,000 for actual damages.
The dispute arose when GC Services tried to collect $1,048.02 that Cistaro owed to Chevron U.S.A. Cistaro had refused to pay the bill, saying that Chevron gasoline had ruined the engine of his 1977 Dodge van.
GC Services threatened to take Cistaro to court. He didn't want to take pay the attorney fees and costs so he took out a loan and gave a check to an employee of the collection agency for the money owed to Chevron. But, Cistaro refused to pay $39 to the agency for its court costs.
The agency then filed a judgment against Cistaro and garnished his wages to recover the $39, expenses for additional legal fees and the original debt to Chevron.
Cistaro took his canceled check to the sheriff's department, the county clerk and the district attorney. But, people at each agency said they could do nothing.