Court: “Confusion, Stress, Concern, and Fear” Alone Are Not Enough to Create Concrete Injury Under FDCPA

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The plaintiff, an individual consumer, filed a chapter 7 bankruptcy petition, including in his schedules a debt for past-due rent for a former apartment. The bankruptcy was a matter of public record and was listed on his credit reports. After the plaintiff obtained his bankruptcy discharge, the defendant debt collector sent the plaintiff two collection letters, demanding payment of the debt for past-due rent. The defendant admitted that it had intended to send the letters and that they were not sent by mistake. The letters informed the plaintiff that, in exchange for payment of his discharged debt, the defendant would “update credit data it may have previously submitted regarding this debt.”

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, asserting two claims under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq. (FDCPA). The plaintiff claimed that the defendant’s letters violated Sections 1692e and 1692c of the FDCPA by demanding payment of a debt that was not owed, and by failing to cease communications and collections after being directed to do so.

The plaintiff alleged that the defendant’s letters caused him confusion and concern regarding whether his bankruptcy had properly included the debt for past-due rent, and whether he actually had obtained a “fresh start” as intended by Congress. The plaintiff also claimed concern about the impact that non-payment of this alleged debt could have on his credit

In deciding the parties’ cross motions for summary judgment, the court took up sua sponte whether the plaintiff had standing to assert his claims under the FDCPA. The court discussed recent decisions from the Seventh Circuit addressing the requirement of a concrete injury to establish Article III standing in the context of a statutory violation, including Pennell v. Glob. Tr. Mgmt. LLC, No. 20-1524, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 7126 (7th Cir. Mar. 11, 2021) (vacating district court’s order granting the defendant summary judgment on the merits of the plaintiff’s Section 1692e claim, and remanding with instructions to dismiss the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, because the plaintiff had failed to show that the stress and confusion allegedly caused by the receipt of the debt collector’s communication had led her to change her course of action or put her in harm’s way), Nettles v. Midland Funding LLC, 983 F.3d 896 (7th Cir. 2020) (Section 1692e case dismissed for lack of jurisdiction for a lack of Article III standing because there was no allegation of concrete harm), Larkin v. Fin. Sys. of Green Bay, 982 F.3d 1060 (7th Cir. 2020) (dismissal of Section 1692e case based on lack of standing because there was no allegation of concrete injury).

Applying the reasoning of these cases to the one at bar, the court noted plaintiff’s argument that he had suffered a concrete injury in the form of “confusion and concern as to whether he would have to pay this debt, whether it was adequately included in his bankruptcy, and how it would impact his credit.” But based on the foregoing line of cases, the court went on to hold that the “Seventh Circuit has been clear that, without more, confusion, stress, concern, and fear are not enough to support a concrete injury in FDCPA Section 1692e and Section 1692c cases.” Accordingly, the court denied the parties’ dispositive motions as moot and dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction because Article III standing was lacking.

A copy of the ruling can be accessed here.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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