In Valentine v. Mullooly, Jeffrey, Rooney & Fylnn LLP the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey found that the plaintiff had not suffered an injury in fact and therefore lacked standing to assert a claim under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA).
The plaintiff incurred a debt to a bank, which sold the account to a new creditor. The new creditor then placed the account with the defendants for collection. In October of 2019, the defendants sent the plaintiff a letter which identified the original creditor, the new creditor, and the assignee for collection purposes.
The plaintiff filed suit asserting that the new creditor impermissibly bought and assigned the debt without first obtaining a license as a “consumer lender” or “sales finance company” from the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance. She alleged that the lack of licensure caused the debt to be uncollectable under New Jersey law. And because the underlying debt was purportedly void, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants engaged in unlawful activity in violation of the FDCPA by sending her the October 2019 collection letter.
The defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiff did not suffer any harm as a result of the collection letter. In granting the defendants’ motion, the court noted that plaintiffs do not automatically meet the injury-in-fact requirement for standing merely because a statute grants them a right and purports to authorize them to file suit to vindicate the right. In the context of the FDCPA, merely receiving a misleading collection letter is not sufficient to establish a concrete injury.
In the case before it, the court found that the plaintiff only alleged that the October 2019 letter deprived her of “truthful, non-misleading information” in connection with the defendants’ attempt to collect a debt. She did not allege that she experienced any adverse effects as a result of the letter or that she took any action or inaction in reliance on it. Because the plaintiff was not able to identify any specific harm, the court held that she lacked standing to bring her claim.
This case provides a reminder that even where a statutory violation may have occurred, plaintiffs must be able to show that they suffered some actual harm as a result of the violation to bring a FDCPA claim.