NY District Court Rules Consumer With No Intent to Pay a Debt Lacks Standing in FDCPA Claim for Conflicting Collection Letters

Troutman Pepper

Troutman Pepper

A consumer made charges on a credit card account, which she failed to pay as agreed. The creditor referred the account to a law firm, which served the consumer with a collection suit and obtained a default judgment for the balance. The law firm sent four post-judgment collection letters, demanding the $4,225.74 balance. In a fifth letter, it demanded a balance of $3,996.74. The reduction resulted from the creditor’s decision to forego certain costs awarded with the judgment, but this was not explained in the letter. The consumer never made a payment on the judgment.

The consumer filed suit against the law firm that sent the collection letters in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the conflicting balance demanded in the fifth collection letter violated (1) Section 1692e, which prohibits a debt collector from using “any false deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt”; and (2) Section 1692f, which prohibits a debt collector from using “unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect any debt.”

The District Court granted the defendant’s summary judgment based on her lack of Article III standing, ruling that the plaintiff failed to satisfy the “concrete-harm requirement” set forth in TransUnion, LLC v. Ramirez, 141 S. Ct. 2190 (2021).

In briefing, the plaintiff argued that the concrete harm was the uncertainty and confusion that she felt over the amount owed. But the court found the crux of the case to be the plaintiff’s deposition statement that she “had no intention of attempting to pay the debt because she did not have the means to do so.” Thus, the uncertainty and confusion that she felt over the amount was nothing more than “hypothetical, speculative concerns.” The court reasoned that the accrual of post-judgment interest would occur regardless of whether or not the balance in the fifth collection letter was accurate, and the plaintiff was left “in no worse financial position with regard to the debt than she would have been if it had never been sent or had included an explanation of the different balances that eliminated Plaintiff’s confusion.”

The plaintiff also argued that her financial situation might change, possibly enabling her to repay the debt in the future. But the court also rejected this argument, explaining that “the mere risk of future harm” is insufficient to confer standing.

The case is Kola v. Forster & Garbus LLP. 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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