Third Circuit Rejects Debtor’s Claim that Invitation to Call Deceives Debtors of Legally Effective Means of Disputing a Debt

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In Moyer v. Patenaude & Felix, A.P.C., the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a putative class action complaint, alleging that including an invitation to call the debt collector to “eliminate further collection action” was deceptive and overshadowed the validation notice requiring disputes to be in writing in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

Candace Moyer failed to pay her credit card debt, and the account was placed with a debt collector, which sent Moyer a one-page, single-sided collection letter that stated, “If you wish to eliminate further collection action, please contact us” above a validation notice requiring disputes to be in writing.

The FDCPA requires debt collectors to cease certain collection activity if the consumer sends written notice that the debt is disputed or requests that the debt be validated. Moyer sued, arguing that the language in the letter would lead consumers to believe that a phone call was a legally effective means of stopping collection activity in contradiction to the requirements of Section 1692g(b) of the FDCPA. Moyer further argued that inserting this sentence directly above the validation notice language leaves consumers uncertain whether to call or write to dispute or request validation of the debt.

In a precedential opinion, the Third Circuit disagreed, stating that the debt collector’s invitation to call neither “explicitly or implicitly” stated it would be a legally effective means of ceasing collection activity and that the plaintiff “read[] into the invitation an implication that it does not create.” The court distinguished this case from instances where debt collectors stated that a phone call would require collection activity to cease. Likewise, the court rejected Moyer’s argument about the placement of the sentence directly above the validation notice, stating it “does not create confusion about what each one conveys.” That is, the “Validation Notice instructs the debtor to write to exercise their § 1692g rights, leaving no confusion that a phone call would suffice.”

This decision confirms that courts will assume that even the “lease sophisticated debtor” will have a “basic level of understanding and willingness to read with care.” As long as debt collectors inform the debtor that disputes and request for validation must be in writing and do not imply legal consequences or obligations where none exist, this decision gives debt collectors comfort that they can invite consumers to call to discuss the debt.

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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