Third Circuit rejects debtor’s claim that collection letter stating she could call law firm “to eliminate further collection action” violated FDCPA

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has rejected a debtor’s claims that a collection letter she received from a law firm violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act because the letter stated “[i]f you wish to eliminate further collection action, please contact us at [this toll-free number].”  As a result, it affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the law firm.

In Moyer v. Patenaude & Felix, A.P.C., the plaintiff brought a putative class action in which she claimed that the letter was a deceptive means of collection in violation of the FDCPA.  According to the plaintiff, the sentence inviting her to call a toll-free number would deceive a debtor into believing that a phone call was “a legally effective” way to stop collection activity when, in fact, the FDCPA requires a debt collector to cease all collection efforts only if the consumer provides written notice that she disputes the debt.  The Third Circuit ruled that this argument failed because the law firm never claimed that a phone call was a legally effective way to stop collection efforts; it invited her to call to “eliminate” collection action “but never asserted, explicitly or implicitly, that the phone call would, by law, force [the law firm] to cease its collection efforts.”  In the court’s view, the plaintiff “reads into the invitation an implication it does not create.”

The plaintiff also claimed that the law firm violated the FDCPA’s validation notice requirement because, by appearing in the collection letter before the validation notice, the invitation to call caused confusion regarding how to pursue her rights under 15 U.S.C. Section 1692g as described in the validation notice.  The validation notice contained the statutorily-required statement regarding the collector’s obligation to obtain verification of a debt or a copy of a judgment if the consumer notifies the collector in writing within a 30-day period.  According to the plaintiff, by appearing directly before the statement that the debtor can write to exercise her Section 1692g rights, a debtor would be left uncertain about whether she should call or write to exercise such rights.  In the Third Circuit’s view, the plaintiff “sees confusion where none exists.”  The validation notice instructed a debtor to write to exercise her Section 1692g rights “without any suggestion that a phone call would suffice” and did not suggest that a debtor could exercise any Section 1692g rights over the phone.  The court also found that the order of the paragraphs in the collection letter did not create confusion about the information they conveyed.

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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