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Judge Smacks Down Plaintiff Accusing Firm of Deception By Including Court Costs in Collection Letter

A federal judge in New Jersey may have found the bottom boundary for what constitutes a “least sophisticated consumer” under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. In this case, it is a plaintiff who claims not to have understood that the $82 in court costs added to the amount she owed  on her unpaid credit card bill was misleading and deceptive, even though the agreement she signed with the creditor clearly stated that she would be on the hook for all “collection expenses, attorneys’ fees and court costs unless the law does not allow us to collect these amounts.”

The judge has granted a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. A copy of his ruling can be accessed here.

Nestor Saroza was sued by Capital One in New Jersey state court for an unpaid credit card balance of $9,971.55. The counsel for the lender paid $75 to file the lawsuit and $7 to have it served on the defendant. The collection law firm representing Capital One then sent a collection letter stating that the amount owed was $10,053.55, or $82 more than what was mentioned in the summons.

The woman sued, claiming a violation of the FDCPA because the letter did not explain the filing fees of the court proceedings.

In this case, the least sophisticated consumer defense fell way short, because, as Judge Robert Kugler noted, “We will assume for the sake of the law’s operation that even the least sophisticated consumer reads the complaint for a summons served on him. Thus, to the extent the summons means anything here, it shows the letter was not misleading. This leads to but one conclusion.”

Consumers bear at least some responsibility in financial matters, and that includes reading the agreements that they sign with creditors, the judge ruled.

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