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Judge Grants Summary Judgment in Favor of Defense Over Creditor Name in Collection Letter

In yet another case involving a plaintiff accusing a collection agency of violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by not clearly identifying the name of the creditor in a collection letter, a federal judge in the Western District of Washington has granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

A copy of the ruling in McBroom v. Syndicated Office Systems can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff received medical treatment at Franciscan Medical Group West Seattle, which is commonly known as FMG West Seattle, and incurred a debt of $218.64. When the debt was not paid, the clinic placed the account with the defendant for collection, and the defendant sent the plaintiff a collection letter. In the letter, the defendant listed the relevant “facility” as “FMG West Seattle” and provided an account number, patient reference number, the date of service, and an account summary with the account’s current balance. As well, the letter included a second phone number and the address for a webpage of CHI Franciscan Health’s website “for more information about financial assistance.”

Franciscan Medical Group is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Franciscan Health System, which does business as CHI Franciscan Health.

The plaintiff filed suit, arguing that FMG West Seattle is not a legally registered name or entity, thus could not be the true identity of the creditor. Because the letter referenced no other entity in association with the account in the relevant section of the letter, even the least sophisticated consumer would know that FMG West Seattle was the creditor to whom the debt was owed, the judge ruled.

“The fact that the letter describes FMG West Seattle as ‘Facility’ in this section, rather than ‘Creditor,’ is insufficient to render the identity of the creditor unclear in light of the clear association between FMG West Seattle and the details of the debt provided in the letter,” wrote Judge John Coughenour in his ruling.

 

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