A District Court judge in New Jersey has granted a motion to dismiss a class-action lawsuit filed against a collection agency, claiming it violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by sending mixed messages about how a debt could be disputed.
A copy of the order, signed by Judge Noah Hillman, in the case of Imani Jones v. Northland Group, can be accessed by clicking here.
The plaintiff received a collection letter from the defendant in regards to an unpaid debt. The relevant portion of the letter stated:
Unless you notify this office within 30 days after receiving this notice that you dispute the validity of this debt, or any portion thereof, this office will assume this debt is valid. If you notify this office in writing within 30 days after receiving this notice that you dispute the validity of this debt, or any portion thereof, this office will obtain verification of the debt or obtain a copy of a judgment and mail you a copy of such judgment or verification. If you request of this office in writing within 30 days after receiving this notice this office will provide you with the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor.
Should you have any questions regarding this account, please feel free to call us at 866-277-9745 ext. 3203. We look forward to hearing from you.
The plaintiff sued, claiming the defendant violated the FDCPA, specifically, Section 1692g(a), which states the terms under which a debt can be disputed. Debts need to be disputed in writing in order for the dispute to be valid, according to the FDCPA.
By including a phone number and an invitation to call the defendant with any questions, the letter sends a mixed message about how the debt could be disputed, the plaintiff claimed.
Using language like “hearing from you” and “feel free to call us,” would confuse the least sophisticated consumer, the plaintiff alleged. The judge, in looking at a number of other cases at the District and Appellate levels, disagreed. Wrote Judge Hillman:
Absent a rule from our Circuit barring any language encouraging or facilitating oral communication with the debt collector, this Court holds that the language in this case, placed where it was and presented as it was, is innocuous at worst and does not violate the statute.