Judge Grants Summary Judgment For Plaintiff Over Dispute Language in Letter

A District Court judge in Florida has denied a defendant’s motion to dismiss and granted a plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment over a collection letter which allegedly indicated that disputes of unpaid debts needed to be filed in writing with the collection agency.

The defendant mailed demand letters to nearly 20,000 individuals that contained the language: “If you dispute this balance or the validity of this debt, please let us know in writing. If you do not dispute this debt in writing within 30 days after you receive this letter, we will assume this debt is valid.” A plaintiff filed suit, alleging the letters violated Sections 1692g(a)(3) and 1692e(10) of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

The defendant argued that the letters did not violate the FDCPA because the law “includes an implicit writing requirement” when disputing a debt and by using the word “please” in the letter, it was not a requirement, but a request to file the dispute in writing. Wrote Judge Robin Rosenberg of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida:

“Defendant rests this argument on the use of the word ‘please’ in the following sentence: ‘If you dispute this balance or the validity of this debt, please let us know in writing.’ According to Defendant, the use of the word “please” indicates that this is merely a request and does not foreclose the option to dispute the validity of a debt orally. The Court disagrees.”

Applying the least sophisticated consumer standard, Judge Rosenberg ruled that the language in the letter “unequivocally states” that the dispute must be made in writing.

Judge Rosenberg also rejected the bona fide error defense from the defendant because the mistake was not intentional. Looking at other precedents, Judge Rosenberg ruled that the bone fide error defense was not a card the defendant could play because the defendant “presented no evidence that the language of its demand letters resulted from anything other than an incorrect interpretation of the requirements of the FDCPA—specifically, Defendant’s interpretation of § 1692g(a)(3) as including an implicit requirement that the validity of a debt be disputed in writing.”

A copy of the ruling in Alderman v. GC Services can be accessed by clicking here.

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