Judge Denies Motion to Dismiss FDCPA Suit For Letter Using Same Language as Statute

A federal judge in Pennsylvania has denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed against a collection agency for allegedly violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by sending a collection notice that failed to inform the plaintiff of his rights even though it used the exact language from the statute.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Guzman v. HOVG, LLC and Pendrick Capital Partners can be accessed by clicking here.

The defendant sent the plaintiff a collection letter in an attempt to collect on an unpaid debt. The letter had information printed on the front and back side of the paper. On the front, along with information about the debt, the letter included the statement, “If you are not able to pay the balance, or if you have questions, please call us at 800-684-1856,” and, lower down on the page, in a bold, capitalized font, said “See reverse side for important consumer information.” On the back side of the letter — under the heading “Consumer Rights” was the following information:

Unless you notify this office within 30 days after receiving this notice that you dispute the validity of the debt or any portion thereof, this office will assume this debt is valid. If you notify this office in writing within 30 days from 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 the judgment and mail you a copy of such judgment or verification. If you request 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.

Because the front of the letter only referred to the back having “important consumer information” and was not more specific about the fact that it was a required legal disclosure, the validation notice was thus obscured, ruled Judge Wendy Beetlestone. Couple that with numerous references on the front side of the letter than indicated the individual could call with any questions created confusion about how to dispute the debt, especially because the first sentence of the validation notice does not mention anything about the dispute having to be filed in writing.

“Thus, the validation language is not only open to two reasonable interpretations, the ‘incorrect’ interpretation, that a debtor may call to dispute her rights, is in fact encouraged by the remainder of the letter,” Judge Beetlestone wrote.

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