The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit against a collection agency for allegedly violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act because it referenced the wrong page of a collection letter when referring the recipient to the required disclosures under the statute.
A copy of the ruling in O’Boyle v. Real Time Resolutions, Inc. can be accessed by clicking here.
The plaintiff, who lives in Wisconsin, received a collection letter from the defendant in regards to an unpaid credit card debt. On the first page of the letter, there is a passage that stated, “Please see the back of this page for additional important information regarding this account.”
But the back page started, “THE FOLLOWING NOTICES APPLY TO THE RESIDENTS OF THE FOLLOWING STATES, AS NOTED. THIS LIST IS NOT A COMPLETE LIST OF RIGHTS CONSUMERS MAY HAVE UNDER STATE AND FEDERAL LAW.” Under that heading was a list of states with certain disclosures. For Wisconsin, the disclosure was a “banal notice” about the agency’s licensing.
On the second page of the letter, there was a passage with the disclosures required by the FDCPA.
The plaintiff sued, alleging the letter violated the FDCPA because the required validation notice was not on the back of the first page, as stated on the front page of the letter, but on the second page. The plaintiff argued that by misdirecting individuals to the location of the validation notice, the defendant “falsely represents that this notice is unimportant, and overshadows the disclosure of dispute rights, in violation of 15 U.S.C. Sections 1692e, 1692e(10), 1692g, and 1692g(b).”
In reviewing the FDCPA, the Appeals Court noted what the statute did not say in upholding the dismissal of the suit.
The FDCPA does not say a debt collector must put the validation notice on the first page of a letter. Nor does the FDCPA say the first page of a debt-collection letter must point to the validation notice if it is not on the first page. Nor does the FDCPA say a debt collector must tell a consumer the validation notice is important. Nor does the FDCPA say a debt collector may not tell a consumer that other information is important.
As well, the Appeals Court did not agree with the plaintiff that a least sophisticated consumer would be confused by the letter.
To the contrary, the validation notice appears in clear, readily readable font near the top of page two. Even an unsophisticated consumer—maybe especially one—can be expected to read page two of a two-page collection letter.