A collection agency did not violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act when it sent an individual a collection letter that said, among other things, “We look forward to hearing from you,” a federal judge has ruled in dismissing the class-action lawsuit.
A copy of the ruling in Rodriguez v. Northland Group, LLC can be accessed by clicking here.
The plaintiff received a collection notice in regards to an unpaid auto loan. He filed suit, claiming the letter violated Sections 1692e and 1692g of the FDCPA by using false and deceptive means to attempt to collect a debt. The letter included the following passage:
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 judgement and mail you a copy of such judgment or verification. If you request of this office in writing with 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.
We look forward to hearing from you.
The issue in question, according to the plaintiff was twofold:
- By saying “If you …,” in two separate places, the defendant implied that the office could also be notified by other means, such as verbally, and
- Saying “We look forward to hearing from you” also invites the plaintiff to call the defendant to dispute the debt.
While presented with other cases in which using the word “if” could possibly be interpreted to call or write when disputing a debt, Judge Freda Wolfson disagreed with the plaintiff’s assertions.
Because a least sophisticated consumer is presumed to have read the whole letter, he or she would have read the first sentence which means he or she would have understood that the debt had to be disputed in writing, Judge Wolfson wrote.
In fact, nowhere does the notice suggest that a debtor may verbally dispute the debt. Rather, the only method included in the notice is an in-writing requirement. As such, I do not find that by using the word “if” in the validation notice here, a consumer would be confused as to how to dispute the debt. Furthermore, it cannot be overstated that the language used in the validation notice tracks closely the statutory language contained in § 1692g(a)(3)-(5). Indeed, in drafting its notice, Defendant presumably relied on the plain language of the statute and mirrored such language in its debt collection letters. As a matter of fairness, Defendant should not be subjected to statutory liability in this context when it reasonably relied on the very statute to craft the notice at issue.
In ruling that saying “we look forward to hearing from you” was not a violation as well, Judge Wolfson called the plaintiff’s argument “unconvincing.”
Contrary to Plaintiff’s position, the phrase, read in conjunction with the rest of the letter, does not come close to suggesting to a least sophisticated debtor that he or she should contact Defendant in the event the debt is to be disputed. Instead, the phrase, where it is placed, merely invites the consumer to call to resolve, not dispute, the account; the phrase neither explicitly invites the consumer to call to dispute a debt, nor threatens or encourages the consumer to waive his or her statutory rights to challenge the validity of the debt.