Judge Denies Summary Judgment Because Least Sophisticated Debtor is Not as Smart as Plaintiff

A federal judge in Connecticut has denied cross-motions for summary judgment from the plaintiff and the defendant in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case because even though the defendant understood the language in a collection letter, a least sophisticated consumer still may have been confused by it.

A copy of the ruling in Garcia v. Law Offices of Howard Lee Schiff can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit after receiving a collection letter from the defendant. The letter stated that the plaintiff owed a charge-off balance of $663.94 and had a current balance of $565.46. The letter also listed as zero the post charge-off interest accrued, post charge-off fees accrued, and post-charge-off payments and credits.

During his deposition, the plaintiff acknowledged that the current balance represented what he owed, but because the plaintiff asserted in his complaint that the letter would be confusing to the least sophisticated consumer, the judge used that threshold to deny the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Wrote Judge Victor Bolden:

Here, the one-page debt collection letter sent to Mr. Garcia lists two different balances with no further explanation or mathematical calculation. Garcia collection letter. The “statements” at issue are the amounts of $663.94 and $565.46. Given those two statements, a hypothetical least sophisticated consumer could reasonably misinterpret which amount he or she needed to pay to satisfy the debt. Because one of those interpretations would be inaccurate, a jury could find the letter to be deceptive under the FDCPA.

The defense attempted to asset that the different in the amounts was immaterial, and that if there was a mistake, it should be covered by the FDCPA’s bona fide error defense. But using the bona fide error defense “does not lend itself to summary judgment,” Judge Bolden wrote.

The judge did put the defense’s argument through the three-pronged bona fide error test and found that the argument failed at least one of the tests in denying the summary judgment motion from both parties.

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