Judge Disagrees With Plaintiff that Wording in Collection Letter was ‘Ephemeral’

A federal judge has granted a collection agency’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit after it was accused of violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act because it used the phrase “current balance” in a collection letter, which may have confused the plaintiff about how much was owed because the word is “ephemeral.”

A copy of the ruling in Koehn v. Delta Outsource Group can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff received a collection letter from the defendant, seeking a payment on a debt. The letter — in two separate places — referenced a “current balance” of $2,034.03. The plaintiff filed a class-action lawsuit, claiming the letter violated Sections 1692e and 1692g of the FDCPA, because the least sophisticated consumer could perceive that reading “current balance” to mean that the amount owed was “ephemeral,” and “falsely represents” the character and amount of the Debt to an unsophisticated consumer and “falsely threatens that the current creditor may apply interest or other charges which would increase the balance of the Debt merely by the passage of time.”

The plaintiff pointed to a ruling in Chuway v. National Action Financial Services, Inc., in which an individual was instructed in a letter to call a number in order to obtain the most current balance information, because it failed to clearly state the amount that was due.

In his ruling, Judge William Griesbach said the letter from the defendant did not make the same mistake.

Here, by contrast, the letter did not suggest that the amount owed was different than the amount stated. It did not instruct the consumer to call Delta’s office to obtain the current balance; instead, it listed the current balance and simply asked Koehn to let Delta know if she disagreed with the validity or amount of the debt. Contrary to the allegations of the complaint, by itself the phrase “current balance” does not mean that the debt will increase due to interest or other charges. It simply means the amount that is owed at the present time. Even if interest or other charges would no longer accrue, assuming Delta did not obtain a judgment, that did not mean the debt was static. Presumably, it was Delta’s intent that the debt would decrease as a result of payments it hoped Koehn would make, thereby decreasing the amount of the “current balance.” Collection of a debt, after all, was the purpose in sending the letter in the first place. By listing a current balance, Delta was simply conveying to Koehn the amount its records showed she owed at that time.

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