N.J. Judge Dismisses Class-Action FDCPA Suit Over Overshadowing Claim in Letter

A District Court judge in New Jersey has dismissed a class-action lawsuit that was filed against a collection agency for allegedly violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by including two phone numbers and inviting the plaintiff to call with any questions or concerns, which overshadowed the requirement that the debt be disputed in writing.

A copy of the ruling in Riccio v. Credit Collection Services can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff received a collection letter from the defendant related to an unpaid debt. The letter included the following statement:

If you have any questions, concerns, or would simply like personal assistance, our Customer Service Agents are available during the hours listed above. Thank you.

The plaintiff said the letter violated Section 1692g(a) of the FDCPA by using unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect the debt, and Section 1692e by making false, deceptive, or misleading representations or means in connection with the collection of the debt.

Underneath the statement about calling with any questions was the statutorily-required notice about how to dispute a debt. Because the two paragraphs were on top of one another, and the least sophisticated consumer standard is to presume that the individual read the entire letter, the plaintiff would have learned the “the proper method for disputing the debt, i.e. in writing,” Judge Freda Wolfson wrote in her ruling.

The plaintiffs attempted to use the rulings in Caprio v. Healthcare Revenue Recovery Group, LLC and Laniado v. Certified Credit & Collection Bureau as proof that this letter overshadowed the dispute notice requirement, but Judge Wolfson disagreed.

The “letter does not ‘instruct or suggest’ an alternative method of disputing the debt beyond what the letter instructs in the validation notice,” Judge Wolfson wrote.

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