A District Court judge in New Jersey has granted a defendant’s motion for summary judgment after it was sued for allegedly violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by including an invitation for the plaintiff to contact the defendant via telephone in an initial collection letter, creating confusion over the requirement that a dispute must be filed in writing.
A copy of the ruling in Poplin v. Chase Receivables can be accessed by clicking here.
The plaintiff received a collection letter from the defendant that 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 from receiving this notice that you dispute the validity of this debt or any portion of it, this office will obtain verification of the debt or obtain a copy of a judgment and mail you a copy of such judgment or verification. . . .
We are proud of our reputation of treating people with the utmost respect and courtesy. The creditor would like to resolve this matter with you. Please contact this office at the phone number listed below. Or, you can make payment online at . . . using your account number shown on this letter.
The plaintiff filed suit, alleging the letter violated Sections 1692e and 1692g of the FDCPA by instructing the plaintiff to contact the defendant in writing in the first paragraph and via telephone in the second paragraph.
Having initially denied a motion to dismiss from the defendant, Judge Madeline Arleo granted the motion for summary judgment, saying she had reconsidered the “language” of the defendant’s letter and other precedent within the Third Circuit.
Invitations from a collection agency for a consumer to make contact via a phone call do “not overshadow a validation notice’s written requirement,” Judge Arleo wrote, especially when the reference to making a phone call does not mention anything related to disputing a debt.
“Moreover, when viewed in connection with the rest of the paragraph, it is clear that Defendant’s invitation to call is not related to disputing the debt,” wrote Judge Arleo. “The sentence immediately precedng [sic] the invitation indicates that the creditor is seeking to ‘resolve’ the matter, and the sentence immediately following the invitation provides that payments can be made online. As such, the Court sees no reason to find that Defendant’s invitation to call overshadowed or contradicted the prior paragraph’s mandate that disputes be made in writing.”