While it would have been wise to indicate that any portion of an unpaid debt could be disputed, a District Court judge in New York has nonetheless granted a defendant’s motion to dismiss after it was sued for not including that statement in a disclosure that was part of a collection letter.
A copy of the ruling in the case of Chaperon v. Sontag & Hyman, P.C., can be accessed by clicking here.
The plaintiff received a collection letter that included the following disclosure:
The firm has been retained to collect a debt consisting of rent arrears totaling $12,209.26. Any information obtained will be used for that purpose. The below named creditor claims that you owe rent arrears as specified. You have 30 days from receipt of this notice to dispute the debt. If you fail to do so, we will assume the debt to be valid. If you timely notify us, in writing, that you do dispute the debt, we will obtain verification of the debt and mail same to you.
The plaintiff filed suit, alleging the letter violated Section 1692g(a)(3) of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act because it did not explicitly indicate that any portion of the debt could be disputed, not just the whole amount. The plaintiff also claimed the letter violated Section 1692e(10) of the FDCPA because a least sophisticated consumer would be confused about whether he or she could dispute only a portion of the entire amount or must dispute the entire amount, and whether disputing only a portion of the debt would prevent the debt collector from assuming the validity of the entire debt or only a portion of the debt.
Even though the defendant “might have been well advised” to include the “or any portion thereof” in the disclosure, Judge Jed Rakoff of the District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that even a least sophisticated consumer would understand that any portion of the debt could be disputed if the consumer did not believe he or she owed the full amount.
While the plaintiff argued that Congress must have intended the phrase “or any portion thereof” to be included in the disclosure because it included it in the FDCPA, Judge Rakoff noted that disclosures do not have to exactly mirror what is in the statute. “Second, as the Letter at issue cannot be reasonably construed by the least sophisticated consumer as implying that he or she has no right to contest only a portion of his or her debt, the Letter, although missing the word ‘or any portion thereof,’ is not contrary to the congressional intent,” the judge wrote.