Bona Fide Error Defense Nets Defendant MSJ in FDCPA Case

A District Court judge in Wisconsin has granted summary judgment to a defendant in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case after the defendant invoked the bona fide error defense because it used a creditor-approved abbreviation to reference the name of a creditor in a collection letter.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Heisler v. Convergent Healthcare Recoveries can be accessed by clicking here.

In granting the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the judge denied the plaintiff’s motion to certify a class for the second time.

The plaintiff received medical care from a healthcare provider called “Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare — Southeast Wisconsin, Inc.” at a facility named “Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare: Elmbrook Memorial Campus.” The creditor directed the defendant to use “WF, Inc — Elmbrook Memorial” when referencing the provider in collection letters. Unfortunately, the system used by the defendant to print and mail letters had a 22-character limit in the field used to identify the creditor when sending collection letters. So the defendant shortened the creditor name to “WF, Inc — Elmbrook Mem” which it used in the letter that was sent to the plaintiff.

The plaintiff sued, alleging the letter violated the FDCPA because it did not adequately identify the creditor.

After denying the initial arguments put forth by the defendant why it should be granted summary judgment, Judge Nancy Joseph, a Magistrate Judge for the District Court of the Eastern District of Wisconsin, came to the defendant’s invocation of the bona fide error defense.

“The uncontroverted evidence is that Convergent used attorney-approved template language; periodically reviewed this language with general and outside counsel; and updated its template when problems were detected.,” Judge Thomas wrote. “Even if counsel made an error in legal judgment in approving this particular template, Convergent’s active collaboration with counsel to ensure that its letters fulfilled the requirements of the FDCPA was a reasonable step in a process reasonably adapted to ensure that letters clearly identified the creditor as the FDCPA required. Further evidence that this procedure was reasonably adapted to avoid such errors is that when counsel became aware that Convergent’s template might actually be confusing or inaccurate, it communicated that to Convergent and recommended a new template. While the procedure did not prevent this particular error, it prompted a change to avoid this error in the future.”

The plaintiff has appealed the ruling to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

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