A District Court judge in New Jersey has granted a defendant’s motion for summary judgment after it was sued for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act because a collection letter allegedly inferred that a lawsuit was going to be filed against the plaintiff.
A copy of the ruling in the case of Bencosme v. Stillman Law Office can be accessed by clicking here.
The plaintiff, who lives in New Jersey, received a collection letter from the defendant. The letterhead at the top of the letter referenced the name of the defendant, and its address, in Woburn, Mass. The letter informs the plaintiff that the defendant has been hired to collect an unpaid medical debt. The letter also included the following disclaimer:
Also, we have been asked to contact you to determine your intentions with respect to repayment of this debt. We have not been retained to file a lawsuit against you. Further, at this time, no attorney with this firm has personally reviewed the particular circumstances of your account.
The plaintiff filed suit, alleging the letter violated the FDCPA because the defendant does not have any attorneys licensed to practice law in New Jersey and because the original creditor placed the account with a different collection agency, which then hired the defendant to try and collect on the debt.
Calling the plaintiff’s argument “novel,” the judge nonetheless did not agree that the letter constituted an impending threat to sue simply because she had previously only been contacted by the original collection agency and had never heard from the defendant before receiving the letter. Calling it a “broad jump,” and noting that even the least sophisticated consumer would have read the letter in its entirety, Judge Peter Sheridan of the District Court for the District of New Jersey said the “clear language” in the letter would have “alleviated such fears.”