An individual who filed bankruptcy because of what she read in a collection letter that was sent to her essentially overreacted, a District Court judge in Wisconsin ruled in granting a motion to dismiss filed by the defendant.
A copy of the ruling in the case of Owens v. United Credit Service can be accessed by clicking here.
The plaintiff incurred a medical debt which was placed with the defendant for collection. The defendant sent a collection letter to the plaintiff, which included the following statement, “CIRCUMSTANCES REGARDING YOUR EXISTING DEBT MAKE IT URGENT THAT YOU CALL THIS OFFICE IMMEDIATELY.” The plaintiff alleges the statement made her anxious and factored into her decision to file for bankruptcy protection.
She also filed suit against the defendant, alleging the statement violated Section 1692e of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act because a least sophisticated consumer would be confused by the alleged false and deceptive representation.
Would a significant portion of the public jump to the same conclusion as the plaintiff and rush to file for bankruptcy? Especially when realizing that the amount that was owed was only $220?
“Drawing all inferences in plaintiff’s favor, it is apparent that a significant portion of reasonable unsophisticated consumers would not interpret the language in the dunning letter to mean something was going to happen requiring a reasonable, unsophisticated consumer to file for bankruptcy,” wrote Judge William Conley of the District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. “Even if one might reasonably react to such a bold, all-cap statement where a much larger amount was at stake, the context of the statement here matters: as reflected in the collection letter, a total of $220.04 is at stake. Even acknowledging that this might be a daunting amount to some, especially if other debts mounted as a result of medical and other expenses, no reasonable trier of fact could find that a significant fraction of the population would arrive at plaintiff’s claimed interpretation of the statement over that sum of money, never mind claimed reaction.”