Judge Grants MTD in FDCPA Case Over ‘Nitpicks’ in Collection Letter

A District Court judge in New York has granted a defendant’s motion to dismiss after it was sued for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act when it sent a collection letter to the plaintiff that allegedly included a number of misrepresentations, including multiple addresses that confused the plaintiff about how to dispute the debt, a deadline to accept a payment plan offer, whether the offer could be renewed, and including the dispute notice on the back page of the letter.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Dillard v. FBCS, Inc., can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff received a collection letter from the defendant. The letter included two different mailing addresses for the defendant, one in the top-left corner and one in the top-right corner of the page. The defendant’s website also lists two different mailing addresses, which, the plaintiff alleges, is misleading and “impede[s] a consumers’ ability to dispute the debt or request the original creditor.”

But the address listed in the top-right corner was also listed twice on the detachable payment coupon, directly under the defendant’s name, which is in bold lettering, which, according to Judge Kiyo Matsumoto of the District Court for the Eastern District of New York, is more than enough for even the least sophisticated consumer to “be able to deduce that Defendant’s address is the address that appears below Defendant’s name three times, rather than the address that appears once.”

When checking out the defendant’s website, the Court said it found the defendant’s primary address under “Headquarters” and two other addresses listed under “Satellite.” Such “nitpicks” do not rise to the level of an FDCPA violation, Judge Matsumoto ruled.

Judge Matsumoto also had similar feelings about a disclosure from the defendant on the back of the letter that said it was not obligated to renew the offer it was making, which the plaintiff alleged actually indicated that the defendant was not obligated to accept disputes or requests for the actual creditor.

“The mere fact that Defendant included the language, ‘FBCS, Inc. is not obligated to renew this offer,’ under required notices regarding disputing or inquiring about the debt does not compel the conclusion that the least sophisticated consumer would assume those notices were merely offers,” she said. “Those notices are contained in their own paragraph, while the language about the lack of Defendant’s obligation to renew its offer is in its own, separate paragraph.”

After doing away with the plaintiff’s claims that offering a 30-day payment plan deadline and the placement of the validation notice violated the FDCPA, Judge Matsumoto had some important concluding remarks about the letter and the plaintiff’s efforts to find a violation where one did not exist.

“Nothing about the collection letter at issue here leads to the conclusion that the recipient would be duped into validating a debt she did not owe,” she said. “Plaintiff’s allegations amount to cherry-picking various portions of the letter, presenting them in a complaint deprived of context, and hoping something will stick. While the FDCPA is an important tool to prevent abusive and misleading debt collection practices, no such practices are presented here. Defendant in this case drafted a collection that was clear, and that provided the required notices in a reasonable, and relatively concise, manner to the least sophisticated consumer.”

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