Is the letterhead of a collection law firm at the top of a letter and a signature at the bottom of it enough to convey that an attorney is meaningfully involved in reviewing the details of an account? A District Court judge in Pennsylvania has said yes, denying a defendant’s motion to dismiss after it was sued for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by allegedly misleading the plaintiff.
A copy of the ruling in the case of Gibbons v. Weltman Weinberg & Reis Co., LPA, can be accessed by clicking here.
The issue with the collection letter sent to the plaintiff was the letterhead at the top of the letter, which had in bold at the top: “WELTMAN, WEINBERG & REIS Co., LPA” and, in smaller font underneath, “ATTORNEYS AT LAW,” and the signature line of the letter, which said:
Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co., L.P.A.”
Believing that attorneys were meaningfully involved in her case, the plaintiff filed suit, alleging the letter violated Sections 1692e(3) and 1692e(10) of the FDCPA in that it made a false representation that the communication was from an attorney and using a false or deceptive means to collect on a debt.
The defendant filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that testimony from the plaintiff during a deposition indicated that she did not have standing to file the lawsuit. During her deposition, the plaintiff said she was in “fear of … being sued” which, the defendant argued, is not concrete enough to confer Article III standing.
In looking at other collection cases involving whether plaintiffs had conferred a standing to sue under Article III, Judge Joel Slomsky of the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled “there is a genuine dispute” about whether an attorney was meaningfully involved in the reviewing the account and deciding to send the letter. “Therefore, it is entirely plausible that the least sophisticated debtor, upon receipt of a letter from Defendant similar to that received by Plaintiff, could be misled into believing that their account was personally reviewed by an attorney and identified for legal action,” Judge Slomsky wrote.