Judge Grants MSJ For Defense Over Lack of Itemization in Letter

In a case that was spotlighted by Barron & Newburger, a District Court judge in Illinois has granted a defendant’s motion for summary judgment after it was sued for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by not itemizing a debt in the initial collection letter, but doing so in a subsequent letter, which the plaintiff claimed was misleading.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Vogel v. McCarthy, Burgess & Wolff can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff rented a car and returned it 37 days late with damage to one of the side mirrors. She did not pay the total amount invoiced by the rental car company, and the unpaid amount was placed with the defendant for collection. The defendant sent a letter to the plaintiff, seeking to collect on the unpaid balance. The defendant did not provide a breakdown of the amount owed, which included miscellaneous charges, late fees, and optional services — all of which were being charged by the creditor. The plaintiff disputed the debt, so the defendant sent a verification letter. The verification letter included the breakdown of the charges. The plaintiff filed suit, alleging the first letter violated the FDCPA because it was false and misleading.

The defendant filed a motion to dismiss, which was denied because at that stage, it was plausible that presenting the total amount owed without a breakdown was misleading. Following discovery, the defendant filed the motion for summary judgment.

Noting that the FDCPA does not require collectors to provide an itemized breakdown of a debt, Judge Steven Seeger of the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, especially if the collector is not adding on any additional charges.

The plaintiff “points to no case – within the Seventh Circuit or otherwise – holding that a debt collector must itemize ordinary charges that a consumer has rung up for goods and services with a particular creditor,” Judge Seeger wrote. “If anything, the current of Seventh Circuit case law flows in the other direction. Debt collectors do not need to break down the debt by separating principal and interest.”

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