N.J. Judge Partially Denies MTD in FDCPA Class-Action Over Letter to Decedent’s Estate

A District Court judge in New Jersey has partially granted a defendant’s motion to dismiss a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act class-action case, while allowing claims that a collection letter violated the statute to continue because the letter was addressed to the estate of a deceased individual instead of to the executor of the estate and because the letter failed to explain to whom it was referring when it used the word “you” in it.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Rock v. Greenspoon Marder can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff was appointed the Executrix of an estate and received a collection letter from the defendant that was addressed to the “Estate of Isabel Schick.” In several places, the letter uses the word “you,” such as “As of the date of this letter, the total amount of the debt that you owe is …” and “Unless you, within thirty days after receipt of this notice, dispute the validity of the debt…”

The plaintiff filed suit, alleging the letter violated Section 1692c(b) of the FDCPA because it was addressed to the state and not the executor, Sections 1692g(a)(1), 1692e(2)(A), and 1692e(1) for failing to disclose how the amount of the debt was calculated or setting forth the “other charges” that could change the total amount due, Sections 1692(g)(b) and 1692e(10) because the letter is not clear as to how long the collector will cease collection efforts if the plaintiff exercised her validation rights, and Sections 1692e(5) and 1692e(10) for failing to explain who “you” refers to in the letter.

After a lengthy explanation why the plaintiff has standing to sue, Judge John Michael Vazquez of the District Court for the District of New Jersey addressed each of the claims. Since Section 1692c(b) does not specifically mention that sending a letter to an individual’s estate is allowed — it says that a consumer includes the consumer’s spouse, parent (if the consumer is a minor), guardian, executor, or administrator — the defendant “technically violated” the FDCPA Judge Vazquez said and denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss that count.

Judge Vazquez did grant the motion to dismiss the counts regarding the amount of the debt because the defendant used the appropriate safe harbor language under the correct circumstances.

As to the plaintiff’s claim that a least sophisticated consumer would be confused by the letter’s references to “you,” Judge Vazquez also denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss, using a statement of policy issued by the Federal Trade Commission, which provided disclosures that could be included in letters to help prevent deception, neither of which were used by the defendant.

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