Would a least sophisticated consumer understand — when reading a collection letter related to the collection of a deficiency balance on her car loan — that the debt is a “consumer debt” as defined by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act? A District Court judge in Arizona thinks the answer to the question is yes and has denied a plaintiff’s motion for partial judgment on the pleadings after the plaintiff accused the defendant of allegedly violating the FDCPA through what it said in that collection letter.
A copy of the ruling in the case of Uvaldo v. Germaine Law Office can be accessed by clicking here.
The plaintiff defaulted on her car loan, and the vehicle was repossessed and sold at auction. After applying the proceeds of the sale to the unpaid balance, the creditor was still owed nearly $6,000 and hired the defendant to collect on the unpaid debt. The defendant sent the plaintiff a collection letter that included the following statement: “If the indebtedness identified in our correspondence to you constitutes a ‘consumer debt,’ in accordance with the Fair Debt Collection Practice[s] Act, we make the following notices/statements to you.” The plaintiff claims the language violates Section 1692e of the FDCPA by making a false or misleading statement.
But Judge John Tuchi of the District Court for the District of Arizona has more faith in consumers than the plaintiff does.
“To find that a car purchaser does not know she is a consumer, as Plaintiff asks the Court to do, would be to apply a standard below unsophisticated,” Judge Tuchi wrote in his ruling.
The plaintiff also claimed that another statement in the letter violated Section 1692g(b) of the FDCPA by overshadowing the 30-day validation period. That statement — “Please give this matter your immediate attention by contacting our office upon your receipt of this notice” demanded payment before the 30-day window had passed, the plaintiff claimed. But attention is not the same as money, Judge Tuchi wrote.
“Even when the least sophisticated debtor standard is applied, the letter cannot reasonably be read to demand immediate payment where the letter notifies Plaintiff, twice, of the 30-day waiting and verification period,” he said in denying the motion.