Judge Denies MTD on FDCPA Claims Over Garnishment Info Sent to Wrong Person

A District Court judge in Washington has partially granted a defendant’s motion to dismiss, but denied the motion related to claims the defendant allegedly violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act when it mistakenly sent two letters to the plaintiff informing him that a writ of garnishment had been entered against him, one of which was sent after the plaintiff had hired an attorney who instructed the defendant to cease communications.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Frias v. Patenaude & Felix can be accessed by clicking here.

The defendant sent a letter to the plaintiff, informing him that he was being served with an order for a writ of garnishment. The letter included documents referring to a judgment for an unpaid credit card account as well as the plaintiff’s name and address along with the name and address of his employer, and a Social Security number that ended in 4970. The plaintiff retained an attorney who, 11 days later, sent the defendant a letter disputing the debt, saying that the plaintiff was not in default, that his Social Security number does not end in 4970, and requesting that the defendant cease all communications with the plaintiff. The defendant did not respond to the letter. Six months later, it sent another letter to the plaintiff that was largely the same as the first letter, except informing the plaintiff that the funds in his bank account were being garnished instead of his wages.

The plaintiff filed suit, alleging the conduct violated several provisions of the FDCPA as well as the Washington Consumer Protection Act and the Washington Collection Agency Act.

The judge denied the defendant’s motion related to the FDCPA claims, disagreeing with the plaintiff that even a least sophisticated consumer would have known that the defendant was trying to collect from someone else. But given the other information that was included in the letter, a least sophisticated consumer “would be unlikely to conclude” that the defendant was trying to collect from someone else, ruled Judge John Coughenour of the District Court for the Western District of Washington.

“Debt collectors do not generally notify random people that they are collecting debts from others, and P&F does not offer any reason why a consumer would conclude that P&F was doing so here,” Judge Coughenour wrote. “Rather, P&F appears to argue that an unsophisticated consumer in Mr. Frias’s position would have concluded that P&F was trying to garnish someone else but sent the garnishment packet to him by mistake. But faced with several pieces of information pointing to him (his name, address, employer’s name and address, and the name of a financial institution at which he had an account) and only one pointing to another person (the Social Security number), an unsophisticated consumer is more likely to conclude that the social security number was inaccurate, rather than all of the other information, or that P&F was trying to collect from him even though someone else owed the debt.”

The judge also denied the defendant’s arguments that it was required to mail copies of the garnishment documents to the plaintiff after his attorney had requested for communications to cease. But even though the plaintiff was not the judgment debtor, the defendant sent the documents anyway.

In his concluding remarks, Judge Coughenor said he was “astounded by P&F’s stunning lack of appreciation for how irresponsible its conduct in this matter has been.”

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