Judge Reverses Course, Undoes Certification, MSJ for Plaintiff in FDCPA Case Over Creditor ID in Letter

In a case that was defended by Jin Shin and the team at Malone Frost Martin, a District Court judge in Illinois has reversed himself and granted a defendant’s motion for reconsideration, undoing class certification and summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff, and awarding summary judgment to the defendant in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case over the identity of a creditor to whom a debt was owed in a collection letter.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Tataru v. RGS Financial can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff received a collection letter from the defendant, in regard to an unpaid credit card debt that was owed to the First National Bank of Omaha. In the letter, the defendant included a table that listed certain particulars of the debt, including the name of the creditor, which it said was “FNB Omaha II.” The defendant added the “II” at the end of the name to indicate to its employees that this was the second time the account had been placed with the defendant by the creditor. The plaintiff sued, alleging the notation violated Sections 1692g(a)(2), 1692e, and 1692e(10) of the FDCPA because the letter allegedly mis-identified the name of the creditor. Judge John Tharp of the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, agreed with the plaintiff’s argument that the “II” at the end of the creditor’s name led him to believe that the letter was fraudulent.

But as Judge Tharp was issuing his ruling in favor of the plaintiff this past January, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Illinois, was issuing a flurry of rulings in which it redefined the standard under which a plaintiff needed to prove that he or she suffered a concrete injury in order to have standing to sue.

In revisiting his decision, Judge Tharp determined that the rulings from the Seventh Circuit compelled him to rule that the plaintiff did not suffer a concrete injury as a result of how the creditor was identified in the letter. While the inclusion of the “II” in the letter may have constituted a statutory violation of the FDCPA, the plaintiff needed “to do more than demonstrate a threat that he would fail to exercise his rights because he deemed the letter a scam — he must have actually failed to exercise those rights and suffered some tangible adverse consequence as a result,” Judge Tharp wrote. Had the plaintiff chosen to not act on the letter because he thought it was fraudulent and been charged more interest or fees as a result, that would have been a concrete injury.

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