SDNY Judge Grants Motion for Defendant in FDCPA Case Over Issues with Letter

A District Court judge in New York has granted a defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings after it was sued for allegedly violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act when it mentioned in a letter that an account may be placed with an attorney “for possible legal action” and that it did not specify to which of two different mailing addresses mentioned in the letter — one to remit payment and the other a physical office address — a dispute must be sent.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Greifman v. Client Services can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff received a collection letter in regards to an unpaid credit card debt. The front page of the letter included a standard validation notice. Underneath that notice, the following statement was included:

Please note, we have many payment options that may meet your individual needs. If we are unable to arrange repayment, Capital One will send your account to an attorney in your state for possible legal action. Please note, no decision has been made to take legal action against you at this time. I want to help you avoid any possible legal action. Please call me at 877-665-3303 for more information. I look forward to working with you to resolve this balance.

The letter also included two mailing addresses — a physical office address at the top left of the letter and a P.O. Box at the top left of a detachable payment coupon at the bottom of the letter.

The plaintiff alleged the letter violated Sections 1692e and 1692g of the FDCPA. A least sophisticated consumer could read the letter and think that legal action was “imminent,” the plaintiff alleged, which would overshadow the 30-day window to dispute the validity of the debt. But Judge Cathy Seibel of the District Court for the Southern District of New York disagreed. Agreeing with another judge in the same circuit, Judge Seibel ruled that even a least sophisticated consumer would not think the use of the words “if” and “possible” in the statement in question meant that legal action was imminent.

Judge Seibel also ruled that the inclusion of two different addresses in the letter would not confuse anyone about where to send a dispute notification. The validation notice instructs the recipient of the letter that the dispute will be deemed to be valid unless he “notifies our office” of a dispute. The payment coupon, meanwhile, instructs the recipient to “remit checks” to the location on the coupon — the P.O. Box. Even if there was some confusion, the text of the letter makes it clear which should be sent where, Judge Seibel ruled. “There are other considerations that suggest that the least sophisticated consumer would know where to send correspondence,” she wrote. “The office’s street address is listed twice, whereas the P.O. Box address is only listed once, and no reference to the P.O. Box is made. The office’s physical address is the first address that the consumer sees when reading the letter, and it is provided below the name of Defendant’s company and next to office hours and a telephone phone number, making clear that it is a physical location at which correspondence can be received.”

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