In a case that was defended by Malone Frost Martin, 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 because it included a statement in a collection letter requesting that the plaintiff send all correspondence to a specific P.O. Box, thereby creating the impression that disputes could only be filed in writing.
A copy of the ruling in the case of Weinberg v. RGS Financial can be accessed by clicking here.
The plaintiff received a collection letter from the defendant. The front page of the letter listed a number of pieces of information, including the defendant’s street address, two phone numbers where it could be reached (one by phone and one by text), a website address, and its Facebook page. The front page of the letter also included information about the account. At the bottom of the front page was a statement referring the plaintiff to the other side of the letter for more “important” information, and, beneath that, a mailing coupon with a message that said, “PLEASE SEND ALL CORRESPONDENCE TO:” and included the Defendant’s P.O. Box address. The reverse side of the letter included the standard validation notice, among other pieces of information.
The plaintiff alleged the letter violated Sections 1692g, 1692g(b), 1692e, and 1692e(10) of the FDCPA because a least sophisticated consumer would believe that all disputes had to be filed in writing because of the request to send all correspondence to the P.O. Box, and that including the validation notice was “buried,” discouraging the least sophisticated consumer from reading it, rendering the letter false, deceptive, and misleading.
A least sophisticated consumer would not believe that the request to send all correspondence to a specific address imposed a “mandatory writing requirement” for disputes, ruled Judge Dora Irizarry of the District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
“Defendant’s correspondence instruction merely alerts the consumer that it prefers to receive written correspondence at its P.O. Box address rather than its street address,” Judge Irizarry wrote. “It neither mandates that all disputes be made in writing nor foreclose oral communications. Indeed, Defendant lists its phone number four times in the Letter, a fact that Plaintiff does not acknowledge or address. Defendant directs Plaintiff to call its phone number in two locations ‘to make alternate arrangements’ or to ‘pay by phone.’ “
As to the claim that the validation notice was buried because it was on the reverse side of the letter, a least sophisticated consumer would read the notice at the bottom of the front page that said, “NOTICE: SEE REVERSE SIDE FOR IMPORTANT INFORMATION” and do just that.