Judge Grants MTD Over Settlement Language in Letter

Have you seen those videos, where someone painstakingly takes clips from actors saying different words and assembles them into recreations of songs or famous speeches? Well, at the end of the day, what is recreated is still a song or a famous speech? Similarly, plaintiffs can’t parse words in collection letters and accuse a collector of violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, ruled a District Court judge, who has granted a defendant’s motion to dismiss.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Epps v. Fair Collections & Outsourcing can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff received a letter from the defendant that was titled “NOTICE OF SETTLEMENT IN FULL.” The plaintiff turned around and filed suit, alleging the statement violated Sections 1692e(2)(A), 1692e, and 1692e(10) of the FDCPA because the word “settlement” and the phrase “in full” contradict one another. Settlement means to pay something for less than the amount owed and “in full” means exactly the opposite, the plaintiff claimed.

Helping the defendant’s case was a chart that was included at the top of the letter that listed the principal amount of the debt ($1,544.52), the amount paid to the defendant ($1,000), and the balance ($0.00).

Rather than the defendant, it was the plaintiff who was misleading, ruled Judge Elizabeth Dillon of the District Court for the Western District of Virginia. The plaintiff “misleadingly reads the word ‘settled’ and ‘in full’ in isolation when the words must be read together and in the context of the entire letter,” Judge Dillon wrote. “When the words are read together, the least sophisticated consumer would understand the term ‘settled in full’ to mean that the debt was settled and the full amount of the settlement was paid. A contrary interpretation is unreasonable, particularly given that the letter indicates that the balance owed on the debt is $0.00. Thus, even with the FDCPA disclaimer, the term ‘settled in full’ is neither false nor misleading.”

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