Judge Partially Grants MSJ for Defendant in Itemized Debt Case

A District Court judge in Pennsylvania has partially granted and partially denied a defendant’s motion for summary judgment in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and Telephone Consumer Protection Act case that may offer a glimpse into how judges are going to address itemized debts once Regulation F goes into effect next week.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Huber v. Simon’s Agency can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff incurred four separate debts to a medical facility. At each visit, the plaintiff provided her cell phone number. Each of the four debts were placed with the defendant for collection. The defendant sent the plaintiff a letter after it received each debt from the creditor. Each debt was given its own account number, and the four accounts were aggregated under a master number.

The defendant placed two calls to the plaintiff’s cell phone seeking to collect on the first two debts. A financial advisor representing the plaintiff sent the defendant a letter disputing the first two debts and directing the defendant to stop contacting the plaintiff on her cell phone. After the third debt was placed with the defendant, it noted the cease and desist request on the master account and marked the third debt as disputed. After the fourth debt was placed with the defendant, it resumed making calls — 12 in all during a five-month span. On the final call, the plaintiff told the representative on the phone that her attorney had advised her that she should not be receiving calls from the defendant. She filed her suit a month later, alleging the defendant violated Sections 1692c, 1692g(a), and 1692e of the FDCPA and the TCPA by placing calls using an autodialer to her cell phone.

The 1692g claim relates to the last collection letter, which listed the amount due on the fourth debt ($178), the amount listed as “various other accounts total balance” ($517.50), or the sum of the two ($695.50).

“No context is required for Plaintiff to understand the amount of the debt,” wrote Judge Anita Brody of the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “That amount is clearly stated on the letter as ‘Amount.’ What is less clear is the total amount owed over all accounts, and to understand this total, the context of prior letters is required. But § 1692g does not require collectors to include a total of all accounts placed for collection, and because this information is supplementary, the law requiring that each letter intelligibly communicate the elements of § 1692g does not apply.”

The 1692e claim relates to the same issue, but this time, Judge Brody ruled that the letter was unclear about how much the plaintiff owed – $517.50 or $695.50. Because only one of those can be true, the judge granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff.

With regard to the cease-and-desist request, Judge Brody believed the defendant when it said calls placed after the request were made were specifically to try and collect on the fourth debt only, and cease-and-desist requests can not be made in advance.

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