A District Court judge in Pennsylvania has certified a class in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case over a 1692e claim that the manner in which a series of debts were itemized in a collection letter was misleading, disagreeing with the defendant that there is no evidence that other members of the class were confused by the letters that they received.
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 final collection letter listed the amount due as a result of the fourth visit, the amount due from the three previous visits (under the heading: various other accounts total balance) and the sum of the two amounts. The plaintiff sued, arguing, in part, that the fourth letter was not clear about how much was owed.
Judge Anita Brody of the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania last month granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the claim that the letters violated Section 1692g of the FDCPA, and granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on the 1692e claim.
Nearly 700 other individuals received similar letters from the defendant.
One question Judge Brody asked during her analysis was whether a least sophisticated consumer would be confused if the balances in the “amount” and “various other accounts” boxes were the same, perhaps if an individual had only one account with the original creditor.
“I find it readily believable that a least sophisticated debtor would be so confused,” she ruled. “Huber’s own situation-having multiple doctors within the Crozer network, all of whom she visited regularly, making it impossible for her to keep track of how many visits she had made and thus the number of debts she had accrued-is not atypical. Uncertainty as to the number of debts could readily translate to uncertainty as to amount owed; the letter in our hypothetical, with ‘$100’ in each box, still has two reasonable meanings.”
Judge Brody also ruled that the defendant’s argument that nobody else complained about being confused by the letter was “not germane” to her analysis because it is her job only to determine if a least sophisticated consumer would be confused, not that a specific plaintiff was.