A District Court judge in Pennsylvania has certified a class action in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act lawsuit that accused a defendant of violating the statute by mentioning in a letter that a judgment may be awarded before the expiration of a settlement offer that was being made, even though a collection lawsuit had yet to be filed.
A copy of the ruling in the case of Butela v. Midland Credit Management can be accessed by clicking here.
The plaintiff received a collection letter from the defendant that offered a “discount program” for his “Legal Collections account without any further legal action.” The letter said the offer had to be accepted by Sept. 15, 2020, about a month after it had been sent. The letter also included the following statement: “A judgment could be awarded by the court before the expiration of the discount offer listed in this letter.” The issue is that the defendant had yet to initiate a collection lawsuit against the plaintiff.
A day after receiving the letter the plaintiff filed suit, alleging it violated Sections 1692e and 1692f of the FDCPA because it made false, misleading, and deceptive misrepresentations about the debt in question. Specifically, how could the defendant obtain a judgment within 30 days if it had not even filed a lawsuit against the plaintiff yet?
The defendant made a number of arguments in attempting to convince Judge William M. Stickman of the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania that the class should not be certified, but none were successful. For example, the defendant argued that the size of the class is unascertainable because identifying class members would require individualized inquiries into who received a letter and when. Judge Stickman then went into an analysis of when an FDCPA violation occurs: when the letter is sent or when it is received. Ultimately settling on a violation occurring when a letter is sent, Judge Stickman ruled the individualized inquiry is not necessary.