A District Court judge in New Jersey — taking the issue up all on her own — has ruled that a plaintiff lacks standing to sue a collection agency after accusing it of violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act because it used multiple addresses in a collection letter and because it purportedly used a third-party letter vendor to print and mail the letter in question.
A copy of the ruling in the case of Madlinger v. Enhanced Recovery Company can be accessed by clicking here.
The plaintiff received a collection letter from the defendant, which the plaintiff claims was actually printed and mailed by a separate company, thereby exposing her information to an unauthorized third party, in violation of Section 1692c(b) of the FDCPA. The plaintiff also claimed the letter violated Sections 1692e, 1692e(10), 1692g, and 1692g(b) because it contained four different addresses and a least sophisticated consumer would be confused about which address to use if he or she wanted to dispute the debt.
Both the plaintiff and the defendant attempted to show that the plaintiff had standing to sue, but Judge Freda L. Wolfson of the District Court for the District of New Jersey, disagreed with both sides. Simply being confused about what address to send a dispute to is not enough of an injury for a plaintiff to have standing, Judge Wolfson ruled. In her complaint, the plaintiff did not allege that she sent dispute letters to any of the addresses in the original letter nor did not sending a dispute harm her in any way. “…general allegations regarding the possibility that the least sophisticated consumer would be confused as to which address to send a debt verification letter are insufficient,” Judge Wolfson wrote.
Regarding the third-party disclosure claim, the plaintiff’s complaint also failed to allege that anyone at the letter vendor actually read her letter — so how can the plaintiff be sure that her information was read by an unauthorized third party, Judge Wolfson asked. Even if someone had read it, the disclosure would still not be enough to constitute a violation of the FDCPA, Judge Wolfson wrote. “Taking the facts in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, even were the Court to construe the amended complaint as alleging that a small group of letter vendor employees may have read the collection letter, such a communication would be insufficient,” she said.
Finally, Judge Wolfson pointed out that this type of disclosure was not what Congress had in mind when it enacted the FDCPA. “The routine mailing of a letter by a third-party vendor notifying a consumer that their outstanding debt has been placed with a debt collector for collection is a far cry from the abusive, harassing debt collection practices that Congress sought to curtail,” Judge Wolfson wrote.