A District Court judge in Michigan has granted a defendant’s motion to dismiss a class action on one of the claims accusing a company of violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, but denied the motion to dismiss the remaining claims, ruling that using different account numbers when attempting to collect on the same debt and not responding to dispute requests is enough to classify the letters as deceptive and misleading.
A copy of the ruling in the case of Gowens v. Credit Control can be accessed by clicking here.
The plaintiff received four letters from the defendant, two letters attempting to collect on one debt, and two letters attempting to collect on a second debt. The first and third letters and the second and fourth letters were essentially the same, except the entry in the “Our Account.#” section of the letter was different.
- Letter 1: Mailed on June 30, 2020. Collecting $3,976.81 WebBank debt. “Our Acct.#” is 28321571.
- Letter 2: Mailed on July 31, 2020. Collecting $1,899.54 WebBank debt. “Our Acct.#” is 28544630.
- Letter 3: Mailed on November 24, 2020. Collecting $3,976.81 WebBank debt. “Our Acct.#” is 29405850.
- Letter 4: Mailed on February 1, 2021. Collecting $1,899.54 WebBank debt. “Our Acct.#” is 29852730.
The plaintiff claimed to have written to the defendant after receiving Letters 1 and 2, disputing the debt and asking for proof. She alleges that the defendant never responded to her requests.
The plaintiff filed suit, alleging the letters violated Sections 1692e(2)(A), 1692e(10), 1692d, and 1692f of the FDCPA, and sought to include anyone else who received similar letters from the defendant as members of the class.
With respect to the 1692e(2)(A) and 1692e(10) claims, Judge Terrence G. Berg of the District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, ruled that not only would a least sophisticated consumer have been confused by the letters – especially after filing disputes – but even an “individual who carefully read the letters” could “reasonable be confused as to the consequence or implication of the two different account numbers and find the numbers misleading. Why is a second notice arriving instead of a verification of the debt? Is the debt going to be collected twice? If I make a payment that references one account number, will the other account automatically be closed?”
The defendant attempted to say the use of different account numbers was irrelevant, but Judge Berg ruled that an “unsophisticated consumer has no way of knowing what is or is not relevant on a written collection notice” and denied the motion to dismiss on those counts.
The “severe confusion and frustration” that the plaintiff felt after receiving the letters was also enough for Judge Berg to deny the motion to dismiss the 1692d claim, although he did say his denial was “a close call.”
Judge Berg did grant the motion to dismiss on the 1692f claim, ruling that the defendant was authorized to collect the debts in question.