Judge Partially Grants MSJ for Plaintiff in FDCPA Case Over Text Message

A District Court judge in Alabama has ruled that a debt collector that outsourced the scrubbing of its accounts for bankruptcy filings is not entitled to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act’s bona fide error defense and that the requirement of including the mini-Miranda notice in any communication thus turns any communication into an attempt to collect on a debt, partially granting a plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Carter v. Capital Link Management can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff purchased a home security system, which, after a period of time, she transferred into the name of her former boyfriend. The account became delinquent and was the plaintiff began receiving collection letters regarding the debt from Mountain Run Solutions. The plaintiff filed for bankruptcy protection. More than two years later, in October 2020, Mountain Run placed the account with the defendant for collection. The defendant sent the plaintiff a text message, saying:

Diandrea Carter Capital Link Management now handles your Vivint Alarm Reporting on Credit as Mountain Run Solutions account. This communication is from a debt collector, this is an attempt to collect a debt. Please go to the link for more details https://yng.link/BY340406bq. Questions please call 1 833 906 2937.

The plaintiff responded back that the debt had been settled in her bankruptcy filing and that she would be turning the text message over to her attorney. The defendant replied with a message indicating the plaintiff had opted out of receiving subsequent messages and would no longer be receiving texts.

The plaintiff also claims to have received phone calls from the defendant, but the defendant denied any association with the numbers used to place those calls. Any subsequent contact came when the plaintiff contacted the defendant directly, not via outgoing calls placed by the defendant.

In filing her suit, the plaintiff accused the defendant of violating Sections 1692e, 1692c(a)(2), and 1692c(c) of the FDCPA.

The defendant argued that the text message was not an attempt to collect on the debt because it made no demand or request for payment. But, Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala of the District Court for the Northern District of Alabama noted, that the defendant’s argument “conflicts with the plain language of the text message, which states, in pertinent part: ‘This communication is from a debt collector, this is an attempt to collect a debt.’ ” The message also referenced a specific debt, thus making the text a “false representation” because it asserted that money was due.

The defendant also argued that it should be entitled to the FDCPA’s bona fide error defense, but Judge Haikala ruled that the defendant’s actions were “not intentional.”

“When it sent the text message, Capital Link was not aware that Ms. Carter had filed for bankruptcy or was represented by an attorney in connection with the debt,” Judge Haikala wrote. “Moreover, Ms. Carter had not notified Capital Link in writing that she refused to pay the debt or that she wished communications to cease. Thus, Capital Link did not deliberately contact a debtor who had filed for bankruptcy, was represented by an attorney, was refusing to pay the debt, or wished communications to cease.”

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