A debt that is sold to a third party can be confusing for a consumer, but confusion is not grounds for standing to sue under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and bad lawyer jokes aside, using legal terms does not constitute the use of obscene or profane language, a District Court judge in Pennsylvania has ruled, granting a defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
A copy of the ruling in the case of Berrian v. Midland Credit Management can be accessed by clicking here.
The plaintiff received a letter from the defendant in 2020, indicating that it had purchased her defaulted credit card debt, providing a validation notification, and other details about her account. The defendant sent several more letters, including one that indicated that she might be subject to legal action if she did not make contact about the debt. The plaintiff did not respond to any of the letters. The defendant filed a collection lawsuit, at which point the plaintiff tried to make contact to settle her debt, but was not successful. The defendant ultimately dismissed the lawsuit and discharged the debt.
The plaintiff filed suit, alleging the defendant violated multiple sections of the FDCPA, as well as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, and state law by intentionally inflicting emotional distress because she was pregnant at the time the lawsuit was filed against her.
The plaintiff accused the defendant of communicating with third parties about the debt — the three major credit reporting agencies — but that is allowed under the FDCPA. The plaintiff also claimed the defendant used obscene or profane language when attempting to collect, but the plaintiff’s allegations that words like “legal,” “judgment,” “attorney,” “lawsuit,” “debt,” and “litigation” are not obscene, however disconcerting they may be, ruled Judge Joshua D. Wolson of the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
The plaintiff also claimed the defendant never had a right or agreement to collect on the underlying debt and that it never provided the required validation information, but it did, Judge Wolson noted, and even if it didn’t, the claim was barred by the FDCPA’s one year statute of limitations.
The plaintiff “struggled to understand how she came to be in contact with Midland, and her confusion was understandable,” Judge Wolson wrote. “But Midland had the right to collect her debt, and it didn’t do anything wrong when it sought to collect.”