Appeals Court Upholds Anti-SLAPP Ruling for Defendant in RFDCPA Case

The Court of Appeals for the state of California has upheld a lower court’s ruling granting an anti-SLAPP motion against a plaintiff that accused a collection law firm of violating the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act in a case that the Appeals Court sought to answer whether a plaintiff must show materiality when alleging a violation of the RFDCPA that is premised on a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Aguilar v. Mandarich Law Group can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff stopped making payments on a credit card debt from OneMain Financial. OneMain then transferred the debt to OneMain Financial Issuance Trust, which charged off the account and sold it to CACH. The defendant filed a collection lawsuit on behalf of CACH, which identified OneMain Financial as the charge-off creditor. The plaintiff’s counsel came to believe that name of the charge-off creditor was not correct, and CACH ultimately dismissed the suit.

The plaintiff filed suit, alleging the law firm violated the RFDCPA because it violated Sections 1692e and 1692e(10) of the FDCPA for making false and deceptive representations in attempting to collect on a debt.

The defendant filed an anti-SLAPP motion, which is designed to provide for early dismissal of meritless lawsuits. The acronym “SLAPP” stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.” The defendant argued that the alleged violation arose from protected litigation activity — the collection lawsuit filed against the plaintiff. A state court judge granted the motion, which the plaintiff appealed.

The provision of the RFDCPA in question requires collectors to comply with Sections 1692b to 1692j of the FDCPA, and any alleged violation of those sections constitutes a violation of the RFDCPA.

“Aguilar has not shown how the purported misrepresentation of the charge-off creditor is a material misrepresentation under the standard applicable to alleged federal FDCPA violations, let alone how it would be likely to mislead the hypothetical least sophisticated debtor,” the Appeals Court wrote. “To the contrary, unlike the identity of a consumer’s original creditor, whose ‘false identification in a dunning letter would be likely to mislead some consumers in a material way’ (Tourgeman, at p. 1121), a hypothetical debtor receiving CACH’s collections complaint would recognize OneMain Financial as the creditor that issued and serviced the credit account until nonpayment on the account, charge-off, and sale to the debt buyer bringing the collections suit. The misidentification of the chargeoff creditor in this instance (OneMain Financial instead of OneMain Financial Issuance Trust) falls squarely within the category of ‘mere technical falsehoods that mislead no one.’ “

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