A collector is not obligated to include a notification that the statute of limitations on a debt has expired as long as it does not initiate or threaten legal action on the debt, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled yesterday in affirming a lower court’s decision.
A copy of the ruling in the case of Matteo v. EOS USA can be accessed by clicking here.
The plaintiff received a collection letter from the defendant back in 2021. The letter indicated the defendant had a “willingness” to work with the plaintiff on her account and that it was there to “assist” and “help” the plaintiff, and that if the plaintiff was not able to pay the balance in full, she should contact the defendant to “discuss other options.”
The plaintiff filed suit, alleging the letter violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and Pennsylvania state law because it attempted to collect on a debt that was beyond the statute of limitations, and that by using words like “help” and “assist” was false, deceptive, or misleading. The state court judge determined the plaintiff failed to plead sufficient facts to support a claim that the letter violated the FDCPA and the state law, which the plaintiff appealed to the state Superior Court.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued the letter was false, deceptive, or misleading because it offered “financial freedom even though such freedom had already been obtained by virtue of the statute of limitations.”
The Superior Court, looking to what its brethren at the federal level have done, noted the ruling from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Tatis v. Allied Interstate in which a collector was found to violate the FDCPA by including the word “settlement” in a letter seeking to work out an arrangement on a time-barred debt. This letter, the Superior Court noted, did not offer to settle the debt. “The letter merely suggests that Matteo call EOS, at which time options can be discussed,” the Court wrote. There was nothing in this letter that would “deceive or mislead the least-sophisticated debtor into believing that she has a legal obligation to pay the time-barred debt.”
Furthermore, indicating a “willingness to work with you” and the opportunity to “discuss other options” do not imply a threat of litigation, the Superior Court wrote.