In a case that was defended by Patrick Watts at Martin Lyons Watts Morgan, a District Court judge in Missouri has granted a defendant’s motion to dismiss a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case after it was sued because it should have known that a previous collector had been notified that the plaintiff was represented by an attorney, ruling that the plaintiff’s reliance on a “chain of speculation” is not enough to keep the case going.
A copy of the ruling in the case of Gattison v. Credit Control can be accessed by clicking here.
The plaintiff owed a debt that was placed with a collection agency. The agency contacted the plaintiff, at which point the plaintiff retained an attorney. The plaintiff alleged that, upon information and belief, the collector returned the debt to the original creditor and informed the creditor that the plaintiff had retained an attorney. The debt was sold to a separate entity and that entity placed the account with the defendant for collection. The plaintiff alleged the file should have included information reflecting the plaintiff had retained an attorney and that the defendant should have discovered that fact upon receiving the account and reviewing it.
The defendant sent the plaintiff a letter, at which point the plaintiff filed suit, alleging the defendant violated Section 1692c of the FDCPA, which prohibits collectors from communicating with individuals who are represented by attorneys.
In order to state a claim that a collector violated that section of the FDCPA, the plaintiff must plausibly alleged that the collector knows the consumer is represented by an attorney, noted Judge Audrey G. Fleissig of the District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. In this case, the only entity that had knowledge of the plaintiff’s representation was the initial debt collector. After that, Judge Fleissig ruled, everything is speculation. “Absent facts to plausibly suggest Plaintiff’s speculation is accurate, Plaintiff cannot state a claim under the FDCPA,” she wrote.
Noting that the plaintiff is correct in arguing that allegations pled on “information and belief” are not insufficient to state a claim, Judge Fleissig said that “some factual basis for the inference of liability or the reasonable belief that the information supporting such liability is in the sole possession of the defendant” are needed. “Plaintiff’s complaint lacks such factual basis, and the several links in Plaintiff’s alleged information-transfer chain also demonstrate that Credit Control is not in sole possession of the evidence needed to support Plaintiff’s claim.”