7th Circuit: Debt collector’s email not a “communication” under the FDCPA
On August 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed a summary judgment ruling in favor of a consumer, concluding that a debt collector’s emails did not constitute a “communication” under the FDCPA. According to the opinion, the debt collector sent a consumer two emails about separate medical debts containing hyperlinks to the debt collector’s website, which then required the user to click through various screens to access and download a document containing the disclosures required under Section 1692g(a) of the FDCPA. The consumer did not open the emails. After finding out about the debt collection effort from the hospital, the consumer called the debt collector for more information; however, the required disclosures were not provided over the phone or sent in a written notice within the next five days. The consumer filed suit against the debt collector alleging it violated Section 1692g(a) by not providing the disclosures during her phone call or within five days after the call as required by law. The company argued that the emails were the FDCPA’s “initial communications” and contained the mandatory disclosures. The lower court granted the consumer’s motion for summary judgment.
On appeal, the 7th Circuit rejected the debt collector’s arguments that the emails constituted a “communication” under the FDCPA, noting that other appellate courts have held the message “must at least imply the existence of a debt,” and the emails only contained the name and email address of the debt collector. Moreover, the appellate court took issue with the multistep process required to access the validation notice, concluding “[a]t best, the emails provided a digital pathway to access the required information. And we’ve already rejected the argument that a communication ‘contains’ the mandated disclosures when it merely provides a means to access them.”
Notably, the CFPB filed an amicus brief in the action, seeking affirmation of the lower court’s ruling on the separate theory that the debt collector allegedly failed to satisfy the conditions of the E-Sign Act. However, because the court affirmed the decision on other grounds, it chose not to address the E-Sign Act.