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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

9th Circuit affirms FDCPA decision in favor of debt collector

Courts Appellate FDCPA Debt Collection Credit Report Ninth Circuit Least Sophisticated Consumer Credit Cards

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On December 18, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the decision of the trial court in favor of a debt collector in an FDCPA action brought by a consumer claiming that the debt collector used false, deceptive, or misleading means in attempting to collect a debt. The consumer, in 2006, opened a credit card account with a bank, but stopped sending payments in December of 2008, without paying off the balance. The bank later sold the consumer’s unpaid account to a debt collector in 2009, after which the debt collector sent a letter to the consumer in 2017 in an effort to collect the past due balance. The consumer filed a complaint against the debt collector, claiming that the debt was “time-barred” as the six-year statute of limitations had run and that the debt collector violated the FDCPA by not disclosing this in the letter to him. The district court granted the debt collector’s summary judgment motion.

On appeal, the consumer again claimed that the debt collector’s language is “deceptive or misleading,” specifically in the debt collector’s disclosure in the letter that read, “[t]he law limits how long you can be sued on a debt and how long a debt can appear on your credit report. Due to the age of this debt, we will not sue you for it or report payment or non-payment of it to a credit bureau.” The court disagreed. According to the opinion, even though the six-year statute to sue in order to collect had expired, “nothing in the letter falsely implies that [the debt collector] could bring a legal action against [the consumer] to collect the debt.” Further, the court determined that the “least sophisticated debtor would [not] likely be misled” by the debt collector’s disclosure, because the “natural conclusion” that could be drawn from the collector’s language was that the debt was time-barred. Additionally, the court rejected the consumer’s contention that the debt collector’s letter was “deceptive or misleading” because it failed to warn the consumer that in some states, the statute of limitations to sue on a debt may be revived if the debtor promises to pay or makes a partial payment on the debt. The court stated that the FDCPA does not require a debt collector to “provide legal advice” about specific issues such as a revival provision in a state statute of limitations. The panel also pointed out that although the statute may have run for the debt collector to take legal action in order to recover the outstanding debt, as long as it complies with the law and does not use misleading, false, or deceptive means, the FDCPA allows it to continue its efforts to collect on a lawful debt.

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