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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

2nd Circuit: Interest disclosure in collection letter did not violate FDCPA

Courts State Issues Second Circuit Appellate Debt Collection FDCPA

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On April 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of an FDCPA action, holding that a debt collection letter that stated interest, late charges, and other charges “may” vary from day to day is not deceptive or misleading. According to the opinion, the plaintiff co-signed a student loan that fell into default and was charged-off. The creditor purchased the debt and placed the account with a collection agency (collectively, defendants), and a letter was sent to the plaintiff that included a “‘time sensitive’ offer” to pay a slightly reduced amount, as well as the following language: “Because of interest, late charges, and other charges that may vary from day to day, the amount due on the day you pay may be greater.” The plaintiff filed a class action complaint against the defendants, claiming the letter violated the FDCPA because it suggested that late fees and other charges could accrue, even though “such charges are not legally or contractually available.” After the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint adding more allegations. However, the amended complaint was marked as “deficient,” and because the 21-day window had closed, the plaintiff was required to request leave from either the defendants or the district court to re-file. The defendants did not consent to re-filing, and the district court denied the plaintiff’s motion for leave and granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss.

On appeal, the 2nd Circuit first examined whether the plaintiff had timely filed her amended complaint. In concluding that the amended complaint was timely filed (notwithstanding the deficiency notice), the appellate court stated that “when a plaintiff properly amends her complaint after a defendant has filed a motion to dismiss that is still pending, the district court has the option of either denying the pending motion as moot or evaluating the motion in light of the facts alleged in the amended complaint.” However, the appellate court nevertheless concluded that the district court properly dismissed the plaintiff’s amended complaint on the merits because she failed to sufficiently state a plausible claim for relief. Furthermore, because the initial letter said that interest and late charges “may” be applied to the balance, the appellate court concluded that the letter was not inaccurate and therefore not deceptive or misleading under the FDCPA even though the debt collector had not previously charged interest and did not intend to do so in the future. Moreover, acknowledging that interest may accrue is not “threatening” language under the FDCPA, the appellate court wrote.

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