7th Circuit dismisses FDCPA action over interest accrued post-write off
On June 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of an action alleging a debt collector violated the FDCPA by attempting to collect interest that accrued on a debt after the creditor wrote off the debt but before the collector acquired it. According to the opinion, the plaintiffs’ original unpaid debt was $3,226.35 before the original creditor ceased collection efforts and stopped sending monthly statements. Approximately two years later, the creditor sold the debt to the collection agency, and approximately two years after that, the debt collector sent a demand letter seeking payment of $5,800, which included around $1,600 in interest for the months after the original creditor ceased collection efforts. The debt collector sent a second letter two months later, and a third letter the following year to their attorney in response to the attorney’s request to verify the debt, but the third letter did not explain how much of the debt was interest. The plaintiffs filed the action against the debt collector, alleging the collector violated the FDCPA’s prohibition on false, deceptive, or misleading representations in connection with collection of a debt by demanding interest that accrued between charge-off and sale. The district court dismissed the action as untimely.
On appeal, the 7th Circuit affirmed dismissal, but determined the suit was filed timely. Specifically, the appellate court concluded that the one year statute of limitations applied to the third letter the debt collector sent to the plaintiffs’ lawyer in response to a demand for debt verification. However, the appellate court concluded that the third collection letter did not violate the FDCPA, arguing the plaintiffs “promised to pay interest, and [the debt collector]’s computer used the correct rate.” Moreover, the appellate court stated that “[a] statement is false, or not, when made; there is no falsity by hindsight,” and previous instances in the circuit “in which a letter was deemed to have falsely stated the amount of the debt dealt with errors known or readily knowable when the letter was sent.” Lastly, the appellate court rejected the plaintiffs’ post-argument submission that the debt collector “must openly state the legal position behind its calculation” in order to avoid having the letter be misleading, noting that the third letter was sent to their lawyer, and it “would not have misled a competent lawyer.”