7th Circuit: Separately reporting multiple debts is not a violation of the FDCPA
On July 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of an FDCPA action claiming a collection agency (defendant) unfairly reported debts separately to a consumer reporting agency (CRA) instead of aggregating all of them into one debt. According to the opinion, the plaintiffs each defaulted on multiple medical services from their healthcare provider. The defendant eventually reported each debt separately to a consumer reporting agency. An amended complaint was filed alleging the defendant violated FDCPA Section 1692f by using unfair or unconscionable means to collect a debt because the debts were reported separately rather than aggregated together. The district court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the argument was “unsupported by the FDCPA’s prohibition of ‘unfair or unconscionable’ means to collect a debt.” The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that they owed a single debt to the healthcare providers.
On appeal, the 7th Circuit examined how the FDCPA defines a “debt,” and determined that its use in the statute is on a “per-transaction” basis”—which meant that the separate debts did not comprise a “single debt” under the FDCPA. The appellate court also determined that none of the eight examples of “unfair or unconscionable to collect or attempt to collect” a debt in the FDCPA addressed the “separate-versus-aggregate reporting of debts.” Thus, the 7th Circuit concluded, “It is reasonable, and not at all deceptive or outrageous, for a collector to report individually debts that correspond to different charges, thereby communicating truthfully how much is owed on each debt.” Moreover, the appellate court noted that “[s]ome consumers may prefer to have their debts reported in a way that conceals debt-specific information, like how much is owed on individual debts, when specific debts were incurred, and which debts are stale. Those consumers may be willing to forego the more detailed information on their credit reports if the aggregated reporting increases their credit scores. But a preference does not necessarily equal an injustice, partiality, or deception.”