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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

6th Circuit: Consumer lacks standing to bring FDCPA voice message claims

Courts Debt Collection FDCPA Appellate Sixth Circuit

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On August 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held 2-1 that a plaintiff lacked Article III standing to bring claims against a debt servicer defendant for allegedly violating the FDCPA by failing to properly identify itself in voice messages. The plaintiff filed suit in 2019 alleging violations of three FDCPA provisions, including that the defendant: (i) failed to identify itself as a debt collector in its voice messages; (ii) failed to identify the “true name” of its business, thus causing the plaintiff to send a cease-and-desist letter to the wrong entity; and (iii) placed calls without meaningfully disclosing its identity. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, ruling that because the defendant did not qualify as a “debt collector” under the FDCPA it was not subject to the statute’s requirements.

On appeal, the 6th Circuit raised the issue of standing “for the first time on appeal,” concluding that the plaintiff “does not automatically have standing simply because Congress authorizes a plaintiff to sue a debt collector for failing to comply with the FDCPA.” Pointing out that the appeal “centers on whether [the plaintiff] suffered a concrete injury,” the appellate court rejected the plaintiff’s arguments that the defendant’s statutory violations constituted a “concrete injury” and “that the confusion he suffered, the expense of counsel, and the phone call that he received from [the defendant] qualify as independent concrete injuries.” Among other things, the 6th Circuit noted that although the plaintiff claimed that the FDCPA “created an enforceable right to know who is calling about a debt and that [the defendant’s] failure to identify its full name concretely injured him,” the plaintiff ultimately failed to demonstrate that the defendant’s “failure to disclose its full identity in its voice messages resembles a harm traditionally regarded as providing a basis for a lawsuit.” Additionally, the appellate court determined that “confusion alone is not a concrete injury for Article III purposes,” and that the plaintiff “cannot show concrete harm simply by pointing to the cost of hiring counsel.” Moreover, because the plaintiff “did not clearly assert in his complaint that he received—let alone was harmed by—an additional phone call, [the appellate court] need not decide whether an unwanted call might qualify as a concrete injury.” The 6th Circuit vacated the district court’s order entering summary judgment and remanded the case to be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

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