District Court: "Least sophisticated consumer" would not be misled by collection letter disclosures
On August 23, a magistrate judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado granted a defendant’s motion for summary judgment, ruling pursuant to the “least sophisticated consumer standard” that the debt collection letter accurately conveyed the subject FDCPA rights. The plaintiff alleged the defendant debt collector’s letter violated several sections of the FDCPA by, among other things, making false and misleading representations in violation of Section 1682e by informing the plaintiff that “calling for further information or making a payment is not a substitute for disputing the debt” because it implied that disputing the debt was mandatory instead of optional. Additionally, the plaintiff contended that this language overshadowed and contradicted the required disclosure on the second page of the letter by “suggest[ing] that disputing the debt was mutually exclusive to making a payment”—an alleged violation of Section 1692g. The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff lacked standing to sue, or in the alternative, that he lacked sufficient evidence to prove his FDCPA claims.
The court disagreed, ruling that the plaintiff’s alleged injuries (that the FDCPA violation caused him to not pay his debt and that he lost out on the ability to make payments or to, among other things, negotiate a separate payment plan) did not rise to the level of tangible harm necessary to satisfy Article III standing. The court then reviewed the letter’s disclosures under the least sophisticated consumer standard and determined that “it is one thing to say that making a payment and disputing a debt are different, and another entirely to suggest that they are mutually exclusive. The phrase, ‘IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR,’ does not carry any reasonable implication of exclusivity, and in fact demonstrates, when read in full context, that Defendant is informing Plaintiff that making a payment does not take the place of disputing the debt. In other words, both can be pursued without exclusivity.” Moreover, because the language is not misleading or contradictory, the court ruled that it did not overshadow the second-page disclosure, which informed him of his right (but not obligation) to dispute the debt.