2nd Circuit says collection letter sent on law firm letterhead did not violate FDCPA
On February 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of a defendant law firm accused of violating the FDCPA when it sent the plaintiff a collection letter on law firm letterhead. The plaintiff claimed both that the letter overshadowed her validation notice by failing to advise her that her validation rights were not overridden because her account had been placed with a law firm and that the letter falsely implied it was a communication from an attorney even though no attorney was meaningfully involved in collecting the debt, which courts have found is prohibited under the FDCPA. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendant on both grounds. The district court held that “because there was meaningful attorney involvement in the collection of plaintiff’s debt,” the letter was not required to include a disclaimer regarding the lack of attorney involvement in the debt collection effort. Additionally, the district court held that because the letter did not refer to any consequences should the plaintiff fail to repay the outstanding debt, “the mere fact that [the] Collection Letter is printed on law firm letterhead does not, by itself, imply an immediate threat of legal action overshadowing a validation notice in violation of the FDCPA.” The plaintiff appealed.
In affirming the grant of summary judgment, the appellate court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that, because several of the steps the attorney supposedly followed were “performed by non-attorneys,” were “automated,” or could have been completed in a minimal amount of time, there was not meaningful attorney involvement. According to the 2nd Circuit, even if these facts were true, they did not refute the attorney’s “statement that he conducted a meaningful legal analysis of [plaintiff’s] account and ‘formed an opinion about how to manage [the] case.’” “We have never established a specific minimum period of review time to qualify as meaningful attorney involvement, and the only function that [plaintiff] has identified that [defendant] did not perform before approving the letter was establishing a specific plan to sue in the event of non-payment.” Consequently, the appellate court concluded that the FDCPA did not require the defendant to provide a disclaimer in its initial collection letter to the plaintiff.