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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

3rd Circuit Limits furnishers’ labeling authority

Courts Third Circuit Appeals Debt Collection CRA Credit Furnishing

Courts

On October 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that a collection agency who was acting as a furnisher of credit reporting information could not shirk its duty to investigate a dispute by labeling the dispute “frivolous” when the complaint was referred for investigation by a credit reporting agency (CRA).  The decision overturned the lower court’s ruling which had sided with the furnisher.

According the ruling, the plaintiff in this action claimed that a fraudulent account had been opened in his name with a television service provider. Plaintiff was described as having first disputed the account directly with the television service provider, but failed to provide supporting documents which the television service provider had requested.  Following the plaintiff’s failure to provide the requested documentation, the television service provider referred the disputed account to the collection agency, who in turn reported the delinquent account to the CRA.

The ruling states that when the disputed account appeared on the plaintiff’s consumer report, the plaintiff made an indirect dispute of the information with the CRA, who in turn forwarded the dispute to the collection agency for investigation. The ruling notes that the collection agency undertook no further investigation in response to the dispute, and instead merely confirmed the account information and updated the plaintiff’s address, which the court noted took only 13 seconds.

The court noted that although the FCRA does allow for the recipient of disputes “to preliminarily vet the dispute for frivolousness or irrelevance before investigating,” once a CRA has referred a dispute to a furnisher, “the furnisher does not have such discretion.” Because in this case the collection agency had been referred to it by a CRA, it “had a duty to investigate [plaintiff’s] indirect dispute when it received notice thereof from [the CRA].”