Recently, a Federal District Court for the District of New Jersey ruled that a letter from a debt collector to a consumer’s attorney is a communication that is subject to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Allen v. LaSalle Bank, N.A., No. 09-1466, 2011 WL 94420 (3d Cir. 2011). As a result, the consumer was permitted to sue the debt collector under the FDCPA for inaccuracies in the collection letter.
In that case, the letter overstated the amounts due for attorney’s fees, search fees, recording fees and process service fees. Such inaccurate information in a demand letter sent by a debt collector to a consumer is prohibited by the FDCPA.
The debt collector argued that the FDCPA did not apply since the letter had been sent to the attorney for the consumer, rather than the consumer herself. It elaborated that the consumer’s attorney would have easily recognized the overcharges and protected the consumer. Therefore, the public policy underlying the law; namely, to protect consumer debtors from being misled, was satisfied.
The Court did not accept this argument and held that the letter was an improper communication under the FDCPA regardless of who received it. The Court reasoned that the FDCPA is a strict liability statute; in other words, it imposes liability without proof of an intentional violation. Thus, permitting an improper communication to escape FDCPA liability simply because the communication was sent to a consumer’s attorney, rather than the consumer herself, would undermine the deterrent effect of the statute.
© 2011 Nissenbaum Law Group, LLC