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Edwards v. Powell

July 20, 2007

BARBARA EDWARDS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
POWELL, ROGERS & SPEAKS, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conti, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM ORDER

Pending before this court are cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings filed by defendant Powell, Rogers & Speaks, Inc. ("defendant" or "PRS") and plaintiff Barbara Edwards ("plaintiff"). In her one count complaint, plaintiff alleges that PRS violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692, (the "FDCPA") by sending a collection notice that did not comply with the FDCPA. Specifically, plaintiff asserts that the collection notice failed to inform plaintiff that for a dispute of the debt sought to be collected to be effective, the dispute must be in writing.

Background

The collection notice at issue includes the following pertinent language:

Pursuant to 15 U.S.C. [§] 1692g, unless within 30 days after receipt of this letter you dispute the validity of the debt, or any portion thereof, this office will assume this debt is valid. If you notify this office in writing within the 30 day period that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed, this office will obtain verification of the debt or, if applicable, a copy of a judgment against you and mail you a copy of such verification or judgment. Upon your written request within the 30 day period, this office will provide you with the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor.

Compl. Ex. A. Plaintiff asserts that the first sentence in the quoted language (the "first sentence") violates the FDCPA because language to the effect that any dispute must be in writing was not included.

In its motion for judgment on the pleadings defendant argues that the collection notice fully complies with the FDCPA in that it sets forth the required language as established by section 1692g and recites the requisite language. In response, plaintiff moves for judgment on the pleadings arguing that the collection notice at issue violates the FDCPA by failing to include in the first sentence language that the dispute must be in writing.

On July 12, 2007, the court held a hearing on the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. As set forth more fully on the record, defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings was GRANTED and plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings was DENIED because the collection notice at issue satisfies the requirements established by 15 U.S.C. §1692g.

Standard of Review

A motion for judgment on the pleadings will not be granted "unless the movant clearly establishes that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Society Hill Civic Ass'n v. Harris, 632 F.2d 1045 (3d Cir.1980). When reviewing a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court must "view the facts presented in the pleadings and the inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Id.

Discussion

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act In its motion, defendant PRS argues that the claim asserted against it should be dismissed because the collection letter at issue satisfies the FDCPA in that it includes requisite language from section 1692g. Plaintiff argues that the collection letter does not satisfy the FDCPA because it does not advise the recipient in the first sentence that to be effective any dispute must be in writing.

The FDCPA allows consumers who have been subjected to abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices to recover damages, attorney's fees and costs. 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a). The FDCPA requires a debtor to send a written notice regarding a debt to the consumer. 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a). The notice must contain a statutorily required validation notice. Id. It is well settled that "statutory notice under the [FDCPA] is to be interpreted from the perspective of the "'least sophisticated debtor.'" Graziano v. Harrison, 950 F.2d 107, 111 (3d Cir.1991) (citing Baker v. G.C. Servs., 677 F.2d 775, 778 (9th Cir.1982)). To comply with the terms of the FDCPA, the statutorily required notice must explain a debtor's rights in an effective manner. Id. (citing Swanson v. Southern Oregon Credit Serv., 869 F.2d 1222, 1225 (9th Cir.1988)). For example, "the notice must not be overshadowed or contradicted by accompanying messages from the debt collector." Id. A collection letter "is deceptive when it can be reasonably read to have two or more meanings, one of which is inaccurate." Wilson v. Quadramed Corp., 225 F.3d 30, 354 (3d Cir.2000). "The least sophisticated debtor standard is lower than simply examining whether particular language would deceive or mislead a reasonable debtor." Id. Although the least sophisticated debtor standard protects the naive, it also "prevents liability for bizarre or idiosyncratic interpretations of collection notices by preserving a quotient of reasonableness and presuming a basic level of understanding and willingness to read with care." Id.

Generally, a validation notice must be sufficiently large and conspicuous to be noticed by the debtor, and "must not be overshadowed or contradicted by other messages from the debt collector." Graziano, 950 F.2d at 111. The extraneous language is considered overshadowing or contradictory if it would cause the least sophisticated debtor to become confused or uncertain as to his rights under the FDCPA. Adams v. Law Offices of ...


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