Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 07-cv-00092) District Judge: The Honorable Stewart Dalzell.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Weis, Circuit Judge.
Argued: September 11, 2008
Before: McKEE, SMITH, and WEIS, Circuit Judges.
In this appeal we consider whether a debt collection company violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by sending debtors settlement offers that bear the name of one of the company's senior executives. We conclude that no violation occurred in the circumstances presented here. Because the District Court held that the practice was not in conformity with the statute, we will remand for entry of judgment in favor of the collector-defendants.
Plaintiffs Lisa Y. Campuzano-Burgos, Charmaine T. Angus and Tiaisha C. Hall filed a complaint against defendants Midland Credit Management, Inc.; Midland Funding NCC-2 Corp.; MRC Receivables Corp.; Midland Funding, LLC; J. Brandon Black; and Ron Eckhardt alleging that defendants violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692-1692p, in sending false, misleading, or deceptive collection notices in contravention of §§ 1692e and 1692e(9) of the Act. Plaintiffs sought to bring a class action on behalf of themselves as well as other affected Pennsylvania residents.
Both parties filed motions for summary judgment directed only to the issue of liability. In a memorandum and order, the District Court, finding a general violation of § 1692e, denied Midland Credit's motion and granted partial summary judgment to plaintiffs. Following a conference with counsel, the district judge amended his order and, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), certified a controlling question of law: whether a senior officer of a collection company violates the Act by signing "dunning letters" sent to debtors. We accepted the certification.
Plaintiffs based their claims on three communications sent by Midland Credit to collect unpaid debts. One page documents containing three sections, the letters are nearly identical in content and form. They only materially differ with respect to the debtors' names, amounts due, and the typed names following the communications' complementary close. Two letters contain the name "Ron [or R.] Eckhardt, Executive Vice President/General Manager of Consumer Debt." On the third, "J. Black, President" appears.
One of the letters is reproduced below.
In a joint stipulation of facts, the parties agreed that Eckhardt and Black are real people employed by Midland Credit. The letters accurately reflect Eckhardt and Black's titles and positions. Neither individual is an attorney nor was identified as one. As officers of Midland Credit, Eckhardt and Black authorized the mailing of the communications. Neither man, however, wrote or signed any of the letters, nor did either executive know the amount of debts or of Midland Credit's actions in attempting to collect them. Both officers lacked knowledge that the letters were sent to plaintiffs, and neither man personally directed Midland Credit's staff to mail them.
Finding no determinative precedent in this Court's opinions, the district judge reviewed the Act's jurisprudence, focusing on case law addressing § 1692e(3)*fn1 and dunning letters sent by attorneys. Those cases, the District Court determined, "expresse[d] a general concern with debt collectors' practice of falsely implying that someone in a position of real authority [wa]s supervising the collection of [a] debt." CampuzanoBurgos v. Midland Credit Mgmt., Inc., 497 F. Supp. 2d 660, 664 (E.D. Pa. 2007).
The Court concluded that "the use of top executives of the company as signatories is likely meant to impress upon debtors the seriousness of the communication and will almost certainly have such an effect on at least some debtors." Id. at 665. Because Eckhardt and Black in this case had no "actual involvement in the decision to send the letter[s] to a particular debtor ...