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Douglass v. Convergent Outsourcing

United States District Court, Third Circuit

August 6, 2013



JOEL H. SLOMSKY, District Judge.


The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (the "FDCPA") prohibits debt collectors from using any "unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect any debt." 15 U.S.C. § 1692f. Plaintiff Courtney Douglass, a resident of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, was sent a debt collection letter by Defendant Convergent Outsourcing.[1] Plaintiff contends that the envelope which contained the debt collection letter violates a section of the FDCPA that bars debt collectors from:

Using any language or symbol, other than the debt collector's address, on any envelope when communicating with a consumer by use of the mails or by telegram, except that a debt collector may use his business name if such name does not indicate that he is in the debt collection business.

15 U.S.C. § 1692f(8).

Defendant has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that Plaintiff's claim should be dismissed because the language on the envelope is "benign, " and therefore not in violation of § 1692f(8). For reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted.


On or about May 16, 2011, Defendant sent a letter to Plaintiff attempting to collect payment on a debt of $802.04 that Plaintiff had incurred from T-Mobile USA for cell phone service. (Doc. No. 29 at 2.) The envelope containing the letter had a clear plastic window. (Id. at 2-3.) Through the window, the following were visible: (1) Plaintiff's name and address; (2) an internal account number Defendant used to identify Plaintiff ("7630549"); and (3) a Quick Response ("QR") code.[2] (Doc. No. 52 at 4-5.) The QR code contains encoded information, and can be "scanned" by certain devices, such as a smartphone, to decode the information and reveal its contents. (Id. at 5.) The QR code on Plaintiff's envelope, if scanned by such a device, would reveal the following information:

ATERSO01, #K#02R-7630549, Courtney Douglass, 228 King St Apt 3, Pottstown, PA, XXXXXXXXXXXX, R241, 802.04

(Doc. No. 36 at 1 (underline in original).) In the string of numbers, "7630549" is Plaintiff's account number with Convergent Outsourcing, and "802.04" represents the debt she owed to T-Mobile. (Doc. No. 36 at 6.) Plaintiff's address is 228 King St., Apt. 3, Pottstown, PA 19464. (Doc. No. 52 at 4.) Defendant uses the QR code to efficiently sort mail that is returned to the sender. (Mot. Hr'g Tr. at 11:18-12:7, May 29, 2013.)

On March 26, 2012, Plaintiff filed the Complaint (Doc. No. 1), alleging that Defendant has violated the literal meaning of 15 U.S.C. § 1692f(8) by including the QR code and account number in a location visible through the clear plastic window of the envelope. On April 27, 2012, Plaintiff amended the Complaint. (Doc. No. 2.) On November 9, 2012, the Complaint was amended a second time. (Doc. No. 29.) Defendant filed its Answer to the Second Amended Complaint on November 26, 2012. (Doc. No. 32.)

On November 30, 2012, Defendant filed the Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that the information visible through the window of the envelope is subject to a "benign language" exception, and therefore including it on the face of the envelope does not violate § 1692f. (Doc. No. 36.) On May 15, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition to the Motion[3] (Doc. No. 52), and on May 21, 2013, Defendant filed a Reply (Doc. No. 54). On May 29, 2013, the Court held a hearing on the Motion.[4] The Motion is now ripe for disposition.


Granting summary judgment is an extraordinary remedy. Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In reaching this decision, the court must determine "whether the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, and affidavits show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and whether the moving party is therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Macfarlan v. Ivy Hill SNF, LLC. , 675 F.3d 266, 271 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). A disputed issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party. Kaucher v. Cnty. of Bucks , 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Doe v. Luzerne Cnty. ...

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