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Hillman v. NCO Financial Systems, Inc.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

September 25, 2013

BRANDON HILLMAN, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
NCO FINANCIAL SYSTEMS, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

DuBOIS, JAN E., J.

I. INTRODUCTION

This class action was brought by Brandon Hillman on behalf of himself and others similarly situated seeking damages arising from debt-collection letters mailed by defendants to Hillman and others that allegedly violated provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. Presently before the Court is defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants defendant’s motion.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff initiated the instant suit on April 19, 2013, asserting a claim under the FDCPA, against defendant NCO Financial Systems, Inc. On March 11, 2013, plaintiff received a letter (“the Letter”) from defendant demanding payment of an alleged debt. Compl. ¶ 10. This was defendant’s initial communication with plaintiff. Id. ¶ 11. Plaintiff highlights language in the Letter, an excerpt of which states:

Unless you notify this office within 30 days after receiving this notice that 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 30 days from receiving this notice, this office will obtain verification of the debt or obtain a copy of a judgment and mail you a copy of such judgment or verification. If you request this office in writing within 30 days after receiving this notice, this office will provide you with the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor.

Id. ¶ 13 (emphasis added); Letter, Mar. 11, 2013, Ex. A. to Compl.

After plaintiff received the Letter, plaintiff commenced this lawsuit on behalf of himself and others who have received similar letters from defendant. Plaintiff alleges that the Letter violates 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a)(4) because it fails to disclose to the consumer, as the statute requires, that the consumer must notify the office within thirty days that he or she disputes the validity of the debt to trigger the statutory right to verification. Merely “notify[ing] the office” that the consumer requests verification, according to plaintiff, is insufficient to obtain the statute’s protections. Compl. ¶ 16.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

A debt collector must include the statutorily required “debt validation notice” in any debt-collection letter sent to a consumer. Wilson v. Quadramed Corp., 225 F.3d 350, 354 (3d Cir. 2000). To comply with the statutory requirements, the notice must contain the required disclosures and effectively convey these disclosures to the debtor. Id. A debt collector need not quote the statute verbatim to satisfy its requirements. See, e.g., Dutterer v. Thomas Kalperis Int’l, Inc., 767 F.Supp.2d 504, 508 (E.D. Pa. 2011).

In analyzing communications that potentially give rise to claims under the FDCPA, the “least sophisticated debtor” standard applies. Brown v. Card Service Center, 464 F.3d 450, 453 (3d Cir. 2006). “[T]he basic purpose of the least-sophisticated consumer standard is to ensure that the FDCPA protects all consumers, the gullible as well as the shrewd. This standard is consistent with the norms that courts have traditionally applied in consumer-protection law.” Id. (quoting Clomon v. Jackson, 988 F.2d 1314, 1318 (2d Cir. 1993)). Application of the least-sophisticated consumer standard “requires that courts consider the impression that the least sophisticated debtor would receive from the debt collector’s communications.” Martsolf v. JBC Legal Group, P.C., No. 04-cv-1346, 2008 WL 275719, *3 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 30, 2008).

IV. DISCUSSION

“Congress enacted the FDCPA in 1977 after noting the ‘abundant evidence of the use of abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices by many debt collectors.’” Brown v. Card Service Center, 464 F.3d 450, 453 (3d Cir.2006) (quoting 15 U.S.C. § 1692(a)). In order to enhance the protections available to consumers, the FDCPA provides “a private cause of action against debt collectors who fail to comply with the Act. . . . A prevailing plaintiff under the Act is ...


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