Steve Harms

Friday, March 28, 2014

FDCPA....your letters don't have to use the EXACT language if they mean the same thing!

So, what would happen if your validation letter to a debtor read that the debtor has to respond within "30 days of receiving this letter" rather than within "30 days after receiving this letter"???

A suit was brought on the use of "of" being misleading.

The matter was appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and lo and behold, score one for the debt collector!   The Sixth Circuit held that using "of" instead of "after" didn't alter the meaning of the validation language, so the court dismissed the suit against the debt collector.

As per a well written article in Inside Arm.com,

the three-judge panel noted that a collector need not parrot the FDCPA to comply with it. “A statement works if it speaks with enough clarity to convey the required information to a reasonable but unsophisticated consumer,” the unanimous panel wrote. “The letter to Wallace did that. It informed him that he had thirty days to dispute the debt, that the clock would start running when he received the letter (rather than, say, when Diversified sent the letter), and that if he did not act the collector would assume the debt’s validity.”

Wallace argued that “of” and “after” are different words, and that they can bear different meanings. The judges agreed, but noted that “this possibility does not make Diversified’s choice of preposition improper. No reasonable consumer, even an unsophisticated one, would read the letter as an instruction to travel back in time (though no more than thirty days back) to dispute the debt.”

The judges also conceded that both “within thirty days of receiving notice” and “within thirty days after receiving notice” are ambiguous about when to start counting. But they said that even if the plaintiff had argued a different point, the result likely would have been the same.  (http://www.insidearm.com/daily/debt-collection-news/debt-collection/debt-collector-wins-appeal-in-precedential-letter-language-case/)

The case is entitled Wallace v Diversified Consultants, Inc.

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