The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion involving the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) (15 U.S.C. §§ 1692-1692p) -- LeBlanc v. Unifund CCR Partners. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding that a violation of Florida’s Consumer Collection Practices Act (“FCCPA”) (Fla. Stat. Chapter 559) may support a federal cause of action under the FDCPA. The court, however, limited its decision by noting that not all violations of state law constitute per se violations of the FDCPA because “the conduct or communication at issue must also violate the relevant provision of the FDCPA.”
Additionally, the Eleventh Circuit also reversed the district court’s finding on partial summary judgment that the defendant collection agency – a general partnership organization incorporated under the laws of Ohio -- had violated the FDCPA because it had failed to register as an “out-of-state consumer collection agency” with the State of Florida, as required by the FCCPA before sending the plaintiff a “dunning letter” in an effort to collect on his charged off credit card debt. Plaintiff alleged that because the defendant had sent the “dunning letter” before registering with the State of Florida, the defendant had violated 15 U.S.C. §§1692e(5) and 1692f of the FDCPA. The district court found that “dunning letter” was a threat to take legal action.
The Eleventh Circuit found that the determination of whether the collection agency’s “dunning letter” could “reasonably be perceived as a ‘threat to take legal action’ under the ‘least sophisticated consumer’ standard in the circumstances of this case is best left to jury decision.” The Court pointed out that, in this case, if the debt collection letter “is not construed as a threat to take legal action, LeBlanc’s FDCPA claim under § 1692e(5) fails regardless of the registration issue.” The Eleventh Circuit offered the lower court guidance on the issue however, noting that the defendant’s “lack of registration with the State of Florida is an appropriate consideration in deciding whether [the defendant’s] ‘means’ of collection were ‘unfair or unconscionable.’” The Court also adopted the “least sophisticated consumer” standard for §1692f analyses,” which is meant to protect all consumers. Also, the court also noted that whether the defendant’s letter constitutes an “unfair or unconscionable means to . . . attempt to collect a debt” for purposes of §1692f presents a jury question.
Finally, the court upheld the district court’s finding that the defendant’s general partners are liable “to the same extent” as the defendant even though they are not debt collectors and did not violate the FDCPA. The district court had “correctly noted that Florida’s law of partnerships provides that the law of the ‘jurisdiction in which a partnership has its chief executive office governs relations among partners and between partners and a partnership.’”