The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires a debt collector to inform consumers of the “name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed” within five days after its initial communication with a consumer regarding a debt. 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a). And § 1692e(10) prohibits the use of any “false representation or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect any debt.” In Lugo v. Forster & Garbus, LLP, No. 1:19-cv-01435 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 21, 2019), the Eastern District of New York recently found no violation of these provisions where the debtor had received a collection letter stating that it concerned an account with a specific bank.
In Lugo, the plaintiff received a letter from a law firm, Forster & Garbus, attempting to collect a debt. The letter identified Forster & Garbus as a New York law firm and a debt collector. In addition to providing the balance due, the letter stated “Re: Barclays Bank Delaware” and provided both a reference number and the last four digits of an account number. Further, the bottom of the letter was a detachable payment slip indicating that checks should be made payable to “Forster & Garbus LLP as attorneys” and again stating “Re: Barclays Bank Delaware.”
In alleging that the letter violated the FDCPA, Lugo argued that it would leave the least sophisticated consumer confused as to whether Barclays Bank Delaware or Forster & Garbus or some other entity was the creditor to whom the alleged debt is owed.
The Court disagreed, granting a motion for judgment on the pleadings in favor of the defendant law firm. In doing so, the Court noted that, to ensure that the FDCPA protects the most vulnerable consumers, courts must view debt collection communications from the perspective of the least sophisticated consumer. But this is an objective standard based on a reasonable interpretation of the language used in a collection letter. With regard to the collection letter at issue, the Court found that the subject line identified both the creditor and Lugo’s account number with the bank and that this strongly suggests that Barclays Bank Delaware is the current creditor. Because the context of the letter implicitly identified the current creditor, the Court found no violation of the FDCPA.
This case demonstrates a commonsense approach to the FDCPA. Where the context of a debt collection letter makes it clear that the debt is owned by a particular entity, the communication is not misleading to the least sophisticated consumer, and no violation of the statute exists.