On January 17, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit reversed a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin dismissing the plaintiffs’ claims that the defendant debt collection agency violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) by falsely stating balances owed might increase “due to interest, late charges and other charges” in its dunning letters to the plaintiffs. In 2016, the defendant sent collection letters for overdue medical bills; according to the plaintiffs, the collection letters falsely suggested that the debt would continue to increase every day due to “late charges and other charges” that the defendant could not legally impose. In granting the motion to dismiss, the District Court had agreed with the defendant that the language used in their dunning letters was nearly identical to the safe harbor language upheld by the 7th Circuit in 2000, and that the letters were not “false, deceptive, or misleading.” By reversing the District Court’s decision, the 7th Circuit determined that the defendant’s use of the safe harbor language in their letters was inaccurate, because the defendant could not lawfully impose “late charges and other charges.” In doing so, the 7th Circuit rejected the defendant’s attempt to copy and paste the safe harbor language, and instead concluded that debt collectors are required to tailor boilerplate language to avoid ambiguity and ensure their statements are accurate under the circumstances.
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