Second Circuit Holds Collection Letter Did Not Violate FDCPA For Failing to State That Debtor Could Challenge Portion of Debt

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently affirmed a lower court’s decision and held that a debt collection letter that did not state that a debtor had the right to challenge a portion of the debt within 30 days did not violate the FDCPA.  See Chaperon v. Sontag & Hyman, PC, 2020 WL 5240609 (2d Cir. Sept. 3, 2020).  In 2019, defendant sent plaintiff a debt collection letter that stated, among other things, that “[y]ou have 30 days from receipt of this notice to dispute the debt.”  Plaintiff then brought this action, claiming that the letter violated 15 U.S.C. 1692g(a)(5) of the FDCPA, which requires that collection letters include “a statement that unless the consumer, within thirty days after receipt of the notice, disputes the validity of the debt, or any portion thereof, the debt will be assumed to be valid by the debt collector.”  (Emphasis added).  Plaintiff claimed that the letter was false and misleading based on the failure to include the required “or any portion there” language.  The District Court dismissed the action, finding that the FDCPA does not require that debt collectors use the exact language set forth in the statute, and that even the least sophisticated consumer would not be misled by this language.

On appeal, the Court affirmed.  It held that “a debt collector’s failure to use the FDCPA's precise language in its notices is not a violation, as there is no requirement in the statute that any of its provisions be quoted verbatim.”  It also found that the argument raised by plaintiff here was similar to that in Smith v. Transworld Sys., Inc., 953 F.2d 1025 (6th Cir. 1992), in which the Sixth Circuit denied the same claim and held that the letter “adequately inform[ed] the reader that the debt must be disputed, . . . [and] it is implicit that the claim can be wholly, or partially, challenged.”

For a copy of the decision, please contact Michael O’Donnell at modonnell@riker.com, Michael Crowley at mcrowley@riker.com, or Anthony Lombardo at alombardo@riker.com.