New Jersey Federal Court Holds Debtor Did Not Have Standing to Bring FDCPA Claim

The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey recently granted a debt collector’s motion for summary judgment on a debtor’s claim that a debt collection notice violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) because the debtor believed the letter to be a scam when he received it and therefore lacked the standing to bring the claim.  See Benali v. AFNI, Inc., 2017 WL 39558 (D.N.J. Jan. 4, 2017).  In the putative class action, the plaintiff received a letter from the defendant claiming he owed money on an AT&T cell phone account.  The letter further stated that payments made either via telephone or online would be subject to a $4.95 processing fee.  The plaintiff then filed this action, arguing that the fee was a misleading and unfair method to collect a debt, in violation of the FDCPA.  See 15 USC 1692e; 1692f.  In its summary judgment motion, the defendant argued, among other things, that the plaintiff lacked standing in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S.Ct. 1540 (2016), which requires a plaintiff to plead a concrete harm and not one that is not “conjectural or hypothetical.”  The Court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, citing to the plaintiff’s deposition testimony in which he claimed that he immediately thought the letter was a “scam” because he did not have a cell phone account with AT&T.  The Court held, “Plaintiff admits he never suffered any actual harm as a result of Defendant's alleged FDCPA violations, and the alleged risk of harm to the Plaintiff in this case is entirely conjectural or hypothetical.”  The Court did, however, state, that “[w]hile the Court has doubts the Collection Letter violates the FDCPA, the alleged procedural violations in this case also may entail a degree of risk sufficient to meet the concreteness requirement as to any of the 31,000 recipients of the Collection Letter who actually had an account with AT&T.”  This decision indicates a departure from the objective, least sophisticated consumer standard typically employed by courts in FDCPA cases.

For a copy of the decision, please contact Michael O’Donnell at or Michael Crowley at