On October 23, Judge Katherine Polk Failla of the Southern District of New York held that a fifty-character internal tracking number visible through the glassine window of the plaintiff’s collection letter envelope fell within the benign language exception and did not violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

In Gardner v. Credit Management LP, the plaintiff alleged that the number visible through the envelope window violated 15 U.S.C. 1692f(8), which prohibits a debt collector from using “any language or symbol other than the debt collector’s address, on any envelope when communicating with a consumer by use of the mails.”  The plaintiff relied on the Third Circuit’s decision in Douglass v. Convergent Outsourcing, which held that the display of an account number through an envelope window violates § 1692f(8).  The defendant moved for judgment on the pleadings.

The court began its analysis by citing to various cases that have held that a literal interpretation of this provision yields absurd results, such as prohibiting a debtor’s address and pre-printed postage.  The court looked to legislative history and Federal Trade Commission Commentary to support the conclusion that any purported violation must be related to the harm which the statute was intended to prevent.

On the envelope received by the plaintiff, the string of fifty alphanumeric characters included a subset of nine that represented her “internal tracking number” with the defendant.  The tracking number “does not convey to a casual or interested observer … that Gardner is in debt.”  Because the tracking number does not “signify to anyone outside of CMI that it pertains to a debt,” it does not violate the FDCPA.

The court noted that two recent district court decisions in the Second Circuit reached similar conclusions.  Perez v. Global Credit & Collection Corp. and Gelinas v. Retrieval-Masters Creditors Bureau, Inc. both rejected claims that mere account numbers visible through glassine envelope windows violated the FDCPA.