In Marquez v. Weinstein, Pinson & Riley, P.S., et al., the plaintiffs brought a class action against the defendants for alleged violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act arising out of the defendants’ attempt to collect on student loan debts allegedly owed by the plaintiffs. Specifically, the defendant law firm, Weinstein, Pinson & Riley, P.S., filed a complaint in state court on behalf of the defendant debt collection agency, NCO Financial Systems, Inc., seeking repayment of student loans from the plaintiffs. In their complaint, the defendants asserted: “Pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 1692g(a), Defendants are informed that the undersigned law firm is acting on behalf of Plaintiff to collect the debt and that the debt referenced in this suit will be assumed to be valid and correct if not disputed in whole or in part within thirty (30) days from the date hereof.” The plaintiffs in Marquez filed suit, claiming that Paragraph 12 was misleading and deceptive as to both the manner and timing of their response to the state lawsuit in violation of section 1692e of the FDCPA.
On appeal, the Seventh Circuit first addressed the issue of whether section 1692e regulates the content of state court pleadings. Relying on prior case law throughout various circuits, the Court held in the affirmative, stating that pleadings or filings in court can fall within the FDCPA.
The Court then turned to the issue of whether paragraph 12 was misleading to an unsophisticated consumer and held that the language was misleading as to the proper timing to respond to the complaint and as to the manner of response. “For each plaintiff in this FDCPA action, the time period for ‘disputing the debt’ was shorter than the time period provided by law for the answer. … That would cause an unsophisticated consumer to believe that beyond that time period in Paragraph 12 for disputing the debt, even if filing an answer, the validity of the debt could no longer be disputed in that answer.”
The Seventh Circuit ultimately reversed and remanded the district court’s decision to grant the defendants’ motion to dismiss.