The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey recently dismissed a putative Fair Debt Collection Practices Act class action against defendant debt collector, Retrieval-Masters Creditors Bureau, Inc. (“RMCB”), over allegedly violative letters dealing with unpaid E-ZPass tolls.  A copy of the opinion can be found here.

As background, plaintiff Thomas E. St. Pierre had an E-ZPass account and maintained a prepaid balance on the account.  Under the terms of the account, if he had insufficient funds in his account when passing through a toll, St. Pierre would be subject to penalties for nonpayment of the toll.  St. Pierre allegedly failed to maintain a sufficient prepaid balance, and E-ZPass assigned the unpaid obligation to RMCB for collection.

In his class action complaint, St. Pierre alleged that RMCB sent him two collection letters in envelopes with glassine windows through which the account numbers were visible.  St. Pierre filed a putative class action, arguing RMCB violated section 1692f(8) of the FDCPA.  RMCB subsequently filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that St. Pierre does not have standing to sue, or in the alternative, the obligation St. Pierre seeks to recover is not a “debt” as defined by the FDCPA.

With respect to the standing issue, the Court held that “because the FDCPA unambiguously grants Plaintiff a statutory right to be free from the disclosure of private information that could expose his status as an alleged debtor, and that the right to privacy is an interest that has long been recognized at law … Plaintiff has adequately alleged that concreteness requirement under Article III.”

With respect to the latter issue, the Court held that tolls and penalties do not constitute a “debt” under the FDCPA.  More specifically, the Court found that “the relationship between Plaintiff and E-ZPass, an agent of the State authorized to administer the electric toll collection program, stands on a vastly different footing than a traditional consumer relationship.”  The “debt” at issue arose out of St. Pierre’s obligation to pay tolls under New Jersey law, and “does not arise from a transaction that is ‘primarily for personal, family, or household purposes.’”  The Court therefore granted RMCB’s motion to dismiss.

St. Pierre has appealed the district court’s decision to the Third Circuit.  We will continue to monitor the case.