On March 22, 2018, the Eastern District of New York granted summary judgment to a collection agency in a “current account balance” case. Specifically, the Court found no violation of the FDCPA because in its letter the debt collector did not have to notify the consumer that her balance may increase and the creditor was appropriately identified.
In Polizois v. Vengroff Williams, Inc., Polizois incurred a medical debt with Enzo Clinical Labs, Inc. (Enzo). When Polizois failed to make full payment on the debt, Enzo referred the claim to Vengroff Williams, Inc. (Vengroff) for collections. Vengroff in turn sent Polizois a letter, identifying Enzo as Vengroff’s client at both the top and bottom of its letter. Further, the letter stated an “amount due of $51.74” and Vengroff was a “debt collection agency engaged by the above-creditor,” referring to Enzo. A detachable payment slip appeared at the bottom of the letter, again identifying Enzo as Vengroff’s “client” and stating the “amount due” of $51.74. The collection letter did not indicate whether any interest, fees or other charges might be added to the amount owed.
Based upon the letter, Polizois filed suit against Vengroff, claiming Vengroff violated the FDCPA by not clearly identifying the creditor in its collection letter and failing to notify Polizois the “amount due” may increase due to interest, fees and other costs. Polizois further contended that, because of these same alleged failures, the letter was misleading and deceptive.
In granting Vengroff’s summary judgment’s motion, the Court confirmed an affirmative duty did exist to disclose when a balance accrues interest and/or fees, under the holding in Avila v. Riexinger & Associates, LLC. However, Polizois failed to provide any authority that a debt collector must provide the disclosure when in fact the balance remained “static.” In the specific facts in this case, the Court found there was undisputed evidence establishing Polizois’ agreement with Enzo did not provide for interest or fees. Because of this evidence, the court held there was no danger Polizois could be misled into believing her account would increase due to either interest or fees, and, therefore, granted Vengroff’s summary judgment motion.
The Court also found the letter clearly stated Vengroff was a debt collection agency “engaged by the above creditor.” The only entity identified elsewhere in the letter was Enzo. The Court further observed the letter stated, “Enzo has not received the amount past due of $51.74” making clear that Vengroff was collecting upon a debt owed to Enzo. Moreover, Enzo was identified as Vengroff’s “client” at both the top and bottom of the letter. Therefore, the Court concluded the least sophisticated consumer, reading the letter in its entirety, would clearly recognize Enzo as the creditor. The Court further held the letter was not deceptive because it was not open to more than one interpretation as to the identity of the creditor.
The Polizois case is yet another example of the inconsistencies and struggles with this area of the FDCPA, in particular because of inconsistent decisions by judges in the Eastern District of New York. Troutman will continue to monitor “current account balance” cases as these issues continue to evolve.