In a recent decision denying plaintiffs Aldean Isaac’s and Julissa Ortiz’s motion for summary judgment, a federal district court judge in the Eastern District of New York found that defendant NRA Group, LLC’s collection letter that included the same amount of debt twice and then a payment slip for the sum of these duplicate amounts would not mislead the least sophisticated consumer because it was clear that the duplicate charges were a mistake.
The case is Aldean Isaac, et al. v. NRA Group, LLC, 16-cv-5210 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 28, 2018).
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act putative class action arose out of two collection letters Isaac and Ortiz received in late 2015. Each letter contained an itemization of the amount of debt, the date on which the debt was incurred, and the account number associated with the debt. The amount of the debt was listed twice within this itemization section for both letters. However, for the duplicated amounts, the date the debt was incurred was listed as “00/00/00.” Payment slips at the bottom of the letters included all amounts listed in the itemization section, effectively doubling the amount due. According to NRA, the duplicate charges were included in the letters based on erroneous information it received from the original creditor which NRA’s computer systems then automatically included in the collection letters at issue.
Isaac and Ortiz alleged these letters constituted multiple violations of the FDCPA, including misrepresentations about the amount of debt owed in violation of §§ 1692e and 1692g, as well as suggesting NRA had the right to collect interest and fees in violation of §§ 1692e and 1692f. While discovery was ongoing, Isaac and Ortiz filed a motion for summary judgment as to their allegations that NRA had misrepresented the amount of debt owed.
In denying the motion for summary judgment, District Court Judge Joseph Bianco found that while the letters contained technically false representations, these representations would not mislead the least sophisticated consumer because it was clear that the duplicative amounts were included in error. Judge Bianco reasoned that because letters contained identical amounts for the exact same account numbers, coupled with the “00/00/00” date of accrual, “the only ‘basic, reasonable, and logical inference’ to be drawn … is that the duplicated charges were included by mistake, and were not actually owed.” As such, the least sophisticated consumer would not be misled as to the nature or legal status of the debt nor would the mistake hinder the consumer’s ability to dispute or respond to the collection attempt.
While this decision is based on unique circumstances and is therefore likely inapplicable to many scenarios, Judge Bianco’s commonsense interpretation of the least sophisticated consumer standard could be helpful for financial services institutions facing litigation in the Eastern District of New York.
We will continue to monitor this case along with other developments in this area of the law.