The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey ruled in favor of a debt collector in Martinez v. Diversified Consultants, Inc., granting a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ class claims regarding a collection letter that contained the collector’s phone number.
Plaintiff Waleska Martinez alleged violations of Section 1692g of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act for containing the debt collectors’ phone number. Martinez argued that the collection letter “would cause the least sophisticated consumer to become confused as to what she must do to effectively dispute [a] debt … .” In short, she claimed that the phone number “overshadowed or contradicted” the validation notice that a consumer must notify the debt collector in writing within thirty days if she disputed the debt.
The Court disagreed, ruling that the collection letter contains the required validation notice under Section 1692g(a) and that the substance of form does not overshadow or contradict the validation notice. Specifically, the Court ruled several factors were not met to show that the phone numbers overshadowed the validation notice. First, the letter did not instruct the consumer to call the number. Second, the phone number was not in bold or large typeface which would gain more attention than other text. Third, the mailing address was found on multiple locations of the letter to aid a consumer in mailing a written dispute. Finally, the validation notice was not hidden or relegated to the back side of the collection letter. For these reasons, the Court dismissed the complaint without prejudice.
The claims in this case appear to have less merit than most filed under the FDCPA. However, it appears that consumer protection attorneys are trying new and creative ways to try to hold debt collectors liable for their collection letters. Troutman Sanders will monitor this decision for appeal or for a new complaint filed by Martinez.