A Florida magistrate judge recommended that debt collector Retrieval-Masters Creditors Bureau’s motion for summary judgment be granted in a suit alleging the company violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by overshadowing the 30-day window to dispute a debt in a collection letter sent to plaintiff Cheryl Rafferty.  The case is Rafferty v. Retrieval-Masters Creditors Bureau, Inc. et al., and a copy of the judge’s Report and Recommendation is available here.   

Rafferty asserted a number of overshadowing claims in connection with the debt collection letter she received, including claiming that the language in the letter: (1) created a false sense of urgency; (2) requested payment in full; (3) stated that the matter had been referred to a credit bureau; (4) included superfluous language above the validation notice; and (5) positioned the validation notice of the back of the letter.  While Rafferty took issue with multiple provisions in the letter, she specifically noted the language “Now is the time for you to address this seriously past due account” and the statement that the account had been “outstanding for some time.”  

The magistrate judge concluded that the language did not overshadow the validation notice because it “does not preclude disputing the debt” and “did not demand any action within a specified timeframe inconsistent with the validation notice.”  The judge also found that including the validation notice on the reverse side of the document was not problematic where the letter used “the same font and size throughout the main body of text on the front and back sides of the letter” and “where one of the most substantial uses of emphasis in the letter is the referral to see the reverse side of the letter, which leads the consumer to the validation notice.”  Ultimately, the Court held that Rafferty “failed to meet her burden of establishing that [the] defendant’s letter would make a least sophisticated consumer uncertain as to her rights.”