In a recent decision, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida denied a consumer’s motion for summary judgment and granted summary judgment in favor of a debt collector regarding claims under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The case is Encarnacion v. Financial Corporation of America, No. 2:17-cv-00566-SPC-UAM (M.D. Fla. Feb. 26, 2019). 

The debtor, Omar Encarnacion, brought his minor child (referred to as “O.E.”) to the emergency room at Lehigh Regional Medical Center in 2016. About eight months later, Encarnacion received a letter from Financial Corporation of America (“FCOA”). The letter was on FCOA’s letterhead, including its name and contact information, and was addressed to the “Parent of [O.E.]” and listed Encarnacion’s address. The letter contained three paragraphs about the debt collection process and identified the relevant account as follows: 


Re:                          Lehigh Regional Medical Center

Account Number:    [3948]

Patient Name:         [O.E.]

Date of Service:      11-07-16

Balance Due:          $53.27

The word “creditor” is not used anywhere in the letter, but one paragraph stated that the letter was “an attempt to collect a debt” and that the “communication is from a debt collector.” 

After receiving the letter, Encarnacion brought a class action against FCOA for violating the FDCPA and, in particular, 15 U.S.C. § 1692g, which requires that a debt collector “send the consumer a written notice containing . . . the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed.”  Both Encarnacion and FCOA moved for summary judgment. 

In evaluating the cross-motions for summary judgment, the Court first noted the standard for evaluating a claim under § 1692g, which requires the Court to find that the “least sophisticated consumer” would have been deceived by the debt collector’s conduct. Under this standard, the least sophisticated consumer “possesses a rudimentary amount of information about the world and a willingness to read a collection notice with some care,” and “does ‘not receive [the] letter in a vacuum,’” but instead has “reasonable knowledge of her account’s history.”   

Applying this analysis, the Court found that the letter from FCOA would not have deceived the least sophisticated consumer. In so holding, the Court relied heavily on Lait v. Med. Data Sys., Inc., No. 18-12255 (11th Cir. Nov. 9, 2018). In Lait, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found that a debt collector did not violate § 1692g when it sent a letter to a debtor that listed only the account number, service date, patient’s name, outstanding balance, and name of the hospital, and indicated that the debt collector was a “collection agency,” but nowhere stated that the hospital was the “creditor.” 

Similarly, the Court in Encarnacion noted that the letter included the name of the hospital, account number, patient name, date of service, and amount of debt, and identified FCOA as a debt collector. Accordingly, “[b]ecause ‘the debt collector is obviously the agent of the creditor’, ‘there is no argument to be had that the least sophisticated consumer would think his creditor was anyone other than the hospital listed.’”  

Troutman Sanders will continue to monitor and report on developments in this area of the law.