In a recent decision, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey denied a consumer’s motion for summary judgment of her claims arising under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). The case is Estate of Wilfred C. Clements v. Apex Asset Management, LLC, No. 1:18-cv-10843-JBS-AMD (D.N.J. Mar. 25, 2019). 

Defendant Apex Asset Management, LLC (“Apex”) is a debt collector that hired a vendor to mail a collection letter to the plaintiff. Apex’s vendor created, printed, folded, and inserted the letter into a glassine-windowed envelope and mailed the letter to the plaintiff on May 10, 2017. The plaintiff filed suit on May 11, 2018, alleging that Apex violated Section 1692f of the FDCPA, which prohibits a debt collector from using “unfair or unconscionable means” to collect a debt. 15 U.S.C. § 1692f. In particular, Section 1692f(8) prohibits a debt collector from “[u]sing any language or symbol, other than the debt collector’s address, on any envelope when communicating with a consumer by use of the mails.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692f(8). 

In her suit, the plaintiff claimed that two series of numbers were visible through the window of the envelope in which the collection letter was mailed—a five-digit number, which was randomly generated by Apex’s vendor for mailing purposes, and a twenty-three-digit number, which contained the decedent’s entire account number. In support of her argument, the plaintiff referred to a copy of the letter and envelope located in “Exhibit C,” but failed to include an Exhibit C with her argument. Apex argued that although the five-digit number was visible through the window, the plaintiff’s account number was not.

In light of Apex’s concession that the five-digit number was visible, the Court first evaluated whether this aspect of the collection letter violated Section 1692f(8). The Court ultimately held that it did not because the plaintiff had been unable to demonstrate that this number revealed the decedent’s private information. Thus, the Court held that the five-digit number did not implicate any privacy concerns that Congress intended to protect with the FDCPA. 

With respect to the twenty-three-digit number, Apex submitted a detailed description of how its vendor folded and inserted each collection letter into an envelope. This demonstration showed that it would be impossible to see the twenty-three-digit number through the glassine window unless the letter shifted up by 7/16 inch; however, there was only 3/16 inch of space within the envelope for the letter to move.  In addition, Apex provided over twenty copies of previously mailed collection letters, none of which revealed a consumer’s account number through a glassine window.   

In light of the ample evidence provided by Apex and the lack of any evidence from the plaintiff, the Court found that the plaintiff had failed to demonstrate a violation of Section 1692f(8) for either the five- or twenty-three-digit number. As a result, the Court denied the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on all counts.  

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