On September 27, the District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissed a plaintiff’s complaint alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, finding a collection letter adequately set forth the amount owed and did so in a manner that was not false, deceptive, or misleading by using safe harbor language adopted by the Second Circuit in Avila v. Riexinger & Assocs., LLC, 817 F.3d 72 (2d Cir. 2016).
In Paracha v. MRS BPO, defendant MRS mailed a collection letter to plaintiff Imran A. Paracha in July 2017 concerning an unpaid student loan. Paracha requested more information about the debt, which led MRS to mail a second letter showing the balance had increased by thousands of dollars in the six months since MRS had sent the original correspondence.
Paracha filed suit in July 2018, claiming the second letter violated the FDCPA by not stating the “amount” of the debt owed and whether interest was accruing, and maintaining the letter did not explain what Paracha needed to pay to resolve the debt “at any given moment in the future.” Paracha also claimed he did not owe the alleged debt.
MRS moved to dismiss, arguing that the Court could not find the letter false, deceptive, or misleading because it used the safe harbor language provided in Avila, the letter accurately and clearly disclosed the amount owed, and the letter sufficiently advised Paracha that the debt might increase over time. MRS also maintained that the FDCPA does not require detailed interest disclosures.
Judge Roslynn Mauskopf agreed with MRS. The Court found MRS’s “unambiguous disclosure” that Paracha’s debt might increase “undermines his claim that the language of the letter was anything but clear.” Paracha asked the Court to adopt a different standard than prescribed in Avila, arguing for the Court to require debt collectors to state when interest will accrue instead of may increase. The Court refused to mandate more comprehensive disclosures than Avila requires.
This decision strengthens the precedent established in Miller v. McCalla, Raymer, Padrick, Cobb, Nichols, & Clark, LLC, 214 F.3d 872 (7th Cir. 2000) and adopted by the Second Circuit in Avila seeking to minimize litigation under FDCPA by providing for the use of safe harbor language protecting a debt collector from FDCPA claims based on the failure to provide additional detailed disclosures. It also serves as a reminder that the safe harbor language will not inoculate debt collectors from liability in every instance, but merely in cases where the language is accurate and there is nothing that obscures the language.