The Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion affirming the dismissal of a lawsuit because a debt collector’s failure to use the FDCPA’s precise language in its validation notice is not a violation of the FDCPA.
In Chaperon v. Sontag & Hyman, P.C., Chaperon alleged violations of 15 U.S.C. § 1692g and § 1692e related to a notice she received regarding past-due rent. Specifically, she alleged that, though the notice stated she could dispute the debt, it did not explicitly state that she could dispute a portion of the debt. The language in the notice stated that Sontag & Hyman was a law firm that “has been retained to collect a debt consisting of rent arrears totaling $12,209.26”; that Chaperon’s landlord claimed she owed “rent arrears as specified”; and that she had “30 days from receipt of this notice to dispute the debt.”
Chaperon argued the “least-sophisticated consumer” who receives such a validation notice would be confused and unsure as to whether s/he was able to dispute a portion of the debt. She further argued that, because the notice did not state that she had a right to dispute a portion of the debt, the notice was misleading in violation of § 1692e.
The Second Circuit held that a debt collector’s failure to use the FDCPA’s precise language in its validation notice is not a violation. Agreeing with the Sixth Circuit, the Court noted that validation language in a letter that does not track the precise language of the FDCPA is not itself a violation of the FDCPA, and that, under a “least-sophisticated consumer” standard, such letters adequately inform the reader that the debt must be disputed, and it is implicit that the claim can be wholly, or partially, challenged.
While sticking to the statutory language of the FDCPA in collection notices is generally good practice, this case helps illustrate that strict adherence to the statute itself is not always required for compliance. While debt collectors can breathe a sigh of relief, for now, they must remain vigilant to ensure their letters comply with the requirements of the FDCPA.