In Giannini v. Fin. Recovery Servs., Judge Ellis of the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois dismissed a case alleging the defendant violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by “fail[ing] to include safe harbor language” in its collection letter. In its ruling, the court emphasized that to establish standing under the FDCPA, a plaintiff must show that he/she suffered concrete harm on the basis of detrimental action taken in light of a defendant’s omission in a collection letter. The court also clarified that a plaintiff’s experience of stress, anxiety, worry, confusion, and annoyance is not enough in and of itself.
In that case, the plaintiff owed a debt on a Kohl’s credit card. The credit card company hired the defendant, a debt collector, and the defendant sent a collection letter to the plaintiff. In the letter, the defendant offered the plaintiff a payment plan option with various payment method options and pay stubs to be included with her payment. In relevant part, the letter stated: “[a]s you have not resolved this account, we are extending you another option. In an effort to allow you more time to get your finances in order, we will agree to accept $25.00 per month for the next three months. At the end of the three months the arrangement will be reviewed and hopefully you will be able to pay the remaining balance in full.” The plaintiff subsequently sued the defendant, alleging the defendant caused her “stress, anxiety, and worry because she could not afford the proposed payment plan, and the letter did not make clear whether [defendant] would extend another similar opportunity to her.”
The primary issue in the case was whether plaintiff had standing to sue under the FDCPA. The court held that the plaintiff did not have standing. To have Article III standing, a plaintiff must have “(1) suffered an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.”
The court evaluated Seventh Circuit precedent and found that a plaintiff must allege that the “statutory violation harmed [the plaintiff] ‘or presented an appreciable risk of harm to the underlying concrete interest that Congress sought to protect,’” in order for the plaintiff have standing. The defendant successfully argued that the plaintiff did not suffer concrete harm apart from the alleged technical FDCPA violation. The plaintiff contended that the omission of language in the defendant’s letter regarding whether it would offer a similar payment plan in the future amounted to a “cognizable injury,” and caused her “stress, anxiety, and worry.” However, the court reasoned that the plaintiff did not establish that her stress, anxiety, worry, or alleged “confusion, annoyance, and intimidation” resulted in a concrete harm. Accordingly, the court found that the plaintiff lacked standing.