In Uvaldo v. Germain Law Office PLC, an Arizona District Court denied a plaintiff’s motion for partial judgment on the pleadings in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case. In its holding, the court emphasized that the expectation that a car purchaser would read a collection letter and know that he/she is a “consumer” subject to the consumer debt listed therein, is not inconsistent with the “least sophisticated debtor” standard.
In that case, the plaintiff defaulted on making payments for her vehicle and after the vehicle seller repossessed and resold the vehicle, the defendant was retained to collect the remainder of the debt owed. The defendant sent the plaintiff a collection letter in December 2019 and represented the vehicle seller in a state court suit to collect the debt in January 2020. The plaintiff defaulted in the state court action but subsequently filed suit.
In this district court proceeding, the plaintiff moved for partial judgment on the pleadings on the following issues: (1) that the wording in the collection letter was “misleading and overshadowed the FDCPA-required notices the letter provided”; (2) that the “outstanding balances [the] [d]efendant listed in the initial collection letter and in the state court complaint were misleading”; and (3) that the defendant’s communication with the plaintiff after [the] plaintiff’s counsel notified the defendant that the plaintiff was represented was improper.
The district court denied the plaintiff’s motion for partial judgment on the pleadings on all issues. Specifically, the district court denied the plaintiff’s motion as to the second issue regarding the defendant’s alleged misleading listing of outstanding balances in the collection letter and state court complaint because it involved issues of fact, including resolution of questions involving attorneys’ fees incurred, the attorneys’ fees agreement between the defendant and the vehicle seller, and whether the “interest rate listed in the state court complaint was a typo and when it was corrected.” Further, the district court denied the plaintiff’s motion as to the third issue because it involved factual questions related to the “extent of counsel’s representation of [the] plaintiff” and the “communications between [the] [d]efendant and [the] [p]laintiff’s counsel.”
Finally, as to the issue regarding the defendant’s allegedly “misleading” wording, the district court denied the plaintiff’s motion. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that the least sophisticated debtor would not be able to determine if a debt is a “consumer debt” in connection with the following sentence: “[I]f the indebtedness identified in our correspondence to you constitutes a ‘consumer debt,’ in accordance with the [FDCPA], we make the following notices/statements to you.” Further, the plaintiff alleged that the letter provision stating “[p]lease give this matter your immediate attention by contacting our office upon your receipt of this notice” overshadowed the 30-day waiting and verification period by “demand[ing] payment before the 30-day [period] ha[d] passed.”
The district court disagreed on both fronts. First, it reasoned that the term “consumer debt” was not misleading, and that a finding that a car purchaser would fail to recognize that he/she is a consumer would be to “apply a standard below unsophisticated.” Further, it reasoned that as the letter repeated the FDCPA required notices twice (once in bold lettering and “without any conditional instruction), it did not overshadow the notices. Second, the district court reasoned that as the collection letter merely requested that the plaintiff give the matter immediate attention, rather than make an immediate payment, the letter provision stating “[p]lease give this matter your immediate attention by contacting our office upon your receipt of this notice” was not misleading or overshadowing.
Accordingly, the district court denied the plaintiff’s motion for partial judgment on the pleadings on all issues.