In Whitfield v. Contract Callers, Inc., Civil Action No. RDB-21-1540 (D. Md. Dec. 20, 2021), the District of Maryland dismissed claims asserted under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), holding that confusion concerning the identity of the original creditor allegedly caused by a poorly-worded collection letter did not result in the type of concrete injury necessary for the plaintiff to have standing under Article III of the Constitution.
The plaintiff, Tiffany Whitfield, asserted claims against defendants Contract Callers, Inc. (Contract Callers) and Diverse Funding Associates LLC (Diverse Funding), alleging violations of the FDCPA on behalf of herself and an alleged class of similarly situated individuals. The claims arose out of a letter that Contract Callers sent to Whitfield in February 2009. This letter indicated that Diverse Funding was now creditor to whom the debt was owed but further stated, “[t]he original creditor was . [sic] You may recognize this as your . [sic]” Whitfield claimed that she was confused as to the identify of the original creditor and alleged that she suffered emotional harm and expended time, money, and effort trying to determine what to do in response to the letter. In response, the defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that Whitfield had not suffered any concrete injury and thus, did not have standing to assert her claims.
In determining that Whitfield lacked standing, the court found that she had failed to allege facts sufficient to show a tangible harm. Although Whitfield asserted that she was unable to evaluate her options because of her confusion regarding the owner of the debt, she admitted that she took no action. Accordingly, the court held that “it is not plausible on its face that deciding to do nothing in response to a confusing letter caused Plaintiff to expend time and money and caused her emotional harm.”
Similarly, the court determined that Whitfield failed to establish that she suffered a concrete intangible harm. Although an intangible harm can give rise to a concrete injury, the injury alleged must have “a close relationship to harms traditionally recognized as providing a basis for lawsuits in American courts.” In asserting that she had suffered such harm, Whitfield argued that her FDCPA claims were similar to the common law tort of fraud or misrepresentation. But because Whitfield did not allege that she relied to her detriment on anything in the letter at issue, the court held that she failed to plead facts sufficient to establish that she had suffered a concrete intangible harm analogous to common law fraud.
This case reemphasizes the fact that a plaintiff must have suffered some actual, concrete injury as a result of a debt collection letter to have standing in federal court. Mere confusion is not sufficient to assert a claim under the FDCPA.