A Georgia district court judge recently granted a defendant’s motion to dismiss all claims except for one in Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) case Lee v. Medicredit. The court held that what constitutes a “reasonable period of time” for lack of response from a consumer’s attorney cannot be decided at the motion to dismiss stage.
In Lee v. Medicredit, the court examined the exception under the FDCPA, which allows communication from a debt collector when the attorney fails to respond within a reasonable period of time to a prior communication from a debt collector.
There, the plaintiff received a collection letter from the defendant about an unpaid hospital bill. Over a month later, an attorney representing the plaintiff sent a letter to the collector, notifying the defendant that the plaintiff was disputing the debt and that she was being represented and that all future communications should be directed to him. The defendant sent a letter back to the attorney, confirming receipt of the notification and indicating that the dispute was under investigation. The defendant sent the attorney two more letters in the weeks following this communication, but never received a response from the plaintiff’s attorney.
Eight months later, the defendant eventually contacted the plaintiff directly, requesting that the plaintiff contact her insurance company and ask them to pay the debt. Another four months later, another plaintiff’s attorney contacted the defendant and submitted a pre-suit demand letter, stating that the defendant violated the FDCPA when it contacted the plaintiff directly. The defendant sent the original attorney another letter to request more information.
The plaintiff then filed suit, alleging the defendant violated the FDCPA, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq., the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act, O.C.G.A. § 10-1-390 et seq. (GFBPA), the Unfair and Deceptive Practices Toward the Elderly Act, O.C.G.A. § 10-1-850 et seq. (UDPTEA), and Georgia common law.
The district court judge dismissed all the counts of the plaintiff’s claim except for the FDCPA 1692c(a)(2) claim, where the plaintiff alleged that the defendant violated the FDCPA when contacting her directly after the original attorney failed to respond to the requests for more information.
The judge held that “[o]n the pleadings at issue here, the Court cannot resolve at the motion to dismiss stage Defendant’s argument that it could contact Plaintiff directly because [the attorney] failed to respond within a reasonable period of time.”
The court’s decision in Lee provides insight into how courts may consider the FDCPA exception, which provides that a represented debtor may be contacted directly, where “the attorney fails to respond within a reasonable period of time to a communication from the debt collector.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692c(a)(2). What length of time is “reasonable” may not always be considered at the motion to dismiss level.