According to the district court for the District of Massachusetts, debt collectors may be found in violation of § 1692g(a)(3) of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) when sending debt collection letters requiring the consumer to dispute the debt in writing.

As background, in Sherwyn Rocke v. Monarch Recovery Management, Inc. (Monarch), the plaintiff alleged that Monarch violated the FDCPA in its initial collection letter because it required the plaintiff to notify them in writing if he disputed the debt at issue. The plaintiff argued this contravened § 1692g(a)(3), which does not specify a writing requirement as it does in other provisions of § 1692g. The district court agreed and granted summary judgment in the plaintiff’s favor.

The court held that “the fact that other sections of the FDCPA — like § 1692g(a)(4) — explicitly impose a writing requirement suggests that Congress’s omission of such a requirement in other provisions was not inadvertent.” Monarch’s statutory interpretation therefore misplaced reliance on the writing requirement specified in other portions of the same section. The court also held that Monarch’s debt collection letter violated § 1692e as a false representation since Monarch misrepresented that the plaintiff had to dispute the debt in writing.

Accordingly, a consumer can dispute a debt identified in a debt collection letter orally or in writing. However, a debt collector may be found to have violated the FDCPA if it requires the debt to be disputed in writing.