In Moore v. Merchants & Medical Credit Corp., Inc., the plaintiff initiated litigation in state court alleging a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) based on the defendant’s use of a letter vendor to send the plaintiff a demand. After removal, the U.S. district court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania found that the plaintiff failed to allege a harm sufficient to confer federal jurisdiction and remanded the case to the original Pennsylvania state court.
The lawsuit arose out of the defendant sending an encrypted data file to its letter vendor, including details about the debt the plaintiff owed. The plaintiff alleged this violated 15 U.S.C. § 1692c(b) because the defendant conveyed information about her to a third-party without her consent. The plaintiff sought statutory damages, costs, and attorneys’ fees. She did not explicitly allege any actual injury, but the court thought she was “perhaps suggesting that she suffered an invasion of privacy.”
The federal court found the plaintiff failed to establish a concrete injury under Spokeo. While both tangible and intangible injuries can be concrete, a statutory violation does not by itself constitute a concrete injury. Moreover, under Pennsylvania law, the crux of a disclosure of private information claim is publicity, which did not happen here.
To reach its decision, the court first looked to a U.S. Supreme Court case that noted courts do not traditionally recognize intra-company disclosures or disclosures to printing vendors as actionable publications. The court then considered Hunstein v. Preferred Collection & Mgmt. Servs., from the Eleventh Circuit, which held that disclosing information to a mail vendor was not a concrete harm because “publicity requires far more than … just ‘any communication by the defendant to a third person.'” Finally, the court considered several cases within the Third Circuit holding that information conveyed to a small group of employees, even vendor employees, was insufficient to state a claim under the FDCPA, which is intended to protect the vulnerable from real harms in collection not “imaginary harm” under a letter vendor theory.
The court ultimately found the plaintiff had at best shown a statutory injury. Even if the letter vendor employees read her letter, “that would not establish publicity, for disclosure to a group of employees routinely processing letters on behalf of a debt collector is unlikely to effect a disclosure to the public at large.” The court therefore held that the Article III requirement of concrete injury was not satisfied and the plaintiff lacked standing. The case was remanded back to state court.