In Paul v. Enhanced Recovery Company, the plaintiff received two letters from a debt collector concerning the same debt, about 40 days apart. The letters were identical, except for the dates and the amount of the settlement offers – the first contained an offer of $1,375.42, while the second offer was $1,277.17.

In addition to a validation notice required by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) and other state law disclosures, each letter contained four different addresses: (1) the signature line contained a correspondence address; (2) the enclosed payment slip contained an address for mailing payment, (3) as well as a different return address for the debt collector (with instructions not to send correspondence to that address); and (4) on the back of the letter was the corporate information for the debt collector, which included a physical address.

The plaintiff sued the debt collector in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleging violations of the FDCPA, specifically Section 1692e (prohibiting false, deceptive, or misleading representations) and Section 1692g (requiring validation notices).

The plaintiff claimed that because there were four addresses on each letter, it was unclear which address should be used to send payment and which should be used to send written disputes. The plaintiff further alleged that the validation period was unclear because both letters provided a thirty-day validation period. The plaintiff also claimed that the formatting of the letter, which placed the validation notice near the bottom of the page with a note to “see the reverse side of this letter for important notices concerning your rights,” would make a least sophisticated consumer think the preceding paragraph was “neither important not contained any rights.”

The debt collector filed a motion to dismiss all claims, which the court granted.

As to the multiple validation periods, the court explained that there is nothing in the FDCPA that prohibits a debt collector from extending the validation period beyond the statutorily required 30 days. And in that situation, a least sophisticated consumer would not find it “deceitful or false” if he were offered “additional time to exercise his right to obtain validation of the debt.” The court also did not find the placement of the validation notice problematic, noting that a “least sophisticated consumer is expected to read the front page of the letter that clearly contains the validation notice.”

Finally, the court did not find the inclusion of multiple addresses misleading because of the additional instructions or information that accompanied each address. For example, underneath one address, the letter read, “Send Correspondence to.” Under another, it stated, “Please do not send correspondence to this address.” Under another, it provided, “Our Corporate Information is.” Thus, “when reading the letters in their entirety,” the least sophisticated consumer “would understand that each address has a different purpose.”

The court was careful to distinguish the facts before it from those in another case in the same district, Pinyuk v. CBE Group, Inc., No. 17-CV-5753, 2019 WL 1900985 at *7 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 29, 2019), in which a plaintiff was granted leave to amend based on a finding that a proposed amended complaint stated a plausible claim that a least sophisticated consumer would be “without clear direction as to where to mail a written request” when confronted with three addresses in a debt collection letter. In the instant case, however, the court found that the letters did provide “clear direction as to which of the four addresses should be used for payment and for correspondence,” making it “implausible that the plaintiff would be confused by the inclusion of multiple addresses.”

A copy of the decision can be accessed by clicking here.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion affirming the dismissal of a lawsuit because a debt collector’s failure to use the FDCPA’s precise language in its validation notice is not a violation of the FDCPA.

In Chaperon v. Sontag & Hyman, P.C., Chaperon alleged violations of 15 U.S.C. § 1692g and § 1692e related to a notice she received regarding past-due rent. Specifically, she alleged that, though the notice stated she could dispute the debt, it did not explicitly state that she could dispute a portion of the debt. The language in the notice stated that Sontag & Hyman was a law firm that “has been retained to collect a debt consisting of rent arrears totaling $12,209.26”; that Chaperon’s landlord claimed she owed “rent arrears as specified”; and that she had “30 days from receipt of this notice to dispute the debt.”

Chaperon argued the “least-sophisticated consumer” who receives such a validation notice would be confused and unsure as to whether s/he was able to dispute a portion of the debt. She further argued that, because the notice did not state that she had a right to dispute a portion of the debt, the notice was misleading in violation of § 1692e.

The Second Circuit held that a debt collector’s failure to use the FDCPA’s precise language in its validation notice is not a violation. Agreeing with the Sixth Circuit, the Court noted that validation language in a letter that does not track the precise language of the FDCPA is not itself a violation of the FDCPA, and that, under a “least-sophisticated consumer” standard, such letters adequately inform the reader that the debt must be disputed, and it is implicit that the claim can be wholly, or partially, challenged.

While sticking to the statutory language of the FDCPA in collection notices is generally good practice, this case helps illustrate that strict adherence to the statute itself is not always required for compliance. While debt collectors can breathe a sigh of relief, for now, they must remain vigilant to ensure their letters comply with the requirements of the FDCPA.

On May 30, a district court judge in the Middle District of Georgia granted a debt collector’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, ruling that the debt collector’s “submit a dispute” statement did not overshadow the letter’s 15 U.S.C. § 1692g notice under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. 

As required by 15 U.S.C. § 1692g, Credit Bureau of Napa County d/b/a Chase Receivables, the debt collector, sent the plaintiff a notice with the following language:  

Unless you notify this office within 30 days after receiving this notice that you dispute the validity of this debt, or any portion thereof, this office will assume this debt is valid. If you notify this office in writing within 30 days from receiving this notice that you dispute the validity of this debt, or any portion thereof, this office will obtain verification of the debt or obtain a copy of a judgment and mail you a copy of such judgment or verification. If you request of this office in writing within 30 days after receiving this notice, this office will provide you with the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor. 

The collection letter went on to state:  

If you would like to submit a dispute you can call us at 877-256-2510 or send it by mail to: 

CHASE RECEIVABLES 1247 BROADWAY SONOMA CA 95476-7503 877-256-2510

It is this “submit a dispute” statement that the plaintiff argued overshadowed the FDCPA notice because it had the “propensity to cause unsophisticated consumers to call with a dispute rather than properly mailing a written dispute.” 

The Court disagreed, relying on Eleventh Circuit precedent, ruling that the “arrangement” of the collection letter would not confuse the least sophisticated consumer. The Court examined this arrangement in detail and noted that submission of a written dispute was only necessary to invoke specific rights and that the plaintiff was always permitted to dispute the debt orally. The Court commented further, stating that nothing in the collection letter indicated that the debt collector was “attempting to coax Plaintiff to forgo her validation rights by submitting a dispute orally.”  

In regard to placing a telephone number before an address, the Court responded: “so what?”

The complaint was dismissed with prejudice.


The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit against a debt collector for allegedly violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by sending a collection letter containing an incorrect reference to the location of the debt validation disclosures required by the FDCPA. The case is O’Boyle v. Real Time Resolutions, Inc., and the decision can be accessed here.

Real Time Resolutions sent Anne O’Boyle, a Wisconsin resident, a two-page collection letter concerning an unpaid credit card debt. In addition to other information, the first page of the letter contained the following statement: “Please see the back of this page for additional important information regarding this account.”

The back of the first page contained various state-specific disclosures. The notice for Wisconsin was a “banal notice” about Real Time’s licensing. The same page also stated: “THIS LIST IS NOT A COMPLETE LIST OF RIGHTS CONSUMERS MAY HAVE UNDER STATE AND FEDERAL LAW.”  The front of the second page contained the debt validation disclosures required by Section 1692g of the FDCPA.

O’Boyle filed a class action suit against Real Time, alleging that the notice on the first page misdirected recipients to the location of the validation notice, which was actually on the second page, thus “falsely represent[ing] that this notice is unimportant, and overshadow[ing] the disclosure of dispute rights.” Real Time moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, which the lower court granted, and the class was never certified. 

In affirming the dismissal, the Seventh Circuit expressly rejected O’Boyle’s attempts to read into the FDCPA disclosure requirements that are in fact not a part of the statute. Specifically, the court noted: “Here is what the FDCPA does not say. The FDCPA does not say a debt collector must put the validation notice on the first page of a letter. Nor does the FDCPA say the first page of a debt-collection letter must point to the validation notice if it is not on the first page. Nor does the FDCPA say a debt collector must tell a consumer the validation notice is important. Nor does the FDCPA say a debt collector may not tell a consumer that other information is important.”

Rather, the court noted, the statute merely “requires a debt collector to give the consumer the required validation notice” and “forbids a debt collector from overshadowing the disclosure and from engaging in communication inconsistent with the disclosure.” 

Here, the validation notice appeared in clear, legible typeface near the top of the front of the second page. The Court thus rejected O’Boyle’s argument that the letter failed to meet the “unsophisticated consumer” standard by “burying” the validation notice, colorfully noting that “[i]f so, the notice is an incorrupt corpse in an above-ground glass casket.”  The Court also held that the district court properly denied O’Boyle’s leave to amend to add additional legal theories based on the same factual allegations concerning the notice.


On January 31, a New Jersey District Court judge found that including a toll-free telephone number in an initial validation letter sent by a collection agency did not violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) and therefore granted a debt collector’s Rule 12(c) motion to dismiss.

In Riccio v. Sentry Credit, consumer plaintiff Maureen Riccio incurred a debt which was assigned to Sentry Credit for collections.  Sentry sent Riccio a validation letter, which provided Riccio with a toll-free number, mailing address, and website to contact Sentry concerning the debt.  Riccio brought a putative class action lawsuit against Sentry, claiming its debt collection practices violated the FDCPA because Sentry’s letter failed to properly inform the least sophisticated consumer that to effectively dispute the alleged debt, such dispute must be in writing.

Riccio asserts that Sentry’s letter violated Sec. 1692g by failing to effectively inform Riccio what she must do in order to dispute the alleged debt.  Riccio further relies on Caprio v. Healthcare Revenue Recovery Group, LLC, 209 F.3d 142 (3d Cir. 2013) (holding that any dispute of a debt must be in writing in order to be effective).

Sentry provided verbatim language of Sec. 1692g in its letter to Riccio.  Specifically, the language instructs Riccio to “notify this office in writing within 30 days from receiving this notice, that you dispute the validity of this debt.”  The court also noted that no additional language appears in Sentry’s letter requesting that the consumer dispute the debt by telephone call.  The Court did recognize that Sentry provided both a toll-free telephone number and a website for the consumer to use to contact Sentry for payment arrangements.  However, there was no reference or instruction to Riccio to use either medium to dispute the debt.

The Court was not persuaded by Riccio’s argument and found that Sentry’s collection letter, when read in its entirety, did not contain overshadowing language and therefore did not violate the FDCPA.

This case attacks the Third Circuit’s holdings in both Caprio and Graziano v. Harrison, 950 F.2d 107 (3d Cir. 1991) (holding that a debt collector fails to meet the requirements of Sec. 1692g when the validation notice is overshadowed or contradicted by accompanying messages or notices from the debt collector).  The Court ruled that if the letter does not instruct the consumer to call the collector in order to dispute the debt, then merely having a telephone number in the collection letter does not overshadow the 1692g notice disclaimer and therefore does not violate the FDCPA.

We will continue to monitor judicial development of this issue.

In a case of first impression, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held in July that all debt collectors must send debtors a verification notice.  “In other words, if there are multiple debt collectors that try to collect a debt, each one must send the required notice after its first communication with the alleged debtor about the debt,” the Court said.

Specifically, the verification provision, § 809 of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), provides that a debt collector must send a notice to the debtor stating that if “the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within the thirty-day period that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed, the debt collector will obtain verification of the debt or a copy of a judgment against the consumer and a copy of such verification or judgment will be mailed to the consumer by the debt collector.”

In this case, Hernandez v. Williams Zinman Parham PC, the plaintiff stopped paying a car loan, and numerous debt collectors were involved in collecting on the amount owed.  The plaintiff alleged that the defendant violated the FDCPA by not giving her a verification notice.  The defendant’s position was that it did not have to send a verification notice because a previous debt collector already provided her with such a notice.

The Ninth Circuit is the first to rule that the FDCPA requires every debt collector to send a verification notice, regardless of whether the debtor received such a notice from a previous debt collector on the same debt.  The Court reasoned that if only the first debt collector sent the verification notice, then the consumers ability to dispute the debt would be restricted.  “Having applied the tools of statutory construction, we hold that the FDCPA unambiguously requires any debt collector — first or subsequent — to send a … validation notice within five days of its first communication with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt,” the Court said.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission filed an amicus brief, asking the Ninth Circuit to hold that the FDCPA requires all debt collectors to send a verification notice.  


On August 20, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission jointly filed an amicus brief in Hernandez v. Williams, Zinman & Parham, P.C.  The case concerns the interpretation and enforcement of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and is currently on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The case involves § 1692g(a) of the FDCPA, which provides that a “debt collector” must send a consumer a validation notice containing important information about the consumer’s debt and rights either in “the initial communication” or “[w]ithin five days after the initial communication with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt.”  After receiving the notice, consumers have thirty (30) days to dispute the debt and to request information about the original creditor.  If the original creditor is unable to verify the debt, then the debt collector cannot pursue the claim.

The plaintiff in Hernandez claimed that she received an inadequate validation notice.  The defendant argued that the notice did not violate the FDCPA because the notice was not the “initial communication” that the plaintiff received about the debt.  The defendant claimed that because the debtor had previously received a validation notice from a prior debt collector, subsequent debt collectors had no obligation to abide by the FDCPA’s requirements for validation notices.  The district court granted summary judgment in the defendant’s favor, concluding that the validation notice requirement only applied to the first communication from the initial debt collector.

The CFPB and the FTC argue that the FDCPA requirement to provide a validation notice applies to every debt collector who contacts a consumer regarding a particular debt, not just the first debt collector.  “The phrase ‘the initial communication’ is most naturally read—and has been read by this Court and Congress—to refer to each debt collector’s initial communication with a consumer,” the agencies said.

The agencies further argued that Congress enacted § 1692 of the FDCPA to eliminate the problem of debt collectors attempting to collect the wrong amounts from consumers.  The agencies concluded that “[f]or these requirements to serve their purpose, they must apply to initial and subsequent debt collectors alike.”

Finally, the agencies argued that even if the Court finds ambiguity in the language of § 1692g(a), the Court should defer to the views of the CFPB and FTC – the agencies charged with implementing and enforcing the FDCPA.

Troutman Sanders LLP has substantial experience in representing debt collectors, including matters involving violations of the FDCPA.  We will continue to keep abreast of similar developments in the FDCPA and how it applies to the actions taken by debt collectors.

On November 6, 2013, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) directed at the debt collection industry. The CFPB is seeking comments, data and information from the public regarding a variety of rules proposed to govern collection agencies as well as first-party debt collectors, such as banks and other entities who collect their own consumer debts. This ANPR has been anticipated by the debt collection industry since the CFPB’s announcement in July that it was considering “whether regulations may be appropriate to address concerns raised about debt collection.” The 90-day comment period closes on February 4, 2014.

Significantly, the ANPR also indicated that the rules could encompass parties that collect their own debts, entities that are, under most circumstances, not subject to the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA).

CFPB Director Richard Cordray noted that the agency is looking for feedback in three broad areas: (1) accuracy of the information collectors use, (2) ways to ensure that consumers have a clear understanding of their rights in the debt collection process, and (3) the communication tactics used by debt collectors to contact consumers.

More specifically, the ANPR seeks information on:

  • The transfer of information or access to information upon sale or placement of debts;
  • Validation notices, disputes, investigation, and verification of disputes;
  • The conduct of collectors in interacting with consumers in trying to recover on debts through the collection process;
  • Collector communications seeking location information about consumers, interacting with consumers themselves, disclosing debts to third parties, and use of newer technologies;
  • Unfair, deceptive, and abusive acts and practices, including issues concerning sections 806, 807, and 808 of the FDCPA;
  • The collection of debts that are beyond the statute of limitations;
  • Debt collection activities that implicate issues relating to State law;
  • Debt collection litigation;
  • Exemptions under Federal law for State debt collection systems under section 817 of the FDCPA, as well as for private entities that operate bad check diversion programs under contracts with State and local district attorneys under section 818 of the FDCPA; and
  • Recordkeeping, monitoring, and compliance.

Practical Effect

In January 2013, the CFPB began regulating any firm that generates $10 million in receipts from consumer debt collection activities. The CFPB is making good on its previously signaled intention to draft rules that broaden the scope of the entities falling under its regulatory supervision, in particular, its intent to cast a net to cover first-party debt collectors, including banks and other consumer credit issuers that collect their own debts. In a conference call with reporters, one senior CFPB official noted that these early rules are “likely to focus on creditors and first party debt collection.” This falls in line with recent indications that the CFPB was looking to broadly assert its enforcement powers against companies traditionally viewed as outside of such regulation, given their FDCPA exemption. (See Troutman Sanders report here.) Through this ANPR, the CFPB is beginning a dialogue to seek input and guidance on the bounds of its new oversight, which could fundamentally change the collection industry’s regulatory landscape.

The ANPR also highlights the CFPB’s focus on the use of new communication technology for debt collection, particularly cell phones, email, and other systems and technologies not contemplated when the FDCPA was passed. While such guidance could clarify certain difficult issues that have plagued debt collectors in recent litigation, the new rules may have a dramatic effect on the way in which debt collectors currently run their businesses. Ultimately, once finalized, the rules will likely require a major overhaul of compliance practices within the debt collection industry.

The editors and contributors of this update, include; David N. AnthonyJohn C. LynchAlan D. WingfieldPaige S. FitzgeraldEthan G. OstroffScott Kelly.

Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s denial of preliminary injunctive relief to plaintiffs challenging Nevada Senate Bill 248 (S.B. 248), which places new restrictions on the collection of consumer medical debt. In doing so, the court found the bill neither ran afoul of the First Amendment, nor was preempted by the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) or Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Read on for further analysis.

By way of background, S.B. 248 amended chapter 649 of the Nevada Revised Statutes governing debt collection agencies. Passed in response to the uptick in needed medical care caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, S.B. 248 was designed to protect Nevada consumers from potential financial ruin caused by medical debt by imposing new restrictions on the collection of such debt. Among other provisions of the bill, § 7 requires debt collection agencies to send written notification to medical debtors 60 days before taking any action to collect such debt (Section 7 Notice). The Section 7 Notice must inform the debtor that the “medical debt has been assigned to the collection agency” for collection or that the “collection agency has otherwise obtained the medical debt for collection.” During the 60-day period following the notice, a collection agency cannot take “any action to collect a medical debt.” Voluntary payments during the 60-day period are permitted, but a debt collector must disclose to the debtor that “payment is not demanded or due,” and that the “medical debt will not be reported to any credit reporting agency during the 60-day notification period.” Implementing regulations define “action to collect a medical debt” as “any attempt by a collection agency or its manager or agents to collect a medical debt from a medical debtor” and provide examples of what are, and are not, “attempts” to collect such debt.

Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Rejects Constitutional Challenge to Nevada Medical Debt Legislation; Also Finds Legislation Not Preempted by FDCPA or FCRA

On February 13, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of an Eastern District of New York court and found that the defendant law firm, Mandarich Law Group, LLC (Mandarich), had conducted a meaningful attorney review of the plaintiff debtor’s account prior to mailing her a debt collection letter on the firm’s letterhead. The three-judge panel set forth the decision in a summary order, which does not have precedential effect.

The putative class action arose out of a debt collection letter Mandarich mailed to the plaintiff in March 2019. The plaintiff alleged the letter included language that overshadowed the statutorily-mandated validation notice and falsely represented or implied that an attorney had meaningfully reviewed the letter in violation of multiple provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). As it relates to the meaningful-attorney-involvement claim, the plaintiff alleged that the use of the firm’s letterhead suggested an attorney was involved in the collection of the debt when in fact no attorney had reviewed the account prior to mailing the letter and the letter did not disclose that no attorney was involved in a review of the account. Mandarich moved for summary judgment on all of the plaintiff’s claims, which included the submission of an affidavit from an attorney at the firm that personally reviewed the plaintiff’s account using the firm’s specialized computer platform and in accordance with the firm’s “Attorney Meaningful Involvement Procedure” prior to the mailing of the letter. Through the review process, the attorney concluded that Mandarich’s client owned the plaintiff’s account, that the plaintiff had incurred the debt, that the account did not appear to be the subject of a bankruptcy proceeding, and the debt did not arise out of fraud. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Mandarich in January 2022 and the plaintiff appealed shortly thereafter.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the Mandarich attorney that reviewed her account did not “meaningfully” review it because most of the review was either performed by non-attorneys or was automated. The plaintiff further argued that the entire review process could have taken less than one minute and that the Mandarich attorney did not establish a specific plan to sue in the event the plaintiff failed to pay the debt. The Second Circuit summarily rejected these arguments. Following its prior decision in Miller v. Wolpoff & Abramson, L.L.P., 321 F.3d 292 (2d Cir. 2003), the court noted that it never established a specific minimum period of time that is required to constitute meaningful attorney involvement. Nor has the court established a bright-line test to determine whether an attorney was sufficiently involved in the review of an account. Rather, the Second Circuit has directed courts to weigh various factors, including what information was reviewed, the time spent reviewing the file, and whether any legal judgment was involved in the decision to send the collection letters. Under this criteria, the appellate court agreed with the district court and found that the Mandarich attorney had meaningfully reviewed the plaintiff’s account.