District Court Dismisses FDCPA Claims Despite Missing Phrase in Dispute Disclosure

The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York recently dismissed a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act suit with prejudice brought over disclosure language in a debt collection letter. The Court found that while certain disclosure language is included in the FDCPA, failure to include it does not necessarily give rise to a claim where the least sophisticated consumer would understand his or her rights.

The case – Chaperon v. Sontag & Hyman, P.C. et al. – concerned a debt collection letter sent regarding past-due rent amounts. Specifically, the letter stated:

This firm has been retained to collect a debt consisting of rent arrears totaling $12,209.26. Any information obtained will be used for that purpose. The below named creditor claims that you owe rent arrears as specified. You have 30 days from receipt of this notice to dispute the debt. If you fail to do so, we will assume the debt to be valid. If you timely notify us, in writing, that you do dispute the debt, we will obtain verification of the debt and mail the same to you.

Plaintiff Julia Chaperon brought suit, arguing that the letter violated Section 1692g(a)(3) because it did not explicitly state that any portion of the debt could be disputed, as opposed to just the whole amount. Chaperon also alleged that the disclosure violated Section 1692e(10) because the least sophisticated consumer would be confused as to whether he or she could dispute a portion of the debt, or just the whole amount. Defendant Sontag & Hyman, P.C. then filed a motion to dismiss the suit.

The Court did not agree with Chaperon’s arguments. In granting the motion to dismiss, the Judge found that while Sontag may have been better off including “or any portion thereof” in its disclosure – language that appears in the text of the FDCPA itself – even the least sophisticated consumer would understand that he or she could dispute either a portion of the alleged debt or the entire debt. Indeed, although it is included in the statute, the “or any portion thereof” language is not required. The Court found that the letter in this case was not contrary to the congressional intent of the FDCPA.