District Courts in New York Reject FDCPA Claims Based on Account Numbers Appearing on Envelope

Over the past two weeks, two separate federal district courts in New York held that having a consumer’s account number visible on the outside of an envelope containing letters from debt collection agencies does not, by itself, violate the FDCPA. In these cases, both Judge Colleen McMahon and Judge John Curtin, of the Southern and Western Districts of New York, respectively, acknowledged the Third Circuit’s holding in Douglass v. Convergent Outsourcing, 765 F.3d 299 (3d Cir. 2014), but ultimately chose not to apply its logic. In Perez v. Global Credit and Collection, Judge McMahon said the information contained on the plaintiff’s envelope (an eight-digit account number) was “meaningless to anyone other than someone at Global Credit.” Judge McMahon further stated that “[e]ven the fact that it is an account number says nothing about whether the plain white envelope contained a debt collection communication, as opposed to a renewal notice, a special offer to consumer, or any of the other myriad junk mail communications that arrive in plain white envelopes with glassine windows on a daily basis in the mailboxes of America.” Applying the same logic, Judge Curtin stated in Gelinas v. Retrieval-Masters Creditors Bureau, that “nothing about the series of letters and numbers above the addressee’s name intimates that the contents of the envelope relate to the collection of a delinquent debt, and the visibility of these numbers and letters is neither threatening nor embarrassing.” Both judges recognized that, over time, courts have started to recognize an exception under the debt collection act for communications from creditors that include “benign” words or notations that cannot be construed as being threatening to consumers or designed to cause them embarrassment because they owe money. Finding the account numbers at issue in this case to be just that, both Judges dismissed the cases.