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Collection Letters with Multiple Meanings Violate the FDCPA

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

Ray Caprio filed a complaint against Healthcare Revenue Recovery Group, LLC (HRRG) alleging two claims under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

Last week, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals revived his claim.

HRRG is primarily in the business of acquiring and/or collecting debts, so -- at least in certain circumstances -- it agrees that it may fall under the FDCPA definition of a "debt collector." And that's how HRRG became tangled in litigation with Caprio: trying to collect a debt.

Caprio filed a putative class action complaint under the FDCPA based on a collection letter he received from HRRG. He specifically alleged that HRRG violated 15 U.S.C. §1692g because the instructions in the letter were confusing.

Caprio claimed that "the least sophisticated consumer would believe that he should choose either of the instructions as set forth in the second paragraph of the notice and either call the toll free number or write to HRRG at the address on the letter, to dispute the alleged debt." However, a dispute of a debt must be in writing in order to be effective in the Third Circuit.

HRRG also allegedly violated 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(10) by "providing language that misrepresents to the least sophisticated consumer that she can call [sic] either call the toll free number or write to HRRG at the address on the letter, to dispute the alleged debt, when in fact she must dispute the alleged debt in writing for the dispute to be effective."

The district court granted HRRG's motion for judgment on the pleadings, and Caprio appealed.

The Third Circuit reversed the district court's decision, finding that the court committed reversible error. According to the appellate court, the collection letter was deceptive because "it can be reasonably read to have two or more different meanings, one of which is inaccurate." In this case, the confusing information was the implication that Caprio could dispute the debt by making a telephone call.

If your firm acts as a debt collector, be certain that your collection letters aren't open to multiple interpretations.

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