The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) tries to ensure that consumer debtors are given information clearly and unambiguously. The complaint for this class action alleges that a collection letter from Paul Michael Associates was unclear and confusing as to whom the debt was currently owed.
The class for this action is all persons similarly situated in New York State from whom Paul Michael Associates tried to collect a consumer debt, using a letter materially identical to the letter described in this case, between April 1, 2018 and the present.
The FDCPA forbids third-party debt collectors from using false, deceptive, or misleading representations in collecting consumer debts. While it provides examples, the list is not exhaustive. Whether a representation is deceptive or not is determined by looking at it from the standpoint of the “least sophisticated consumer.”
Plaintiff Miriam Mertz allegedly incurred a consumer debt, for personal, family, or household purposes.
After she fell behind in payments, the debt was assigned or otherwise transferred to Paul Michael Associates for collection. Paul Michael Associates sent a debt collection letter to Mertz.
The complaint says, “A letter is deceptive under [the FDCPA] if it is reasonably susceptible to an inaccurate reading by the least sophisticated consumer.” It argues that “the failure to clearly and accurately identify the creditor to whom the debt is owed is unfair and deceptive to the least sophisticated consumer.”
Also, the complaint says, “A debt collector has the obligation not just to convey the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed, but also to state such explicitly. … Even if a debt collector conveys the required information, the collector nonetheless violates the FDCPA if it conveys that information in a confusing or contradictory fashion…”
What is the complaint objecting to? The letter contained the words, “Re: Shiel Medical Labs.” The designation “Re:” does not make clear whether Shiel is the original creditor, the current creditor, the account owner, or any other particular thing. This also does not tell Mertz who Paul Michael Associates represents or what name she should put on the check to make a payment.
The complaint says that the “least sophisticated consumer” would be confused and uncertain as to the name of the party to whom the debt is owed. “Because the letter can reasonably read by the least sophisticated consumer to have two or more meanings, one of which is inaccurate…” the complaint says, “it is deceptive within the meaning of” the FDCPA.