In Cassandra Valentine v. Unifund CCR, Inc. et al., the District Court of New Jersey dismissed the plaintiff's claim that a benign company name appearing on a debt collection letter through the glassine window of an envelope constituted a violation of the FDCPA if an internet search could reveal the name as belonging to a debt collector.
After allegedly defaulting on a financial obligation, plaintiff Cassandra Valentine's debt was purchased by Distressed Asset Portfolio III, LLC (DAP III). DAP III placed the account with Unifund CCR, Inc. (Unifund) for collection, which then mailed a collection letter to Valentine in April 2019. When Valentine received this letter, the name "Unifund CCR" and Unifund's address was visible through the glassine window envelope.
After receiving the letter, Valentine filed a putative class action suit alleging violations of sections 1692e, 1692f, and 1692g of the FDCPA. In particular, Valentine claimed that the letter violated FDCPA § 1692f(8), which prohibits the use of any language or symbol other than a debt collector's address when communicating with a consumer by mail. However, this section carves out an exception for the use of the debt collector's business name so long as the name does not indicate the company as being in the debt collection business.
In its motion to dismiss, Unifund argued that the name "Unifund" did not indicate any association with the debt collection business. In opposition, Valentine argued that its appearance constituted a violation because an internet search could reveal the name as being associated with a debt collector. The court agreed with Unifund, noting that "if the Court adopted Plaintiff's interpretation, it would eviscerate the statutory exception that permits debt collectors to include their name on the envelope of a debt collection letter. Given the ubiquity of the Internet, under Plaintiff's interpretation of Section 1692f(8), any name would indicate that the entity is in the debt collection business after an Internet Search." Thus, the court dismissed Valentine's claims brought against Unifund for the appearance of its name in the letter.
Although debt collectors will still have to maintain procedures to avoid the appearance of substantive language on letters no matter how benign, this case serves as guidance that the appearance of an innocuous business name on a letter should not be considered a violation under the FDCPA.
Originally Published by Troutman Pepper, March 2021
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