The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (the “Act”) was created to protect consumers against abusive debt collection practices. The notice provision is one feature of the Act that requires debt collectors to notify consumers of the latter’s ability to obtain information concerning the existence of the debt and dispute the claim. Whether the debt collector has complied with the notice provision is often a question for the courts to decide, and the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently held that a debt collector satisfied the notice requirement, even though the text was written in small font with minimal spacing and compressed with other language on a single page.
In Jewsevskyj, the plaintiff commenced a class action suit against the owner of her debt and debt collector for alleged violations of the notice provision set forth in Section 1692g of the Act. The defendants advised the plaintiff of her rights in a letter written in 8-point font with “minimal spacing between the lines in each of the three full paragraphs on the front page and thus the text is compressed.” The information concerning the plaintiff’s ability to dispute the debt was included in the second paragraph in uppercase letters. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the district court granted the defendants’ motion based on its finding that the letter effectively communicated the plaintiff’s rights. The plaintiff appealed the order to the Third Circuit.
Section 1692g of the Act requires a debt collector to inform a consumer “that he or she may dispute a debt and that the debt collector will provide the consumer with documents that verify the existence of the debt, list the amount of the debt, and identify the creditor.” The notice must convey the required information effectively “from the perspective of the least sophisticated debtor.” The least sophisticated debtor standard requires that notice be provided in sufficient print, and the relevant language cannot be overshadowed by other information on the page. Further, the notice language must not contradict other information supplied by the debt collector concerning the consumer’s rights. While the letter provided to the plaintiff in Jewsevskyj used a small font and was compressed, the Third Circuit held that the relevant language was not contradictory, overshadowed by other provisions or in a different font size or format than the remainder of the letter. Accordingly, the letter did not violate Section 1692g of the Act.
The Jewsevskyj decision reminds debt collectors of the importance of the statutory notice requirement. While the Act fails to provide a one-size-fits-all form for satisfying the requirement, a few lessons may be learned from the Third Circuit’s decision. First, the notice should be written in the same font size and type. Second, the notice should avoid the use of colors, symbols or marks capable of distracting the consumer from the relevant language concerning their rights under the Act. Third, the notice should be legible and concise. Fourth, the content of the notice should be consistent. Most importantly, the notice should include the requisite information advising the consumer of their right to learn of the existence of the debt and the documentation giving rise to the monetary obligation. These lessons should allow a debt collector to satisfy the relatively low threshold of the least sophisticated debtor standard and comply with the notice provision under the Act.
The above-referenced case is Jewsevskyj, et al. v. Fin. Recovery Servs., Inc., et al., No. 16-4086 (3d Cir. July 14, 2017).