US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit decision (March 25, 2016).
This case involved a dispute over the interpretation of two sections of the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The sections in question pertained to a requirement that a debt collector provide notice to a consumer which includes a statement that if the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within 30 days that the debt is disputed, the debt collector will obtain and provide verification of the debt and/or a copy of a judgment against the consumer. The collector had sent a debt collection letter to the attorney for the consumer (not the consumer directly) which notified the consumer of their right to dispute the validity of the debt but the letter did not contain any statement that the consumers responsive notice of dispute had to be contained in a writing (emphasis added). The consumer contended that the omission violated the FDCPA and that by omitting the in writing requirement the debt collector was using a false representation or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect a debt. The lower district court found that the plaintiffs action did not state a valid claim and dismissed the case. The plaintiff then filed an appeal.
The appellate court noted that the case involved the following issue that had not previously been addressed in the Eleventh Circuit: whether a debt collection letter that is sent to a consumers attorney, and not directly to the consumer, constitutes a communication with a consumer that is governed by the FDCPA. The appellate court reversed the lower district courts judgment dismissing the case after finding that, because the FDCPA defines a communication as the conveying of information regarding a debt directly or indirectly to any person through any medium (emphasis added), sending a letter to a consumers attorney (as opposed to the consumer directly ) is an indirect communication with the consumer that is governed by the FDCPA. Because the debt collectors letter to the consumers attorney omitted the material required term that the debtors notification of a dispute of the obligation had to be in writing, there was a misstatement of the law surrounding debt-verification requests which gave rise to a valid claim by the consumer under the FDCPA.
See case decision: Connie_Bishop_v._Ross_Earle_