In a recent opinion issued by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in Hartman v. Medicredit, Inc. (United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania, Case No. 15-1596), Chief United States Magistrate Judge Maureen P. Kelly rejected an argument brought by the defendant relying on Spokeo v. Robbins, (136 S.Ct. 1540 (2016) (Spokeo) suggesting that an alleged violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) did not create a “concrete injury” to give standing to the Plaintiff.Judge Kelly recommended that defendant Medicredit’s Motion to Dismiss a case about violating the Fair Debt FDCPA by sending collection letters that exposed personal identifying information be denied.
On December 7, 2015, plaintiff Melissa Hartman filed a complaint against Medicredit, alleging the following with respect to collection efforts for two “UPP University of Pittsburgh Phys” debts:
“Medicredit mailed two collection letters to Hartman in an attempt to collect the debts. On the outside of the letters, above Plaintiff’s name, was a number, identified in the letters as the consumer number for Plaintiff. It is a violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1692f(8) for a debt collector to use any language or symbol on an envelope when communicating with a consumer through the mail.”
The instant Motion to Dismiss and Brief in support were filed on October 20, 2016, and Hartman filed her Response Memorandum of Law in opposition on December 5, 2016.
Judge Kelly began her review of the case by noting that the Motion to Dismiss is a factual challenge under Rule 12(b)(1):
“In reviewing a factual attack, the court may consider evidence outside the pleadings and no presumptive truthfulness attaches to plaintiff's allegations, and the existence of disputed material facts will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself the merits of jurisdictional claims.”
Medicredit cited the Spokeo case to argue that “Plaintiff lacks standing to maintain an action in federal court because the statutory violation upon which her claim relies cannot alone constitute an injury in fact and Plaintiff has failed to adduce evidence of other harm.”
Judge Kelly cited Kaymark v. Udren Law Offices, P.C. () and Sullivan v. Allied Interstate, LLC () to assert that the FDCPA gives debtors the “statutory right to be free from harmful debt-collection practices and that a violation of the FDCPA constitutes a concrete injury and satisfies Article III’s injury-in-fact requirement. “
With respect to this specific case, Judge Kelly noted the following:
“In the instant case, Plaintiff alleges a violation of the FDCPA - specifically, conduct by Medicredit that is identified in the FDCPA as an ‘unfair practice.’ 15 U.S.C. § 1692f(8). Plaintiff has a statutory right to be free from such conduct and the alleged violation of that right constitutes a concrete injury. Thus, she has standing to pursue this action in federal court.
Given this, the Court recommends that Medicredit’s Motion to Dismiss be denied.”
This is a negative opinion for the ARM industry. It continues a trend of inconsistent opinions on what the Spokeo case means to the ARM industry and FDCPA cases. On August 15, 2016 attorney David Kleber, from the Bedard Law Group, wrote this article for insideARM discussing the various Spokeo interpretations in the area of TCPA case. The same discussion may very well hold true for FDCPA cases.
The case did not get into the merits of the alleged violation concerning the disclosure on the envelope. However, that issue has also presented inconsistent opinions. To view some examples of the inconsistent decisions insideARM encourages readers to view our FDCPA resource page here. The FDCPA case law grid on that pages highlights important cases for the ARM industry.