Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Seventh Circuit Holds That Intent is Irrelevant in Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Claims

Per Sims v. GC Services L.P., 445 F.3d 959 (7th Cir. Apr 26, 2006):

In reviewing a defendant's motion for summary judgment in an FDCPA case, this Court will find a triable issue of fact if the collection letter is confusing or unclear on its face. Chuway v. National Action Financial Services, Inc., 362 F.3d 944, 948 (7th Cir.2004). The burden of proof is on the plaintiffs to present evidence of confusion (beyond their own) in the form of an objective measure, like “a carefully designed and conducted consumer survey.” Id. Mere speculation that the unsophisticated debtor could be confused by a dunning letter is not enough for an FDCPA plaintiff to survive a summary judgment motion. (citation omitted) Where it is apparent that a collection letter would not confuse a significant fraction of the population, summary judgment should be granted in favor of the defendant unless the plaintiff has presented “objective evidence of confusion.” Taylor v. Cavalry Investment, LLC, 365 F.3d 572, 575 (7th Cir.2004).

Plaintiffs argue that defendants' violations were “intentional,” in that they chose all capital lettering and low-leading and light gray font for the validation notice. But intent is not an element of an FDCPA violation. See Gearing v. Check Brokerage Corp., 233 F.3d 469, 472 (7th Cir.2000). If debt collectors go to great lengths to produce confusing letters and attempt to deceive the recipients, their intent would not matter if the letters on their face contained the required notifications and would not confuse the unsophisticated consumer. Conversely, debt collectors might make every effort to make the letters clear and not confusing, yet if the letters would confuse the unsophisticated consumer and violate the statute, debt collectors would be held liable. In short, intent plays no role in determining whether a particular letter violates the FDCPA.


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