The Fair Debt Collection Practice Act (FDCPA), enacted in 1977, aimed to “eliminate abusive debt collection practices.” Among many other reforms, the FDCPA prohibits harassing or oppressive conduct on the part of debt collectors, and it requires debt collectors to provide notice to debtors of their right to require verification of a debt. Both the text of the FDCPA and its legislative history emphasize the intent of Congress to address the previously common and severe problem of abusive debt collection practices and to protect unsophisticated consumers from unscrupulous debt collection tactics. The Act, as a U.S. District court recently stated, was not intended to enable plaintiffs to bring serial lawsuits against different debt collector defendants alleging various and often insignificant deviations from the Act’s provisions.
In Ehrich v. Credit Prot. Ass’n, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134142 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 19, 2012), accused the plaintiff in that case of abusing the FDCPA by, among other things, filing a total of nine complaints, including the present case, over the past seven years. The court stated that the record suggests that the plaintiff may be deliberately defaulting on his debts in order to provoke collection letters which are then combed by his lawyer for technical violations of the FDCPA.
The facts of this unique case are that Ehrich filed a complaint against Credit Protection Association, L.P., alleging violations of the FDCPA. Ehrich alleged that CPA sent him a collection note seeking to recover a debt owed to Time Warner Cable Company. Ehrich did not dispute the validity of the debt CPA sought to collect, nor did he claim that the primary text of the letter violates the FDCPA. Rather, Ehrich based his claim on two Spanish sentences at the top and bottom of the letter.
Printed at the top of the letter is the phrase “aviso importante de cobro,” which Ehrich, relying on a Google translation, translated as “important collection notice.” At the bottom of the collection notice were three Spanish phrases: “Opciones de pago,” “Llame” followed by a phone number, and “Envíe MoneyGram,” which Ehrich translated as “Payment options,” “Call” and “Send MoneyGram.” Ehrich, who does not speak Spanish, claimed that the notice’s inclusion of these Spanish phrases without a Spanish translation of the FDCPA-mandated disclosures and notices provided in English could mislead Spanish-speaking consumers and cause them to inadvertently waive their rights under the FDCPA.
CPA moved for summary judgment which was granted by the court based on lack of standing. The basis for the Court’s ruling was that the collection notice contained all disclosures required by the FDCPA and that Ehrich fully understood it. Therefore, he suffered no injury sufficient to support standing.