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Joseph Ardino, On Behalf of Himself and All Other Similarly v. Financial Recovery Services

June 6, 2012

JOSEPH ARDINO, ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF AND ALL OTHER SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF(S),
v.
FINANCIAL RECOVERY SERVICES, INC., AND JOHN DOES 1-25,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William J. Martini, U.S.D.J.

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's motion to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. For the reasons provided below, the Court will GRANT the motion.

I.Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff Joseph Ardino is a New Jersey resident. Defendant Financial Recovery Services, Inc. ("FRS") is a debt-collector based in Minnesota. On June 13, 2011, FRS mailed to Plaintiff a letter attempting to collect a debt owed to Dell Financial Services, LLC (the "Communication").*fn1 After identifying itself as an attempt to collect a debt and providing the name of the current creditor and other identifying information, the Communication states, in relevant part:

YOU OWE $2854.04. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, WRITE THE UNDERSIGNED OR CALL 1-866-415-2398. UNLESS YOU NOTIFY THIS OFFICE WITHIN 30 DAYS AFTER RECEIVING THIS NOTICE THAT YOU DISPUTE THE VALIDITY OF THIS DEBT OR ANY PORTION THEREOF, THIS OFFICE WILL ASSUME THIS DEBT IS VALID. IF YOU NOTIFY THIS OFFICE IN WRITING WITHIN 30 DAYS AFTER RECEIVING THIS NOTICE THAT YOU DISPUTE THE VALIDITY OF This DEBT OR ANY PORTION

THEREOF, THIS OFFICE WILL OBTAIN A VERIFICATION OF THE DEBT OR OBTAIN A COPY OF A JUDGMENT AND MAIL YOU A COPY OF SUCH JUDGMENT OR VERIFICATION. IF YOU REQUEST THIS OFFICE IN WRITING WITHIN 30 DAYS AFTER RECEIVING THIS NOTICE THIS OFFICE WILL PROVIDE YOU WITH THE NAME AND ADDRESS OF THE ORIGINAL CREDITOR, IF DIFFERENT FROM THE CURRENT CREDITOR.

The Communication continues, and at the bottom, just below the signature line of the account manager presumably in charge of the collection, it repeats the toll-free telephone number.

Plaintiff filed this lawsuit claiming that the Communication violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. (the "FDCPA") because the Communication could lead a consumer to believe that he could legally dispute the debt by simply calling the telephone number. Count I of the Complaint alleges a violation of Section 1692g(a), and Count II alleges a violation of Section 1692e. The Complaint also purports to be a class action and alleges that more than one hundred New Jersey residents also received similarly confusing and misleading letters from FRS.

II.Legal Analysis

A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must take all allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975); Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998). This assumption of truth is inapplicable, however, to legal conclusions couched as factual allegations or to "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009).

Although a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Thus, the factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiff's right to relief above a speculative level, such that it is "plausible on its face." See id. at 570; see also Umland v. PLANCO Fin. Serv., Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). A claim has "facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). While "[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement' . . . it asks for more than a sheer possibility." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (2009).

B. The FDCPA

Because the FDCPA is a remedial statute, the courts must construe its language broadly and analyze communications from lenders to debtors from the perspective of the "least sophisticated debtor". Brown v. Card Serv. Ctr., 464 F.3d 450, 453-54 (3d Cir. 2006) (citations omitted). "The basic purpose of the least-sophisticated [debtor] standard is to ensure that the FDCPA protects all consumers, the gullible as well as the shrewd. This standard is consistent with the norms that courts have traditionally applied in consumer-protection law." Id. at 453 (quotation omitted). The least sophisticated debtor standard is a low standard, but it does not allow "liability for bizarre or idiosyncratic interpretations of collection notices" because it asks the courts to "preserv[e] a quotient of reasonableness and presume[e] a basic level of understanding and willingness to read with care." Wilson v. Quadramed Corp., 225 F.3d 350, 354-55 ...


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