United States District Court, D. New Jersey
MCNULTY, United States District Judge
O'Neill sues Northland Group, Inc., a debt collector, for
damages and declaratory relief under the Fair Debt Collection
Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692
et seq. Her claim is essentially that a debt
collection letter, dated July 15, 2015, contained a
misleading statement concerning settlement for less than the
full amount owed. For the reasons stated herein, I find that
the face of the letter and prior case law permit me to rule
as a matter of law that the language in this letter is not
misleading within the meaning of FDCPA. I therefore grant
Northland's Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the Complaint
for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be
Complaint (ECF no. 1), filed on July 13, 2016, alleges as
plaintiff, Ms. O'Neill, is a "consumer" within
the meaning of FDCPA. She had a credit card account with TD
Bank USA/Target Cards ("TD Bank"). O'Neill
defaulted on the obligation, and the account was transferred
to defendant Northland, which is a debt collector within the
meaning of FDCPA. (Cplt. ¶¶ 14-20)
sent O'Neill a one-page letter dated July 14, 2015.
("Letter", ECF no. 1 at 13; a copy is attached for
ease of reference.) The Letter has a box at the top that
identifies the creditor as TD Bank, states the account number
(masked), and states that the "Account Balance" is
first paragraph of the body of the Letter reads as follows:
The above referenced client has assigned your account to our
office for collections. Your creditor has authorized us to
extend an offer to settle this account with you at a reduced
amount. In order to take advantage of this money saving
opportunity, please contact us at the number listed below. We
are not obligated to renew this offer.
(Letter; see also Cplt. ¶ 27) This language is
alleged to be misleading in that it would lead the recipient
to believe "that the creditor had authorized only a
singular, pre-set settlement offer" (Cplt. ¶ 33),
when in reality Northland "was authorized by the
creditor to accept a range of settlement offers and
terms" (Cplt. ¶ 34).
alleges a claim that the quoted passage was deceptive and
that it constituted an unconscionable means to collect or
attempt to collect a debt, in violation of FDCPA, 15 U.S.C.
§§ 1692e and 1692f.
12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P., provides for the dismissal of a
complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted. For the purposes of a motion to dismiss, the
facts alleged in the complaint are accepted as true and all
reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the plaintiff.
New Jersey Carpenters & the Trustees Thereof v.
Tishman Const. Corp. of New Jersey, 760 F.3d 297, 302
(3d Cir. 2014). Federal Rule of Procedure 8(a) requires that
the complaint's factual allegations must be sufficient to
raise a plaintiffs right to relief above a speculative level,
so that a claim is "plausible on its face."
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
courts construe FDCPA broadly to further its remedial purpose
and goal of "eliminat[ing] abusive debt collection
practices by debt collectors." Lesher v. Law Offices
of Mitchell N. Kay, PC, 650 F.3d 993, 997 (3d Cir.
2011); 15 U.S.C. § 1692(e). In assessing communications
to debtors, the courts adopt the perspective of the
"least sophisticated debtor, " so that the law
protects the gullible as well as the shrewd. Lesher
at 997; accord McLaughlin v. Phelan Hallinan
& Schmeig, LLP, 756 F.3d 240, 246 (3d Cir.
2014). That said, this framework "preserv[es] a quotient
of reasonableness and presum[es] a basic level of
understanding and willingness to read with care."
Id. (quoting Wilson v. Quadramed Corp., 225
F.3d 350, 354-55 (3d Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks and
offer to settle, as such, does not violate the FDCPA.
See, e.g., Campuzano-Burgos v. Midland Credit Management,
Inc.,550 F.3d 294, 299 (3d Cir. 2008). Nor need the
creditor lead with its last and best ...