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Ferrulli v. BCA Financial Services, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 28, 2018

GINO FERRULLI, Plaintiff,
v.
BCA FINANCIAL SERVICES, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION

          KATHARINE S. HAYDEN, U.S.D.J.

         This matter comes before the Court on defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff Gino Ferrulli's class action complaint (D.E. 6) in which he alleges that BCA Financial Services (“BCA”) sent him and others similarly situated a debt collection letter that violates two provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”): 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(10) and 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a). For the reasons expressed below, the Court grants the motion.

         I. Factual Background

         Ferrulli incurred a $780 debt to Saint Barnabas Medical Center, which was referred to BCA for collection purposes. (D.E. 1, Compl. ¶¶ 15, 21.) BCA proceeded by sending Ferrulli a collection letter dated May 2, 2017, fully reproduced here:

         (Image Omitted)

         (D.E. 1, Ex. A, Collection Letter.)

         Ferrulli claims the collection letter “us[es] false, deceptive, or misleading representations or means in connection with the collection of a debt, ” violating 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(10), and “fail[s] to provide the consumer[-recipient] with a proper notice, ” as required by 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a)(3). (Compl. ¶ 36.) Central to his argument is the letter's second paragraph: “If you have any questions regarding this debt you may speak to an account representative by calling our office.” (Id. ¶ 30; D.E. 11, Opp. Br., 3-4.) Ferrulli asserts that this language could mislead the recipient into thinking that a debt may be disputed either by calling BCA or by writing to BCA. (Compl. ¶ 43.) Since an effective debt dispute must be in writing, Ferrulli argues that this language renders the letter false and misleading, and so the letter provides ineffective notice. (Compl. ¶¶ 46, 47.)

         II. Legal Standard

         Under Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009), the district court employs a two-part analysis to decide a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. First, the court “must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true, ” but is not obligated “to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Id. at 678. Second, “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id. at 679.

         Determining a claim's plausibility is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. Further, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. at 678. Merely pleading a cause of action “does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.” Id. at 678-79. Instead, “[a] complaint has to ‘show' such an entitlement with its facts.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211 (3d Cir. 2009).

         A. Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

         “Congress enacted the FDCPA to curb ‘abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices.'” Tatis v. Allied Interstate, LLC, 882 F.3d 422, 426 (3d Cir. 2018); 15 U.S.C. § 1692(a). The FDCPA is remedial legislation, and as such, “must be broadly construed in order to give full effect to these purposes.” Caprio v. Healthcare Revenue Recovery Grp., LLC, 709 F.3d 142, 148 (3d Cir. 2013). With that aim, courts apply the “least sophisticated debtor” standard when deciding whether debt collection practices violate the FDCPA. Jensen v. Pressler & Pressler, 791 F.3d 413, 418 (3d Cir. 2015) (reasoning that the standard empowers courts to advance the Act's intent to “protect the gullible as well as the shrewd”) (internal citations omitted). The standard is objective; “the specific plaintiff need not prove that [s/he] was actually confused or misled, only that the objective least sophisticated debtor would be.” Id. at 419.

         A successful FDCPA claim requires a plaintiff to prove that “(1) [s/he] is a consumer, (2) the defendant is a debt collector, (3) the defendant's challenged practice involves an attempt to collect a ‘debt' as the Act defines it, and (4) the defendant has violated a provision of the FDCPA in attempting to collect the debt.” Douglass v. Convergent Outsourcing, 765 F.3d 299, 303 (3d Cir. 2014). The fourth element is contested here.

         III. ...


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