The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit approved of a debt collector’s use of the words “within 30 days of receiving this notice” in its dunning letter, as opposed to the words “within thirty days after receipt of the notice” as stated in 15 U.S.C. §1692g(a)(3).
In so ruling, the Court held that a debt collector can use the words “after” and “of” interchangeably in its notice under 15 U.S.C. §1692g. The Court further held a debt collector is not required to specifically state the exact date the 30 day time period to dispute a debt begins.
A copy of the opinion is available at:
Defendant Debt Collector (“Debt Collector”) sent Plaintiff Debtor (“Plaintiff”) correspondence concerning a debt owed by Plaintiff. The letter stated that Debt Collector “would assume the validity of a debt unless he disputed it within 30 days of receiving this notice.” Plaintiff filed suit against Debt Collector alleging Debt Collector failed to comply with the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”).
Specifically, Plaintiff alleged Debt Collector failed to comply with 15 U.S.C. §1692g(a)(3) (“section 1692”). As you will recall, section 1692 states that a collector must notify the individual that it will assume the validity of the debt unless he disputes “within thirty days after receipt of the notice.” Plaintiff claimed Defendant’s use of the word “of” in the notice instead of the word “after” was a violation of the FDCPA. Defendant moved for a judgment on the pleadings, which the trial court granted. Plaintiff appeals.
On appeal, the Sixth Circuit examined whether the use of the word “of” instead of “after” was a violation of section 1692. The Court held Defendant’s failure to use the word “after” made no difference in interpreting the letter sent to Plaintiff and therefore, no FDCPA violation occurred.
Specifically, the Sixth Circuit held that a debt collector “need not parrot the Act to comply with it” as a “statement works with enough clarity to convey the required information to a reasonable but unsophisticated consumer.” The Court determined the correspondence at issue informed Plaintiff “that he had thirty days to dispute the debt, that the clock would start running when he received the letter, and that if he did not act the collector would assume the debt’s validity.”
The Court examined whether the use of the word “of” instead of “after” makes any difference in interpreting when the 30 day time limit began. The Court determined that “it makes no difference that the letter said ‘within 30 days of receiving this notice’ rather than ‘within 30 days after receiving this notice.’” The use of the words “of” and “after” can be used “interchangeably in this setting and indeed in most settings.”
Plaintiff argued the phrase “within thirty days of receiving this notice” suggests the time period to dispute the debt began the instant the debtor received the letter while the phrase “within thirty days after receiving this notice” infers the time period began running the day after receiving the notice.
The Sixth Circuit noted that Plaintiff had an argument that the day the letter is received is not included in the 30 day time limit as the law “doth reject all fractions and divisions of a day.” However, the Court still held that the use of the word “of” does not mislead the recipient as to when the time frame to dispute the debt begins to run. The Court explained that neither the words “of” or “after” clarify when the time limit to dispute the debt begins the day the debtor receives the letter or the next day. Therefore, the Court held that Debt Collector “spoke with enough clarity to comply with the Act.”
The Court also examined whether a debt collector is required to send correspondence clarifying the exact day the time period began to run. The Sixth Circuit held that a debt collector is not required to specifically state the day the letter is received is not included in the 30 day time period. The Court explained a debt collector “complies with the law so long as it effectively conveys information specified in the statutory text” and the text at issue “says nothing about whether the day of receipt counts.” Thus, Debt Collector was not required to specifically state the day on which the 30 day time period begins to run.
Accordingly, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s ruling granting Debt Collector’s motion for judgment on the pleadings.
Ralph T. Wutscher
McGinnis Wutscher Beiramee LLP
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