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Remington v. Financial Recovery Services, Inc

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 15, 2017

LUCILLE A. REMINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
FINANCIAL RECOVERY SERVICES, INC., et al., Defendants.

          RULING GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff brings this action under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq., on grounds that she received a debt collection letter that made reference to possible tax consequences if she were to settle an outstanding debt. Defendants have moved to dismiss plaintiff's FDCPA complaint for lack of standing and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. I conclude that plaintiff has standing, but that the words in this debt collection letter are not actionable, because they are not false, deceptive, or misleading.

         Background

         Defendant Financial Recovery Services, Inc. (FRS), a debt collector, mailed plaintiff a letter in an attempt to collect a personal credit card debt in the amount of $822.39. Doc. #1. In the letter, FRS offered plaintiff three settlement options to pay off the debt, and further noted: “This settlement may have tax consequences. Please consult your tax advisor.” Id. at ¶¶ 9, 10.

         Plaintiff has filed this lawsuit under the FDCPA, alleging that the letter's reference to potential tax consequences is false, deceptive, and misleading-that it “suggests that the consumer could be in trouble with a tax authority if she did not pay in full rather than settle, ” id. at ¶ 20, that it “creates a false sense of urgency, ” id. at ¶ 21, and that it “is meant to make the consumer nervous, worried, or upset, ” id. at ¶ 22. Plaintiff also alleges that the reference to potential tax consequences from a settlement is a “ploy to get the consumer to pay the account instead of a [sic] paying for tax advice.” Id. at ¶ 19.

         Discussion

         Congress enacted the FDCPA in light of “abundant evidence of the use of abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices by many debt collectors, ” which “contribute to the number of personal bankruptcies, to marital instability, to the loss of jobs, and to invasions of individual privacy.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692(a). The statute's stated purpose is “to eliminate abusive debt collection practices by debt collectors, to insure that those debt collectors who refrain from using abusive debt collection practices are not competitively disadvantaged, and to promote consistent State action to protect consumers against debt collection abuses.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692(e).

         Among other provisions of the statute, the FDCPA broadly provides that “[a] debt collector may not use any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692e. The statute lists many examples of such prohibited conduct. Id.[1] The FDCPA further provides for a civil cause of action for any violations and for the award of attorney's fees. 15 U.S.C. § 1692k.

         Defendants have moved to dismiss plaintiff's suit for lack of standing and failure to state a claim. See Doc. #9. I will address each in turn.

         Standing

         Article III of the Constitution limits the jurisdiction of the federal courts to “Cases” and “Controversies.” U.S. Const. art. III, § 2, cl. 1. The reason for the case-or-controversy limitation is to restrain the federal courts from enmeshing themselves in deciding abstract and advisory questions of law. Accordingly, any federal court plaintiff must have case-or-controversy “standing” to assert a claim-specifically, “a plaintiff must show (1) an ‘injury in fact, ' (2) a sufficient ‘causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of, ' and (3) a ‘likel[ihood]' that the injury ‘will be redressed by a favorable decision.'” Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, 134 S.Ct. 2334, 2341 (2014) (quoting Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992)); see also E.M. v. New York City Dep't of Educ., 758 F.3d 442, 449-50 (2d Cir.

         2014).

         An injury in fact must be both “concrete and particularized, ” as well as “actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 1548 (2016). An injury is concrete if it “actually exists, ” though it need not be a “tangible” injury (e.g., incurring damages or suffering a physical injury), because Congress may create “intangible” injuries through statute. See Id. at 1549. An injury is particularized if a plaintiff shows that a defendant's “actions (or inactions) injured her in a way distinct from the body politic.” Strubel v. Comenity Bank, 842 F.3d 181, 188 (2d Cir. 2016).

         Turning first to particularity, the complaint sufficiently demonstrates that defendants' debt collection letter-if violative of the FDCPA-“injured [plaintiff] in a way distinct from the body politic.” Strubel, 842 F.3d at 188. Although defendants contend that the complaint only states that the letter creates a “false sense of urgency”-not that “the letter caused her to suffer harm, ” Doc. #16 at 2, a fair import of the complaint is that plaintiff read the letter and felt harmed by it. The letter thus affected plaintiff “in a personal and individual way” and any injury ...


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