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OVERSHADOWING VIOLATIONS CLASS CERTIFICATION PRELIMINARILY APPROVED

  • Jared Hartman, Esq.
  • Posted on December 13, 2016

 

Our law firm recently received preliminary approval for class certification in the case of Capps. v. Law Office of Peter Singer, et al. The opinion can be read by clicking HERE.

The case was filed October 26, 2015, alleging that the Law Office of Peter Singer sent debt collection letters to consumers with language that overshadows and contradicts mandatory disclosures that debt collectors are required to provide to consumers to properly advise them of their rights under the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). In particular, 15 U.S.C. 1692g requires third party debt collectors, even law firms that regularly engage in debt collection on behalf of another, must include a notice in their first collection letter that the consumer has 30 days to either dispute the debt, a portion of the debt, or request validation of the debt. If the consumer does provide in writing either a dispute or a request for validation, the debt collector must cease any further efforts to collect the debt until validation is delivered to the consumer. Typically, the validation must involve delivering to the consumer the original creditor’s name and address and/or a copy of a judgment.

This is important, because often-times debts are sold and re-sold between different agencies, and the consumer may not know what the debt pertains to if they do not recognize the current creditor or current collection agency. Providing to the consumer the original creditor’s name and address, at a minimum, should help the consumer to determine whether the debt is validly owed by the consumer, if the debt was actually incurred by someone else and the collector is contacting the wrong person, or if the debt had been paid off in the past and there is a mistake in alleging the debt is still owed. Providing the consumer 30 days to send such a dispute or request for validation provides the consumer with sufficient time to consider his or her choices in how to proceed, and also provides the consumer sufficient time to gather and deliver documents to the debt collector to support a dispute.

Courts have consistently held that any other language in the first collection letter that weakens or confuses this mandatory disclosure amounts to an “overshadowing” violation of the FDCPA.

Plaintiff’s claims in this case are based on the collection letters containing language that attempted to limit the consumers’ rights to take 30 days by urging consumers to pay the debt within 7 days. In particular, the letters claimed that the Law Office of Peter Singer would be entitled to sue the consumers after 7 days if they do not pay the debt or call the debt collector to make payment arrangements. Even though the letters also contained the mandatory 30 day dispute disclosure discussed above, the fact that the letters also contained a threat of lawsuit after merely 7 days of non-payment weakened and overshadowed the consumers’ absolute right to a 30 day dispute period.

On November 21, 2016, the Southern District of California granted the Plaintiff’s motion for preliminary approval of class settlement. The class settlement will entitle 170 members of the class to receive $66.70 each out of the class fund of $11,606.16. Class members can opt out in order to pursue their own claim on an individual basis. A final fairness hearing will be held March 13, 2017 in order for the Court to determine whether the final payments should be distributed to the class members who have not opted out, and in order to finally dispose of the class action if the Court determines that finalizing the class settlement is fair and meets all legal requirements of Rule 23.

A copy of the motion for class preliminary approval can also be found by clicking HERE.

As always, if you or a loved one are being contacted by a debt collector, you should not hesitate to contact us for a free and confidential consultation to determine whether your rights have been violated.