A debt collector’s employees were not required by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to provide their names in voice mails they left for a consumer, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has decided. While the telephone call had to include a "meaningful disclosure of the caller’s identity," that required identifying the company, not the individual employee, the court said in a case of first impression (Hart v. Credit Control, LLC, Sept. 22, 2017, Wilson, C.).
The court also said that the four-sentence routine voice mails were communications under the FDCPA. Since the first of the voice mails was the first time the debt collector contacted the consumer, it constituted the initial communication. As a result, the debt collector was required to state explicitly that the call was from a debt collector who was attempting to collect a debt and that any information the debt collector obtained would be used for that purpose.
Voice mail text. Employees of the debt collector, Credit Control, LLC, placed telephone calls to the consumer. When the consumer did not pick up the phone for the first call, the employee left this message:
This is Credit Control calling with a message. This call is from a debt collector. Please call us at 866-784-1160. Thank you.
Later employees left essentially the same message, the consumer said. She sued, claiming that there had been two FDCPA violations:
- Credit Control did not disclose the nature of the caller and the call as required by 15 U.S.C. §1692e(11).
- The employee had failed to identify herself meaningfully as required by 15 U.S.C. §1692d(6).
Credit Control argued that the message included a meaningful disclosure of the caller’s identity. It also claimed that the voice mail was not a communication under the FDCPA, so the 15 U.S.C. §1692e(11) disclosures were not needed.
Identification. Neither the original Credit Control employee who called the consumer nor any subsequent callers left their names, the consumer claimed. The court said the FDCPA did not require them to do so.
The FDCPA says that it is harassing or abusive for a debt collector to call a consumer on the telephone without a "meaningful disclosure of the caller’s identity." The issue, the court said, was whether making a "meaningful disclosure" meant disclosing the company’s identity or the employee’s identity. This was an issue of first impression in the federal appellate courts, the court said.
"[M]eaningful disclosure" does not require the individual caller to reveal her name," the court decided. Given that the relevant FDCPA section was intended to prevent abuse, the debt collection company’s name was enough. The individual employee’s name would not be useful additional information to a consumer.
What is a communication? The appellate court had no difficulty rejecting Credit Control’s claim that the voice mail was not a communication. The FDCPA includes a broad expansive definition of "communication," the court said—"the conveying of information regarding a debt directly or indirectly to any person through any medium" (15 U.S.C. §1692(a)(2)).
The voice mail told the consumer that a debt collector wanted to speak to her, gave her a telephone number, and asked her to call back. As long as the information conveyed related to a debt—which it did—the call was a communication.
Moreover, this was the first communication, the court observed. That meant Credit Control was obligated to tell the consumer that it was trying to collect a debt and would use any information it gathered for that purpose.
The case is No. 16-17126.
Attorneys: Alexander Daniel Weisberg (Weisberg Consumer Law Group, PA) for Stacey Hart. Ernest H. Kohlmyer, III (Urban Thier & Federer, P.A.) and Christopher Patrick Hahn (Maurice Wutscher LLP) for Credit Control, LLC.
Companies: Credit Control, LLC
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