In Whitfield v Contract Callers, Inc., Civil action n ° RDB-21-1540 (D. Md. 20 Dec. 2021), the District of Maryland dismissed claims under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), finding that confusion over the identity of the original creditor allegedly caused by a poorly drafted collection letter did not result in the type concrete prejudice necessary for the claimant has standing under Article III of the Constitution.
Plaintiff, Tiffany Whitfield, brought claims against defendants Contract Callers, Inc. (Contract Callers) and Diverse Funding Associates LLC (Diverse Funding), alleging violations of the FDCPA on her behalf and on behalf of an alleged class of individuals in the same situation. The claims stem from a letter that Contract Callers sent to Whitfield in February 2009. This letter stated that Diverse Funding was now the creditor to whom the debt was owed, but further stated: “[t]the original creditor was. [sic] You can recognize it as yours. [sic]Whitfield claimed she was confused as to the identity of the original creditor and alleged that she suffered emotional harm and spent time, money and effort trying to figure out what to do In response to the letter In response, the defendants requested dismissal, arguing that Whitfield had not suffered any concrete prejudice and therefore lacked standing to assert its claims.
In determining that Whitfield lacked standing, the court concluded that she had not alleged sufficient facts to demonstrate tangible harm. Although Whitfield claimed she was unable to assess her options due to her confusion over who owns the debt, she admitted that she had taken no action. As a result, the court ruled that “it is not prima facie plausible that the decision to do nothing in response to a confusing letter caused the complainant to spend time and money and caused her emotional harm ”.
Likewise, the court determined that Whitfield had not established that she had suffered tangible intangible harm. While intangible harm may give rise to tangible harm, the alleged harm must be “closely related to harm traditionally recognized as providing a basis for prosecution in US courts.” In claiming that she had suffered such harm, Whitfield argued that her FDCPA claims were similar to the common tort of fraud or misrepresentation. But since Whitfield did not allege that she relied to her detriment on anything in the letter at issue, the court ruled that she had not cited sufficient facts to establish that she had suffered concrete intangible harm analogous to common law fraud.
This case again underscores the fact that a claimant must have suffered real and tangible harm as a result of a debt collection letter in order to have standing in federal court. Mere confusion is not sufficient to assert a claim under the FDCPA.