The written dispute requirement issue and whether a validation notice that tracks the language of section 1692g is somehow violative of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a hot button—and divisive—issue within the Third Circuit.
In New Jersey, some decisions are stating that a letter containing the validation notice is fine as written, specifically when the invitation for the consumer to call the debt collector does not indicate that the call can be related to a dispute. Other judges in New Jersey are taking issue with including the word “if” in the validation notice—which, we might add, is the word used in the FDCPA itself. Judges in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania are finding that the sentence stating “unless you notify this office within 30 days that you dispute the validity of this debt,” without stating that the consumer must dispute in writing, does not accurately reflect the Third Circuit’s requirement that all disputes must be in writing.
But now there is some relief, at least in litigation management and defense costs for debt collectors. In Azizbayev v. Transworld Systems, Inc., et al., No. 19-cv-5399 (D.N.J. May 23, 2019) (alleging that a validation notice that tracks the statutory language of the FDCPA omits the written dispute requirement), the District of New Jersey stayed the case pending the Third Circuit’s resolution of the issue. The Azizbayev decision cites Judge Wigenton’s recent action of certifying an order on this issue for interlocutory appeal.
Why is this good news for debt collectors that are defending these claims? There are several reasons.
First, once the court stays a case, defense expenses are minimal since the case is effectively inactive until the court lifts the stay.
Second, once one judge agrees to stay the case, their decision can be cited to persuade other judges to do the same. District courts have very busy dockets, so judges usually are happy when there is a reason to put a pin in a case, especially if a higher court’s decision could lead to the case leaving their docket altogether.
Third, if debt collectors are successful in staying these cases (which indicates the tide is changing on this issue), more debt collectors will consider litigating the issue rather than paying out quick settlements to opposing counsel. Will this choke out these claims altogether? No, but it does starve out a quick payday and increases the risk to opposing counsel for bringing high volumes of these claims. It might not be the silver bullet to the litigation dilemma in this industry, but it’s certainly a step forward.