Last week, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals filed a short order deciding on its own that the Riccio v. Sentry Credit, Inc. case (No. 18-1463) is “controlled by a prior decision of the court which warrants reconsideration” and decided on its own to review the matter en banc—in other words, before all Third Circuit judges rather than just a panel of three judges. 

The crux of the Riccio case is whether including a telephone number on an initial collection letter somehow misleads the consumer into thinking he can dispute the debt orally, while the Third Circuit requires all 1692g disputes to be in writing. The district court found in favor of Sentry Credit and dismissed the case, a decision that was promptly appealed by the consumer. The Third Circuit held oral arguments on Riccio and several other similar cases on September 12, 2019, and the order referenced above was the outcome. 

While the Third Circuit did not specify which “prior decision” it will reconsider, it is likely to be  Graziano v. Harrison, F.2d 107 (3d Cir. 1991), where the court made its determination that 1692g disputes must be in writing. Graziano not only created a Circuit split on the issue but also spawned many similar decisions within the Third Circuit such as Caprio v. Healthcare Revenue Recovery Group, LLC, 709 F.3d 142 (3d Cir. 2013), which was heavily cited in the consumer’s appellate brief in Riccio.

In addition to ordering an en banc review of the Riccio matter, the Third Circuit stayed three other related cases pending the review. The outcome of Riccio could have a significant impact on all related cases and on the validation notice language used in collection letters, which has also been hotly contested within the Third Circuit. 

The en banc hearing is scheduled for February 19, 2020.


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