In a bit of good news to the collection agency industry, a federal district court has declined to follow the Third Circuit’s lead and has dismissed an FDCPA case based upon the information visible through the envelope’s glassine window. In Perez v. Global Credit and Collection Corp., the plaintiff brought FDCPA claims alleging that the debt collector violated 15 U.S.C. §1692f(8) by mailing a letter in connection with a debt in a plain white envelope with a glassine window. Nothing was written on the envelope – not even a return address. The plaintiff alleged however that the information visible through the glassine window, however, violated the FDCPA because it included the eight digit account number, 20591933. The offending information is below:
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Slip Op. at p. 5. The defendant moved to dismiss.
Section 1692f(8) prohibits the inclusion of “any language or symbol other than the debt collector’s address, on any envelope.” The current trend is to view violations to include not only information on the envelope, but also any information visible through the glassine window on the envelope. See Douglass v. Convergent Outsourcing, 763 F.3d 299 (3d. Cir. 2014). The defendant contended, and the court agreed, that the information visible was benign. The court noted that the purpose of the FDCPA was to preclude, among other things, the disclosure of consumer’s debts to third parties. The court found that a “string of eight meaningless digits – falls comfortably within the “benign language” exception to §1692f(8), As a result, the fact that the number (like a subscription number on the cover of any subscription magazine) is visible through the glassine window of the envelope does not constitute a violation of the FDCPA…Nothing that can be seen through the glassine window in the envelope indicates that the letter insider (sic) the envelope relates to a debt….What is visible through the particular glassine window is the epitome of benign language.” Id. at 6.
While the case is a bit of good news on the envelope front, it should be viewed with caution as it is in direct contravention with the Third Circuit’s findings in Douglas. There is no word yet as to whether the plaintiff will appeal the decision to the Second Circuit.
By Caren D. Enlow