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Rios v. Pinnacle Financial Group

August 22, 2006

VICTOR RIOS, ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PINNACLE FINANCIAL GROUP, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sidney H. Stein, U.S. District Judge.

OPINION

The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692-1692o, requires debt collectors to provide a consumer debtor with a notice setting forth certain rights the debtor possesses. These rights include the right to dispute the validity of the debt and to require the debt collector to obtain verification of the debt and then mail a copy to the debtor. Plaintiff Victor Rios, suing on behalf of an unspecified class, claims that a debt collection letter sent to him by defendant Pinnacle Financial Group, Inc., a debt collection agency, violated this mandate by misleadingly masking information regarding his right to request validation of the debt in lieu of paying immediately. Rios contends that the substance of the letter implied that he had no choice but to pay the alleged debt and that the letter's format similarly disguised information regarding his rights.

Defendant has now moved to dismiss the complaint, claiming that Rios has not stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. Having closely examined Rios's complaint and the debt collection letter itself, the Court concludes that that letter does not violate the FDCPA and therefore that Rios's claim, based as it is upon that letter, must be dismissed.

I. Background

The facts as set forth in the complaint are as follows: At some point prior to July 19, 2005, Rios's past due account at Citibank was given to Pinnacle for collection. (Complaint ¶¶ 9-10.) On July 19, Pinnacle sent Rios a debt collection letter. (Id. ¶ 10.) A copy of the letter is attached to Rios's complaint and is also appended to this Opinion. The top portion of the letter contains information regarding how to pay the outstanding balance and is to be detached by the recipient and returned with payment. In the middle of the letter, underneath a banner labeled "YOUR ACCOUNT HAS BEEN RECEIVED FOR COLLECTION," the following is written:

Dear VICTOR RIOS:

Please be advised that the below referenced claim has been placed with us for collection by ATLANTIC CREDIT & FINANCE, which has acquired a CITIBANK portfolio, and as such, my firm is handling the collection of your CITIBANK (sic).

Below this appear the words "Here is what you can do next," succeeded by a box containing three options:

1. Detach the upper portion of this letter and return with payment using the enclosed envelope.

OR

2. Please contact our office at 1-800-603-9465 to explore the options that are available to you.

OR

3. You may use any of the following services to pay: Below that appear five icons, including three credit card icons, a Western Union icon and a "Check by Phone" icon. At the bottom of the letter is a large box containing Rios's Citibank account information. Below that box are Pinnacle's hours of operation, and below the hours, in capital letters as large as any on the page, is the phrase "NOTICE: SEE REVERSE SIDE FOR IMPORTANT CONSUMER INFORMATION." The reverse side consists of four paragraphs of type, including one regarding the debtor's right to dispute the validity of the debt within 30 days and thereby require Pinnacle to obtain verification of the debt and mail a copy to the consumer debtor.

After receiving this letter, Rios filed the present action, which defendants have moved to dismiss pursuant ...


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