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Kraus v. Professional Bureau of Collections of Maryland, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

November 22, 2017

BLIMA KRAUS, On Behalf of Herself and All Other Similarly Situated Consumers, Plaintiff,
v.
PROFESSIONAL BUREAU OF COLLECTIONS OF MARYLAND, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          GLASSER, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Blima Kraus ("Kraus") brings this putative class action against Professional Bureau of Collections of Maryland, Inc. ("PBCM"), alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. Before the Court is PBCM's motion to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         Kraus's claim is essentially as follows: She alleges that PBCM's June 6, 2016 letter to her (the "Letter"), which transmitted an offer to settle her debt for 40% of her account balance, violated 15 U.S.C. § 1692e because it listed her account balance but did not indicate that the account balance might increase due to interest or other charges. Section 1692e prohibits the use of "any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt, " including "[t]he false representation of. . . the character, amount, or legal status of any debt." 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692e, 1692e(2)(A). In Avila v. Riexinger & Associates, LLC, the Second Circuit held that a debt collector violates § 1692e if it notifies a consumer of his or her account balance but fails to disclose that the consumer's balance may increase due to interest and fees. See 817 F.3d 72, 76-77 (2d Cir. 2016). But Avila also provides a safe harbor for a debt collector who "fail[s] to disclose that the consumer's balance may increase due to interest and fees" but nonetheless "clearly states that the holder of the debt will accept payment of the amount set forth in full satisfaction of the debt if payment is made by a specified date." Id. at 77. The questions facing the Court are whether Avila applies to the Letter and, if so, whether the settlement offer in the Letter brings PBCM within the safe harbor.

         Because the Court concludes that, though Avila applies, the Letter falls within the safe harbor, the Court grants PBCM's motion and dismisses the complaint. The Letter clearly communicated that PBCM would accept payment of the settlement amount-40% of the account balance, or $1, 552.45-in full satisfaction of Kraus's debt if the payment was received by June 20, 2016; this brings PBCM within the safe harbor. Significantly, Kraus alleges no confusion as to the terms of the settlement offer, transmittal of which was the purpose of the Letter. Kraus does not allege-nor plausibly could she-that she was (or that the hypothetical "least sophisticated consumer" would have been) misled as to (i) whether payment of the 40% settlement offer would fully satisfy the debt, (ii) the precise amount of the settlement offer, or (iii) the date by which the payment would need to be received by PBCM to satisfy the debt. To hold PBCM liable in these circumstances would be to reward a creative yet ostensibly unharmed plaintiff at the expense of a non-abusive debt collector that, by making a discounted settlement offer, was acting in consumers' best interests. The law does not demand such an absurd result.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Defendant PBCM is in the business of collecting debts owed to others. ECF 1 ("Compl."), ¶¶ 5-6. Plaintiff Kraus is a resident of New York who allegedly incurred a consumer debt, which alleged debt PBCM then sought to collect. Id. ¶¶ 2-3, 9. On or about April 11, 2016, PBCM sent to Kraus a letter (the "Validation Notice") that, among other things, (i) stated that her debt to Comenity Bank had been assigned to PBCM; (ii) notified her of the account balance; and (iii) provided other information required by 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a), including a statement that the debt's validity would be assumed unless disputed by the consumer within thirty days and an offer to obtain verification of the debt if it were to be disputed. See ECF 9-1, Ex. A.[2]

         On or about June 6, 2016, PBCM sent to Kraus the Letter, which reads, in relevant part, as follows:

Your account has been assigned to Professional Bureau of Collections of Maryland, Inc.
40% SETTLEMENT OFFER
We have been authorized by our client Comenity Bank to offer you an opportunity to pay less than the amount due. This settlement as offered shall be in the amount of 40% of the balance.
This settlement offer will expire unless we receive your payment of $1, 552.45 due in our office on or before 6/20/2016.
This notice is sent by a professional debt collector. This is an attempt to collect a debt and any information obtained will be used for that purpose.

Compl.¶10 & Ex. 1.

         The Letter identifies Kraus's "Account Balance" as $3, 881.13. Id., Ex. 1. The Letter does not indicate what portion of this account balance was the original principal or what portion, if any, was attributable to interest or other charges, nor does it indicate whether the account balance might increase due to interest and fees. See Id. Kraus alleges that she was unsure whether the account balance was accruing interest or whether it would accrue interest or other charges going forward. Id. ¶¶ 16, 19, 21. She further alleges that the account balance in fact was accruing interest daily and, moreover, that the account balance listed in the letter included the original principal, fees, and contractual interest. Id. ¶¶ 15, 18, 26.

         Kraus filed this action on June 6, 2017. ECF 1. She purports to bring the action on behalf of two classes: (i) Class A, consisting of New York residents who received collection letters in the same form as the Letter; and (ii) Class B, consisting of New York residents who suffered a series of other FDCPA violations allegedly committed by PBCM (which series of alleged violations is ungrammatically and, consequently, confusingly enumerated in paragraph 77 of the complaint). Id. ¶¶ 76-77.

         On July 7, 2017, PBCM moved the Court to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). ECF 9. Kraus did not timely file an opposition brief. The Court heard oral argument on September 15, 2017. See ECF 15.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the Court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 678. In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must accept the non-moving party's factual allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences in its favor. ATSI Commc'ns, 493 F.3d at 98. But the Court may consider, in addition to the facts stated in the complaint, "any written instrument attached to the complaint, " as well as "documents possessed by or known to the plaintiff and upon which it relied in bringing the suit." Id.

         DISCUSSION

         I. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

         The FDCPA was enacted in response to a "serious national problem" of debt collection abuse. S. Rep. 95-382, at 2 (1977), reprinted in 1977 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1695, 1696. The enacted purpose of the statute was "to eliminate abusive debt collection practices, " while simultaneously ensuring that non-abusive debt collectors "are not competitively disadvantaged." 15 U.S.C. § 1692(e). Section 1692e "establishes a general prohibition against the use of 'false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt.'" Clomon v. Jackson,988 F.2d 1314, 1318 (2d Cir. 1994) (quoting 15 U.S.C. ยง 1692e). The ...


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