Please Call Back: When is a Voice Mail from a Debt Collector Harassing?

man dialing phone

An individual received a voice mail message from a debt collection company. The message stated the name of the company and that the call was from a debt collector, and asked that individual to call back at a particular number. She filed a lawsuit alleging that the voice mail was a harassing communication that violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). In Hart v. Credit Control, LLC, Case No. 16-17126 (decided September 22, 2017), the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit addressed two issues about the application of the FDCPA to that voice mail message.

First, the Court looked at whether the voice mail was a communication with the plaintiff covered by the Act. The debt collector argued that the voice mail message was like a hang-up call, noting that they never spoke directly to the plaintiff. The Court disagreed. The voice mail attempted to communicate information to the plaintiff. Under the FDCPA, that was a communication. Opinion, pp. 5-7.

The Court also looked at whether the voice mail was harassing because it failed to include the “meaningful disclosure” required by the FDCPA. In particular, the plaintiff argued that the disclosure in the voice mail was not meaningful because it did not include the “caller’s identity,” as required by the Act. Opinion, p. 8. The Court held that the disclosure was meaningful. It was sufficient that the voice mail message included the name of the debt collection company. The Act did not require the disclosure of the individual caller’s name.

Litigation under the FDCPA has become increasingly common. This decision provides more guidance as to the boundaries of claims under the FDCPA.

The Opinion is available at http://media.ca11.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/files/201617126.pdf

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