In Garland v. Orlans, PC, No. 20-1527, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 16107, at *7 (6th Cir. May 28, 2021), the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found no Article III standing arising from a debt collector’s dunning letters sent to the Plaintiff.
The Court of Appeals found that the confusion the Plaintiff allegedly suffered from the dunning letter did not create concrete harm.
So the question that we resolve is whether Garland has sufficiently alleged that the statutory violations caused him individualized concrete harm. And here his allegations come up short. Garland’s alleged injuries are not concrete enough to support standing. Garland’s complaint alleges two injuries—confusion and anxiety. Both are intangible, so we analyze them under Spokeo‘s intangible-harm framework. We can dispense with confusion easily under Spokeo. Confusion does not have “a close relationship to a harm that has traditionally been regarded as providing a basis for a lawsuit.” Spokeo, 136 S. Ct. at 1549. And Garland has not shown us that anything in the RCPA and FDCPA suggests that the legislatures intended to make confusion cognizable. We have no difficulty joining the Seventh Circuit in holding that “the state of confusion is not itself an injury.” Brunett v. Convergent Outsourcing, Inc., 982 F.3d 1067, 1068 (7th Cir. 2020).
The Court of Appeals wrestled more with the analysis over Plaintiff’s perceived anxiety.
The anxiety analysis is not as easy, but Garland’s anxiety allegation also fails. This is not the first time this court has considered an attorney-letterhead allegation of anxiety. In Buchholz, this court held that a similar attorney-letterhead plaintiff lacked standing because 1) fear of future harm not certainly impending is not an injury in fact and 2) his injury was not traceable to the defendant’s conduct. 946 F.3d at 865-67. In that case, the panel majority also questioned whether a bare allegation of anxiety could be a concrete injury-in-fact at all. Id. at 863-65. Though we did not answer that question in Buchholz, today we do. . . . Faced with these facts, the Buchholz panel held that Buchholz did not have standing. In so doing, it made three noteworthy moves. First, it expressed doubt that a “bare allegation of anxiety” could ever qualify as a concrete injury. . . . Second, it determined that Buchholz’s alleged anxiety was not an injury in fact because fear of future harm is cognizable only when the feared harm is “certainly impending.” . . . Third, the panel went through the Spokeo intangible-injury framework to reach the same conclusion—the letter had not caused Garland a concrete intangible harm. Buchholz and Spokeo create an insurmountable barrier for Garland because a bare allegation of anxiety is not a cognizable, concrete injury. Buchholz all but reaches this conclusion. See 946 F.3d at 864-65 (“Buchholz’s failure to allege anything other than anxiety makes us skeptical about whether he has established an injury in fact. . . . Because bare allegations of confusion and anxiety do not qualify as injuries in fact, Garland’s injuries cannot create standing.
The Court of Appeals also found that the Plaintiff’s anxiety was not traceable to the dunning letter, but to the consequences of Plaintiff’s failure to pay the debt.
Garland’s anxiety allegation also fails standing’s traceability requirement. Standing requires “a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of,” which means that the injury is “fairly . . . trace[able] to the challenged action of the defendant,” not some “independent action of some third party.” Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560 (alterations in original) (citation omitted). Self-inflicted injuries fail under this prong because they are, “by definition, . . . not traceable to anyone but the plaintiff.” Buchholz, 946 F.3d at 866. Garland’s complaint runs into trouble under Buchholz here as well. In Buchholz, we held that Buchholz’s allegations were self-inflicted and thus not traceable to the law firm’s letter. Id. at 866-67. We explained that Buchholz did not dispute his debts or allege the letter contained inaccurate information. Rather, he had merely alleged that he was anxious about the possible consequences of refusing to pay his debts—possible legal action “if prompt payment was not made.” Id. at 867 (citation omitted). And we concluded that “[t]he cause of that anxiety falls squarely on Buchholz because he chose not to pay his debts—and now fears the consequences of his delinquency. Id. So . . . the anxiety that Buchholz allege[d] is not traceable to anyone but him.” Id. The only thing the letter had done was remind him that his creditors had not forgotten him. Id. The substantial overlap between Buchholz and this case decides this issue. Garland, like Buchholz, owed a debt and faced possible consequences for failing to pay. Both received a letter. Buchholz’s said that a firm had been retained to collect his debt. And Garland’s said that the foreclosure process was underway and might be avoided. Both felt anxious. Buchholz worried that his creditor might sue if he didn’t pay. And Garland feared foreclosure was more likely because of attorney involvement. The fear in both cases is rooted in the fact of default, not the letters received. As in Buchholz, Garland’s letter didn’t say anything to support the alleged fear. Just like Buchholz’s letter did not threaten suit, Garland’s said nothing that suggested that foreclosure was more likely because of attorney involvement. In fact, Garland’s letter contained good news—foreclosure alternatives might be available. Simply stated, “the anxiety [Garland] alleges is not because of anything [Orlans] wrote.” Id. Whether from the pen of an attorney or not, the letter said nothing that even remotely implied Garland’s chance of avoiding foreclosure was “diminished.” (R. 1, Complaint, 9.) Indeed, the letter took no position on that issue; it just said alternatives might be available if Garland contacted his lender. “The cause of” Garland’s ultimate fear of foreclosure “falls squarely on” his own shoulders “because he chose not to pay his debts” and “fear[ed] the consequences of his delinquency.” Buchholz, 946 F.3d at 867. Ultimately, Garland’s anxiety, like Buchholz’s, “is not traceable to anyone but him.” Id. And so he “cannot establish standing based on his allegations of anxiety.” Id.