In Henson v. Nationwide Credit, No. CV 20-11402 PA (MRWx), 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68689 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 7, 2021), Judge Anderson dismissed an FDCPA case challenging a debt collector’s disclosures in its validation letter.
In determining whether conduct violates [the FDCPA, courts within the Ninth Circuit] undertake objective analysis of the question whether the ‘least sophisticated debtor would likely be misled by a communication.'” Simpson v. Midland Credit Mgmt., Inc., 944 F.3d 1190, 1196 (9th Cir. 2019) (quoting Gonzales v. Arrow Fin. Servs., LLC, 660 F.3d 1055, 1061 (9th Cir. 2011)). “This is a legal, not a factual, determination.” Id. “The ‘least sophisticated debtor is distinguished from the ordinary, reasonable person by being financially unsophisticated. Such a debtor is comparatively uninformed and naive about financial matters and functions as an ‘average consumer in the lowest quartile (or some other substantial bottom fraction) of consumer competence.'” Id. (quoting Evory v. RJM Acquisitions Funding L.L.C., 505 F.3d 769, 774 (7th Cir. 2007). “While financially unsophisticated, this debtor is not ‘the least intelligent consumer in this nation of 300 million people.’ Rather, the debtor grasps the normal, everyday meaning of worse, and is ‘capable of making basic logical deductions and inferences.'” Id. (quoting Evory, 505 F.3d at 774 and Wahl v. Midland Credit Mgmt., Inc., 556 F.3d 643, 645 (7th Cir. 2009)). “In short, the least sophisticated debtor is reasonable and functional, but lacks experience and education regarding financial matters.” Id. Here, the collections letter accurately informed Plaintiff that JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. was the original creditor. The collections letter also stated that Plaintiff’s “outstanding balance with the above referenced creditor is past due and has been referred to Nationwide Credit, Inc. for collection.” The “above referenced creditor” is a reference to the “original creditor.” Applying the level of reason that the “least sophisticated debtor” possesses, an objective reading of the collections letter therefore establishes that Plaintiff had an outstanding balance with the “above referenced creditor,” which, was a reference to the original creditor, JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. The only reasonable reading of the collections letter is that there was only one creditor, the original creditor, and it was that creditor that referred the matter to Defendant, and to whom Plaintiff owed a current debt. As a result, an objective analysis applying the “least sophisticated debtor’s” level of reason, establishes that the collections letter received by Plaintiff is not misleading and provided Plaintiff with “the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed” as required by the FDCPA and RFDCPA.