In Gonzalez v. FMS, Inc., 2015 WL 4100292 (N.D.Ill., 2015), Judge Castillo dismissed an FDPCA claim premised on the debtor’s account numbers being visible on envelope in which the dunning letter was sent.
Considering Section 1692f(8) in context and in light of the purposes of the FDCPA, it is clear to this Court that the provision was only intended to prohibit markings that could be considered unfair or unconscionable, not those that are innocuous or benign. This reading is consistent with the commentary issued by the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), an agency that “holds some interpretative and enforcement authority with respect to the FDCPA [.]” Gulley v. Markoff & Krasny, 664 F.3d 1073, 1074 (7th Cir.2011) (citation omitted). The FTC’s commentary states: “[A] rigid, literal approach to [Section 1692f(8) ] would lead to absurd results (i.e., taken literally, it would prohibit showing any part of the consumer’s address on the envelope). The legislative purpose was to prohibit a debt collector from using symbols or language on envelopes that would reveal that the contents pertain to debt collection–not to totally bar the use of harmless words or symbols on an envelope.” FTC Staff Commentary On the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 53 Fed.Reg. 50097–02, 50099 (Dec. 13, 1988). . . . The FTC’s interpretation is also supported by the legislative history of the FDCPA. The bill’s Senate report states that Section 1692f(8) was intended to prevent debt collectors from embarrassing debtors by announcing their delinquency on the face of a dunning letter envelope: “A debt collector is prohibited from using any unfair or unconscionable means to collect debts. The following enumerated practices are violations: … communicating information about a debt by postcard; and using symbols on envelopes indicating that the contents pertain to debt collection.” S. Rep. No. 95–382, at 8 (1977), reprinted in 1977 U.S.C.C.A.N. 1695, 1702. . . . the gist of his claim is that the mere presence of the numbers violated Section 1692f(8). (R. 10–1, Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 19–28.) But an unsophisticated consumer viewing the envelope could not plausibly divine that the letter inside was associated with a delinquent debt. Plaintiff has not alleged, nor is there any basis to infer, that the account number embedded in the string of numbers would have meaning to anyone other than Defendant. The number is not identified in any way as an account number, and this same number is printed on the envelope just below Defendant’s return address. (See R. 5–1, Ex. C.) Someone viewing the envelope could just as easily conclude that the numbers were part of a postal code and that the letter consisted of unwanted junk mail. See Strand, 380 F.3d at 319 (“Even from the perspective of an unsophisticated consumer, the envelopes must have appeared indistinguishable from the countless items of so-called junk mail found daily in mailboxes across the land.”). It might be a closer question if Defendant’s name bore some indication that it was involved in the debt collection business, but “FMS, Inc.” is entirely innocuous. In a recent case, our respected colleague U.S. District Judge Milton I. Shadur struck a complaint alleging a similar claim based on a string of numbers and symbols appearing on a debt collection envelope. See Sampson v. MRS BPO, No. 15 C 2258 (N.D. Ill. Mem. Op. & Order dated Mar. 17, 2015). As Judge Shadur aptly observed: “In order for any hypothetical member of the public who views the envelope … to be able to perceive that debt collection is involved and is at issue, so that [defendant] assertedly used unfair and unconscionable means to collect a debt … that member of the public would have to be blessed (or cursed?) with x-ray vision that enabled him or her to read the letter contained in the sealed and assertedly offending envelope. Absent that, any deciphering of the impenetrable string of numbers and symbols on the outside of the … envelope would have to depend on some sort of divination. That is simply not the stuff of which any legitimate invocation of the Act or its constructive purposes can be fashioned.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). This Court agrees. Because the string of numbers appearing on the envelope is benign, the Court finds that the numbers did not violate Section 1692f(8).