In Gardner v. Credit Management, LP, here, Judge Failla found for an FDCPA defendant, disagreeing with the Third Circuit’s decision in Douglass v. Convergent Outsourcing, 765 F.3d 299 (3d Cir. 2014).
To the extent that the Douglass Court was concerned with an account number’s potential for disclosing the recipient’s status as a debtor should a third party choose to investigate the number’s meaning, this concern seems misplaced: The return address printed on the envelope — text that is expressly allowed by § 1692f(8) — is equally “capable of identifying [the recipient] as a debtor.” In the case of CMI, all a sufficiently curious party needs to do is enter the return address into an internet search engine, and the name and business purpose of CMI appear, thereby disclosing that the letter’s recipient hasreceived a debt collection letter. If the Act were concerned with the display of information that could, if diligently investigated, disclose a recipient’s debtor status, it would not permit return addresses — or, arguably, use of the mails — at all. Instead, however, the Act expressly allows not only return addresses, but also a collection agency’s name, so long as, on its face, the name “does not indicate that [the sender] is in the debt collection business.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692f(8). Given that the internal tracking number at issue here in fact has less potential than the return address to disclose Gardner’s debtor status (plugging the return address into a search engine reveals CMI’s information, whereas plugging in the tracking number reveals nothing to connect the letter to debt collection), the Court declines to follow the Douglass opinion insofar as it concluded that the display of a similar internal account number violates § 1692f(8). Gardner additionally relies on Voris v. Resurgent Capital Services, L.P., No. 06 Civ. 2253 (JM) (RBB), 494 F. Supp. 2d 1156 (S.D. Cal. June 26, 2007), to argue that the question of whether an account number constitutes “benign language” presents a factual issue that cannot be resolved on a motion to dismiss. That case, however, involved an entirely different contention than the one at hand: In Voris, the question was whether the words “You are Pre-Approved* See conditions Inside” were “unfair” or “unconscionable” because they tended to mislead a debtor into thinking that the collection letter was junkmail. Id. at 1167. The Voris court focused on the effect this language had on the letter’s recipient and whether, as the result of such language, “the least sophisticated consumer would tend to throw away Defendant’s letters ithout opening them.” Id. Here, Gardner does not assert that the tracking number “misled” her into thinking that the letter was unsolicited junk mail. She does not allege that the tracking number was misleading in any manner at all. Thus the Voris court’s holding, that extrinsic evidence was necessary to determine the language’s effect on the recipient, is inapposite to the case at hand.