In Huffington v. Gordon, Aylworth & Tami, P.C., 2017 WL 6626317, at *4 (D.Or., 2017), Judge Acosta granted summary judgment to a debt collection law firm who had changed its name during the course of collecting on a particular debt.
Viewing the instant facts through the eyes of the least sophisticated debtor, Heffington’s argument here fails for three reasons. First, with respect to the form, notice of the name change appears conspicuously at the very top of the one-page 2016 Letter, with the new name, GAT, printed directly above “formerly Daniel N. Gordon, P.C.” (Aylworth Decl. Ex. 1.) Even a least sophisticated debtor would understand that Gordon Law now operates as GAT. Second, as to content, GAT’s name change was not as “significant” as Heffington suggests. (Pl.’s Resp. at 2.) Daniel N. Gordon’s surname is the very first listed in “Gordon Aylworth & Tami, P.C.,” and Daniel N. Gordon is listed in the 2016 Letter as a lead attorney at the firm. Finally, a debt collector changing its business name for reasons presumably unrelated to the collection of a specific debt is not the type of fraudulent or deceptive practice the FDCPA was intended to address. In fact, allowing a debt collector to change its operational name and continue the flow of communication with its debtors uninterrupted furthers the FDCPA’s goal of reducing confusion by maintaining consistency in a consumer’s existing chain of communication with a single collection entity. This interpretation is therefore unlikely to undermine either the consumer protections the statute provides or consumers’ efforts to verify their debts. Further, this outcome does not create any of the loopholes contemplated in Hernandez because there is little if any incentive for a debt collector to undertake the drastic measure of changing its business name simply to avoid standard validation notice requirements. The undisputed factual record shows that Heffington’s initial communication with GAT, formerly Gordon Law, occurred in 2006. Therefore, § 1692g(a) does not apply to the 2016 Letter.
Judge Acosta also found that, anyway, the letter’s disclosure of interest was fine.
The court finds Hutton‘s reasoning both persuasive and consistent with this district’s holdings in Powers and Santibanez. As Hutton soundly explains, Miller undoubtedly allows a debt collector to claim interest that accrues after an initial letter is sent to a debtor and before her debt is satisfied, without violating the FDCPA, so long as the amount of interest is disclosed. Though the 2016 Letter’s language differs slightly from the Miller letter, just like the letter in Hutton, it is functionally equivalent to Miller‘s safe harbor. And here, like in Hutton, the letter contains a “statement of the whole debt” and makes clear that the “post-judgment” interest represented is that which already has been accrued. The interest that “may” continue to accrue on Heffington’s debt is, therefore, merely a potential add-on to her existing debt. The amount of future interest that may accrue cannot be specified in a letter and can be referred to only in a hypothetical sense. GAT has therefore, like the debt collector in Hutton, accomplished the best it can do, and all it is obligated under Miller to do: informed Heffington that her outstanding debt may increase, if not paid, because of future interest. . . .In sum, § 1692g(a) of the FDCPA does not apply to the 2016 Letter because it is not an initial communication. Even if it did apply, the language of the 2016 Letter comports with the statute’s notice requirements. Because Heffington, the nonmoving party, fails to show a genuine issue as to any material fact, GAT is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law on the § 1692g claim.