On August 8, 2019, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (7th Cir.) released its long-awaited verdict in the case of Lavallee v. Med-1 Solutions, LLC, 17-3244 (7th Cir. Aug. 8, 2019). The court ruled that Med-1 Solutions, LLC did not properly provide the validation notice as required by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Additionally, the court held that the first email Med-1 Solutions, LLC sent did not constitute a debt collection communication. Despite the unsuccessful method by which Med-1 attempted to email the initial communication, it is possible to do so in a compliant manner consistent with the current interpretation of the FDCPA.
The court’s decision
The Court held that Med-1 Solutions, LLC did not properly deliver the validation notice to the consumer. Med-1 sent the Plaintiff an email, but the email did not contain the text of the validation notice.
Instead, the email contained a hyperlink to a page where the Plaintiff would have had to enter personal information, and then take four additional steps in order to open a PDF containing the full initial demand letter with the required validation notice language.
The Court reasoned that Med-1’s email did not constitute a communication because the email did not have any content relating to a debt. The Seventh Circuit reasoned that the “email conveyed three pieces of information:
- The sender’s name (Med-1 Solutions, LLC)
- Its email address
- The fact that it ‘has sent … a secure message.’ ”
The email did not convey any information about the debt so it did not constitute a communication.
The FDCPA requires debt collectors to provide the validation notice in the initial communication or within 5 days of the initial communication in writing. Since the email did not constitute an initial communication, the Court found the initial communication happened over the phone. Med-1 Solutions, LLC, however, did not provide the validation notice during that call or in writing within 5 days because the company believed that their email satisfied the requirement.
How to provide a validation notice in initial communication via email
When sending an initial communication by email, the content in the body of that email must contain all the validation notice requirements (15 USC § 1692g). It should:
- Identify current creditor
- State the amount owed
- Provide the validation statement explaining the customer’s dispute rights
With the right information provided in the initial communication customer’s are more likely to recognize the account and trust that the email is from a legitimate debt collector. It should contain information on:
- How to unsubscribe from future emails
- Telephone contact information
- The business’ hours of operation
Beyond that, it should comply with any other state, federal, or local obligations such as whether or not to provide a disclosure or other information. These are some of the principals embraced in the CFPB’s proposed debt collection rule. Had Med-1’s email contained this information in the body of the email, the result in the case would have been different.
Limited content emails
The Seventh Circuit’s decision also highlights a concern with sending limited content communications via email. This case reinforces the importance of developing an email strategy and fully understanding deliverability requirements. This can ensure emails are delivered and not identified as spam and filtered away from a recipient’s view.
A full deliverability strategy may consider several factors including, but not limited to ISP reputation, providing relevant content in the body of the email, and more technical aspects of email such as throttling, bounces, and bulking. These elements can greatly affect an email’s ability to reach its intended recipient and ultimately convey its message.
Med-1 Solutions, LLC did not have a prior relationship with the Plaintiff, they did not remember receiving the email, and they did not click on the hyperlink provided in the email. As the lower court noted in its decision, the Department of Homeland Security warns consumers from clicking on links received in emails from unknown senders. The Seventh Circuit decision showcases the ineffectiveness of using a limited content message to reach and engage a consumer.
TrueAccord and the future of digital debt collection
We work to create a digital environment that places customer experience at the forefront of our collections strategy. This means ensuring not only personalized content delivered through our machine learning technology, flexible payment options, and digital access for customers to manage their debts. We do all of this via software that guarantees compliance.