By Katie Neill & Steve Zahn
A court victory by TrueAccord Corp. (TrueAccord) in the Northern District of Illinois continues to showcase the benefits of digital collection as the court found receiving an email about a debt is less intrusive to consumers than receiving a phone call. Messer Strickler Burnette represented TrueAccord and filed the briefing in the case.
In the Branham v. TrueAccord opinion, the court granted TrueAccord’s motion to dismiss finding that the alleged injuries claimed by the plaintiff—undue stress and anxiety, financial and monetary loss, uncertainty as to how to proceed about the debt, and a harm that “bears a close resemblance” to invasion of privacy—are insufficient to establish standing for a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) claim.
Plaintiff alleged that TrueAccord violated the FDCPA by contacting her twice by email after having received notice that she was represented by an attorney. TrueAccord had no record of receiving a notice of attorney representation from the plaintiff. However, when deciding on a motion to dismiss like this, the court must rely solely on the facts and allegations in the complaint and consider them as true, whether or not they are.
In the complaint, the plaintiff included a laundry list of alleged injuries suffered as a result of receiving the two emails from TrueAccord. These injuries included:
- “Actual” financial and monetary loss without any specifics
- Confusion on how to proceed with TrueAccord’s debt collection attempts due to “misleading statements”
- Undue stress and anxiety as well as wasted time, annoyance, emotional distress, and informational injuries
- A harm that “bears close resemblance to” invasion of privacy
Plaintiff Did Not Allege a Concrete, Particularized Injury
In its decision, the court shot down each of these alleged harms and found that the plaintiff failed to properly plead a concrete, particularized injury as the U.S. Supreme Court required in Spokeo, Inc., v. Robins.
Specifically, the court found:
- Unlike telephone calls, two unwanted emails are insufficient to confer standing and wouldn’t be “highly offensive” to the reasonable person.
- Alleged physiological harms (e.g., emotional distress, anxiety, and stress) are abstract harms and not concrete enough to support standing without a physical manifestation of such harms.
- Vague and conclusory statements that the plaintiff suffered financial harm without any allegations of facts to support that alleged harm are insufficient.
- Attorney fees for bringing suit on a matter cannot be the sole basis of standing to bring the matter; to do otherwise would permit any plaintiff without standing to create it by retaining counsel.
- “Wasted time” is not a sufficient harm for standing where no facts are alleged to support the claim.
- The risk of an invasion of privacy without an actual invasion of privacy is too speculative and not sufficient to confer standing.
Sophisticated Omnichannel Communication Strategies
This decision is another step forward for the use of email in debt collection as the consumer-friendly way. It also showcases the need for mindfulness when implementing an omnichannel communication strategy. Notably, while the court found a couple of emails are less intrusive than a phone call, it also stated that text messages, voicemail, and calls are different as they “are sufficiently intrusive on an individual’s peace and quiet” to support standing. Using a sophisticated omnichannel strategy helps debt collectors reach consumers at times that are right for the consumer and through the right communication channel, which ultimately creates a non-intrusive consumer experience.
Schedule a consultation to learn more about how email and an omnichannel approach can help their business’s collection efforts today»»