Jury Renders "Prompt" Verdict Against FDCPA Plaintiff

The team at Messer Strickler, Ltd. has more good news for the credit and collection industry this month. On March 18th, 2019, its team received a complete defense verdict in favor of its client, Van Ru Credit Corporation (“Van Ru”), in a case filed by Wisconsin realtor, Deborah Al. Al filed a class action complaint against Van Ru after receipt of a collection letter offering her a settlement on an account she admittedly owed to creditor, Monroe and Main. The purported offending language read as follows:

“The balance you owe as of the date of this letter is $462.31. Presently, we are willing to accept $277.39 to settle your account provided that you act promptly. We are not obligated to renew this offer.”

Despite the polite tone of the letter, Al alleged that this language violated §1692e, e(5) and e(10) of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. §1692 et seq. (the FDCPA). Specifically, she contended that the letter’s use of the word “promptly” was so broad, and open-ended as to confuse her as to the time frame of the offer. Further, she alleged that the use of the term “we are not obligated to renew this offer” gave the false impression that Van Ru could and would rescind the settlement offer at any time without notice, which was contrary to its authority.

The Court in the Eastern District of Wisconsin certified a class of similarly situated individuals, who had received the purportedly offending communication. Van Ru, however, held firm in its defense. At trial, Van Ru staunchly defended its letter, arguing that Plaintiff’s interpretation was unreasonable and contrived. Further, it produced evidence showing that the statements in the letter were absolute truth. Indeed, Van Ru was willing to accept the discounted balance provided that the consumer act promptly, which meant that the account had not been recalled or its settlement offer had not changed. And, importantly, Van Ru was not obligated to renew its offer under the terms of its agreement with its creditor clients. Van Ru also produced evidence that no one, besides Ms. Al, had ever made complaint or expressed confusion about the language used in the letter.

The jury quickly saw through Ms. Al’s obfuscation and decided in a short 24 minutes that Van Ru had committed no violation of the law. Messer Strickler, Ltd. commends Van Ru for staying the course and showing FDCPA lawsuits are not always “quick-cash” for opportunistic consumer counsel and their clients.

Van Ru was represented by Nicole Strickler and Stephanie Strickler of Messer Strickler, Ltd.

Ms. Al was represented by Robert K. O’Reilly and Jesse Fruchter of Ademi & O’Reilly based in Cudahay, Wisconsin.