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11th Circuit Addresses Debt Collection Voicemails

The Eleventh Circuit recently held that a voicemail from a debt collector, who identified herself as a debt collector calling from a specific collection agency, was a “communication” from a debt collector under the FDCPA, and that by so identifying her role and her company (but not her name), the debt collector had provided “meaningful disclosure of the caller’s identity” and did not violate the FDCPA.

The plaintiff alleged that a debt collection agency violated the FDCPA by failing to provide the “required disclosures for initial communications with consumers” in the voicemail its representative left for the plaintiff, and by failing to provide “meaningful disclosure of the caller’s identity,” as required by the statute, when callers from the agency did not identify themselves by name in any of their voicemail messages.

The district court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims and found that the debt collector was not subject to the initial communication disclosure requirements because the voicemail it left was “not a communication.”  Further, that court found that the calls provided meaningful disclosure when they identified themselves as collectors from a specified debt collection agency, even though they did not identify themselves by name or specifically state that the agency was attempting to collect a debt from the plaintiff.

The Eleventh Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part, finding that the initial voicemail was a communication within the meaning of the FDCPA, but that the individual callers had provided meaningful disclosure as required.

Determining whether the voicemail was a “communication” for which initial communication disclosures were required, the court of appeals found that the voicemail message fit into the FDCPA’s broad definition of communication as a “conveying of information regarding a debt.” The FDCPA requires that disclosures informing consumers that the collector is “attempting to collect a debt and that any information obtained will be used for that purpose”—known as the mini-Miranda warning—be made in the initial communication between a debt collector and consumer.  The court found that by omitting any qualifiers before the word “information,” Congress meant to require disclosures before collectors conveyed any information regarding a debt.  Here, the caller identified herself as a debt collector calling from a specific collection agency.  Accordingly, the court found that the voicemail was a “communication” within the meaning of the statute because it was a conveyance of information regarding a debt, and thus, that the mini-Miranda warning should have been given.

On the issue of “meaningful disclosure,” the court of appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision, holding that disclosure is sufficient as long as the caller reveals that the call is being made on behalf of a debt collection company and he or she provides the company’s name.  Because both the nature of the caller’s business and the name of the debt collection agency were disclosed in the voicemail at issue, the court found that the plaintiff had been provided with meaningful disclosure, so there was no FDCPA violation.

The case is Hart v. Credit Control, LLC, and it can be accessed here.