Least Sophisticated Debtor
Congress intended courts to view FDCPA claims from the perspective of the least sophisticated debtor. The Third Circuit follows the “least sophisticated debtor” standard in considering whether a debt collection communication is misleading. The misleading statement must also be material, meaning it must have the potential to affect the least sophisticated debtor’s reasoning. Jensen v. Pressler & Pressler, 791 F.3d 413 (3d Cir. 2015). The materiality requirement functions as a corollary inquiry into whether a debt collector’s statement is likely to mislead the least sophisticated debtor.
4 Prongs of an FDCPA claim
1. Plaintiff is a consumer
2. Defendant is a debt collector
3. Defendant attempted to collect a debt covered by the FDCPA
4. Defendant violated a provision of the FDCPA in collecting the debt.
Debt Collector’s False, Deceptive, or Misleading Representations
Debt Collectors have an obligation to make truthful, non-misleading representations to debtors. The FDCPA prohibits any “false, deceptive, or misleading representations in connection with the collection of any debt.”
Debtor’s State of Mind
Courts look at the state of mind of the debtor to determine whether the debt collector’s statement mislead the unsophisticated consumer. The FDCPA is designed to give debtors reliable information about how to address debts. Naturally, immaterial information would not affect the decision-making process of the least sophisticated debtor. However, a debt collector’s statement is material if it is capable of influencing the decision of the least sophisticated debtor.
Material False, Deceptive, or Misleading Representations
- Debt collectors may not represent estimates of the amount that a debtor would ultimately owe as of the date of the debt collection letter. Kaymark v. Bank of America, N.A., 783 F.3d 168 (3d Cir.2015).
- Debt collectors may not falsely represent the character, amount, or legal status of any debt. McLaughlin v. Phelan Hallinan & Schmieg, LLP, 756 F.3d 240, 246 (3d Cir.2014)