United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division
WENDY McWILLIAMS, individually and, on behalf of others similarly situated Plaintiff,
ADVANCED RECOVERY SYSTEMS, INC.; YOUNG WELLS WILLIAMS, P.A. Defendants,
CARLTON W. REEVES, District Judge.
Before the Court is Young Wells Williams' motion to dismiss. Docket No. 16. The matter is fully briefed and ready for adjudication.
I. Factual and Procedural History
In this class action, Wendy McWilliams claims Advanced Recovery Systems and the Young Wells Williams law firm violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq., when they attempted to collect a debt McWilliams allegedly owed to St. Dominic's Hospital.
In August 2014, Young Wells Williams sent McWilliams a debt collection letter. The body of the letter, which was attached to the complaint, read as follows:
Your account with ADVANCED RECOVERY SYSTEMS, INC., has been turned over to this office for collection. The amount you owe is $2, 166.80.
UNLESS YOU DISPUTE THE VALIDITY OF THE DEBT WITHIN THIRTY (30) DAYS FROM THE RECEIPT OF THIS NOTICE, THE DEBT WILL BE PRESUMED TO BE VALID.
IF YOU NOTIFY U.S. WITHIN THIRTY (30) DAYS THAT THE DEBT OR ANY PORTION OF IT IS DISPUTED, WE WILL MAIL VERIFICATION OF THE DEBT TO YOU.
ALSO, UPON YOUR REQUEST WE WILL PROVIDE YOU THE NAME AND ADDRESS OF THE ORIGINAL CREDITOR, IF THE ORIGINAL CREDITOR IS DIFFERENT FROM THE CURRENT ONE.
THIS LETTER IS FROM A DEBT COLLECTOR. ANY INFORMATION OBTAINED WILL BE USED FOR THAT PURPOSE.
You MUST send your payment to me at the address below to avoid the possibility of being sued. To discuss payment arrangements please call XXX-XXX-XXXX.
If there are any questions, please contact me at the number below.
Docket No. 1-2, at 2. The 30-day period mentioned in the letter "is commonly called the validation period, ' and the aforementioned notice is routinely referred to as the validation notice.'" Durkin v. Equifax Check Servs., Inc., 406 F.3d 410, 412 (7th Cir. 2005).
In Count I, McWilliams alleges that three sentences in this letter incorrectly communicate the validation notice required by the FDCPA. "Specifically, " she says, the letter violated the FDCPA "(a) by stating that a failure to dispute the debt would result in a presumption that the debt is valid not just by the debt collector, (b) by failing to inform Plaintiff that Defendants need only mail verification of the debt to her if she notifies Defendants of her request in writing, and (c) by failing to inform Plaintiff that Defendants need only identify the name and address of the original creditor if Plaintiff notifies Defendants of her request in writing." Docket No. 1, at 11.
In Count II, McWilliams alleges that the threat of litigation - "You MUST send your payment to me... to avoid the possibility of being sued" - overshadowed and rendered ineffective the validation notice. "In other words, " she says, "disputing the debt would be futile because Young Wells intended to file suit unless Plaintiff made prompt payment." Docket No. 20, at 3.
Following her receipt of this letter, McWilliams orally disputed the debt with Young Wells Williams, got the hospital to waive the debt, and faxed the hospital's confirmation letter to Young Wells Williams. Despite those developments, she claims that the defendants sued her for the debt in the state courts of Mississippi. The summons ...