United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
AMY J. ST. EVE, District Judge.
On March 17, 2015, Plaintiff Annette Davis, on behalf of herself and a class, brought the present Complaint against Defendant MRS BPO, LLC alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq. ("FDCPA"), specifically, 15 U.S.C. § 1692f(8). Before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the Court grants Defendant's motion with prejudice and dismisses this lawsuit in its entirety.
Defendant is a limited liability company that maintains its principal office in New Jersey. (R. 1, Compl. ¶ 5.) Defendant's registered agent and office is National Corporate Research Ltd., of Springfield, Illinois. ( Id. ) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant is a debt collector as defined by the FDCPA, and its business entails the collection of debts originally owed to others using the mails and telephone. ( Id. ¶ 5-6.) On or about May 2, 2014, Plaintiff received a letter from Defendant that attempted to collect a credit card debt. ( Id. ¶¶ 8-9; see also R. 1-1, Exs. A, B.) The letter was a foldable mailer, the outside of which displayed a series of numbers and letters. (Compl. ¶ 10; see also Exs. A, B.) The sequence of over 60 letters and numbers appeared on the envelope above Plaintiff's name and address as follows (with certain letters and numbers redacted by the letter X): "S-SXXRXX11 L-XZSXXX02 A-LUX.226XXXX.13XXX85 PCIXXC00030XXXX-X158XXXXX X088XX." ( Id. )
In her Complaint, Plaintiff purports to represent all of the individuals residing in the Seventh Circuit who received similar mailers from Defendant from one year prior to the filing of this action up until twenty days after the filing of this action. (Compl. ¶¶ 15-16.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant's use of the mailers with the attendant numbers and letters violates § 1692f(8) of the FDCPA. Under § 1692f(8), it is a violation to use "any language or symbol, other than the debt collectors address, on any envelope when communicating with a consumer by the use of the mails or by telegram, except that a debt collector may use his business name if such name does not indicate that he is in the debt collection business." ( Id. ¶¶ 13-14; 15 U.S.C. § 1692f(8).)
"A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) challenges the viability of a complaint by arguing that it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." Camasta v. Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, Inc., 761 F.3d 732, 736 (7th Cir. 2014). Under Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint must include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The short and plain statement under Rule 8(a)(2) must "give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (citation omitted). Under the federal notice pleading standards, a plaintiff's "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Put differently, a "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
"In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint under the plausibility standard, [courts] accept the well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true, Alam v. Miller Brewing Co., 709 F.3d 662, 665-66 (7th Cir. 2013), and draw "reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiffs." Teamsters Local Union No. 705 v. Burlington No. Santa Fe, LLC, 741 F.3d 819, 823 (7th Cir. 2014). When ruling on motions to dismiss, courts may also consider documents attached to the pleadings without converting the motion to dismiss into a motion summary judgment, as long as the documents are referred to in the complaint and central to the plaintiff's claims. See Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 729 (7th Cir. 2014). Because Plaintiff attaches photocopies of the collection letter and envelope to her Complaint and these documents are central to her claim, the Court may consider these attachments in ruling on the present motion.
In its motion, Defendant argues that Plaintiff has failed to state a plausible claim that it violated the FDCPA because the "string of numbers and letters" on the outside of the envelope at issue in this lawsuit does not amount to an "unfair or unconscionable" way to collect a debt. See McMahon v. LVNV Funding, LLC, 744 F.3d 1010, 1019 (7th Cir. 2014) ("1692f prohibits debt collectors from using unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect any debt.'"). More specifically, Defendant argues that an "unsophisticated consumer" would not recognize the numbers and letters on the envelope as an attempt to collect an outstanding debt. Also, Defendant contends that a strict application of § 1692f(8)'s prohibition barring the use of "any language or symbol, other than the debt collector's address, on any envelope when communicating with a consumer by use of the mails or by telegram, " would lead to bizarre and impracticable consequences based on the purpose and intent of the FDCPA and that the benign language exception applies under the circumstances.
In response, Plaintiff argues that Defendant unfairly speculates as to what an "unsophisticated consumer" would recognize upon viewing the envelope. Also, Plaintiff asserts that the statutory language of the FDCPA suggests strict liability and that inserting a benign language exception to § 1692f(8) is counter to both the statutory language and the Congressional intent in enacting the FDCPA. Further, Plaintiff urges the Court to reject Judge Shadur's reasoning in Sampson v. MRS BPO, No. 15 C 2258 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 17, 2015), in which Judge Shadur dismissed a similar complaint because a literal interpretation of § 1692f(8) would lead to absurd results. Instead, Plaintiff asks the Court to follow the Third Circuit's reasoning in Douglass v. Convergent Outsourcing, 765 F.3d 299 (3d Cir. 2014), in which the court held that listing a debtor's internal account number on the outside of an envelope violates the plain, unambiguous language of § 1692f(8), especially in light of one of the FDCPA's core concerns regarding the invasion of privacy.
I. Unsophisticated Consumer Standard
The Court first turns to Defendant's argument that an unsophisticated consumer would not recognize that the combination of over 60 numbers and letters on Plaintiff's envelope reflects an attempt to collect an outstanding debt. Under well-settled Seventh Circuit precedent, "[c]laims brought under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act are evaluated under the objective unsophisticated consumer' standard." Gruber v. Creditors' Prot. Serv., Inc., 742 F.3d 271, 273 (7th Cir. 2014); see also McMahon, 744 F.3d at 1019 (unsophisticated consumer "standard applies to claims under both §1692e and §1692f"). As the Seventh Circuit explains, "[o]n the one hand, the unsophisticated consumer may be uninformed, naive, or trusting, ' but on the other hand the unsophisticated consumer does possess[ ] rudimentary knowledge about the financial world, is wise enough to read collection notices with added care, possesses reasonable intelligence and is capable of making basic logical deductions and inferences.'" Gruber, 742 F.3d at 273-74 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The Seventh Circuit, however, has been explicit that "as a matter of law, we shall not entertain a plaintiff's bizarre, peculiar, or idiosyncratic interpretation" under the unsophisticated consumer standard. McMillan v. Collection Prof'l Inc., 455 F.3d 754, 758 (7th Cir. 2006); see also Gruber, 742 F.3d at 274 (unsophisticated consumer does not interpret collection letters in a bizarre or idiosyncratic fashion).
The practices of debt collection agencies, when viewed through the eyes of an unsophisticated consumer, are often a question of fact, therefore, "district courts must act with great restraint when asked to rule in this context on a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)." McMillan, 455 F.3d at 759-60. Nevertheless, as the McMillian decision teaches, albeit under the pre- Iqbal/Twombly standard, "[u]ndoubtedly, there will be occasions when a district court will be required to hold that no reasonable person, however unsophisticated, could construe the wording of the communication in a manner that will violate the statutory provision." Id. at 760. Put differently, although district courts ordinarily give a plaintiff leave to amend at least once before dismissing a case with prejudice, when "it is clear that the defect cannot be ...