Plaintiffs John Slomanski and Margaret Brusewitz brought an FDCPA class action, Slomanski and Brusewitz v. Alliance Collection Agencies, in the Eastern District of Wisconsin alleging that debt collection letters sent to them and other class members were misleading and violated §1692e of the FDCPA. They alleged that the letters were misleading because they listed multiple accounts, stating that they had not been paid off, and yet some line items had a $0 balance. The district court found that this was not misleading – the letters clearly indicated which accounts had a remaining balance and which did not, and an unsophisticated consumer would not think that they still owed money on an account with a $0 balance.
Alliance Collection Agencies sent collection letters to Slomaski and Brusewitz for medical debts. The letter to Slomanski listed two creditors – one creditor with an “amount owed” of $651.37 and the other with an “amount owed” of $0.00. The total amount owed to all the creditors was then listed below as $651.37. The Brusewitz letter was similar. It listed multiple creditors, one with a balance of $0.00 and the creditors others with varying amounts. The total amount owed on all the accounts was then listed below on the letter as $3,616.70.
Slomanski and Brusewitz argued that this was confusing because the letters also said that the accounts had not been paid in full, yet some of the accounts had in fact been fully paid. The plaintiffs said that they were confused by this and an unsophisticated consumer would also be confused.
Judge Duffin was very skeptical of this contention, stating “[t]he plaintiffs’ allegation that a consumer receiving such a letter would think the actual balance on the zero-balance account was a number greater than zero—i.e., that 0 ≠ 0—is the type of bizarre and idiosyncratic interpretation that not even an unsophisticated consumer would make.” However, he did leave open the possibility of reaching a different conclusion if the zero-balance account was the only account listed on a collection letter – given that collecting on a zero-balance account could be confusing. But that was not the case here and the Court held that the letters were not misleading or confusing as a matter of law.
Additionally, the Court held that the statement on the letter to Slomanski saying that Alliance had been authorized to refer the accounts to an attorney was not deceptive or misleading. Slomanski and Brusewitz argued that this statement suggested that Alliance had been authorized to actually direct litigation against them and it was confusing because there was no lawsuit filed at the time. Judge Duffin disagreed that even an unsophisticated consumer would think that based on the language in the letter. He dismissed the class action lawsuit.