Schultz v. Midland Credit Management, Inc., No. 17-2244 (3d Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Midland sent six letters to the Schultzes, attempting to collect separate outstanding debts that had been outsourced to Midland for collection after default. None of the debts exceeded $600. Each letter offered to settle for less than the full amount owing and each stated: We will report forgiveness of debt as required by IRS regulations. Reporting is not required every time a debt is canceled or settled, and might not be required in your case.” Since the Treasury only requires an entity to report a discharge of indebtedness of $600 or more to the IRS, the Schultzes claimed that the statement was “false, deceptive and misleading” in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692. Their putative class action complaint was dismissed. The Third Circuit reversed, finding that the statement may violate the FDCPA. A dunning letter is false and misleading if it implies that certain outcomes might befall a delinquent debtor, when legally, those outcomes cannot occur. Even if the least sophisticated debtor can distinguish between “may” and “must,” the language at issue references an event that would never occur. It is reasonable to assume that a debtor would be influenced by potential IRS reporting and that, if that reporting cannot occur, it could signal a potential FDCPA violation regardless of the conditional language.