In the first U.S. case involving alleged FDCPA violations arising from use of modern technology that generated and disclosed an innocuous internal tracking number, which had no capacity to identify or expose the consumer’s personal financial information, collection agency urges the Third Circuit to reconsider its erroneous decision.
Convergent Outsourcing filed a Petition for Rehearing En Banc or Panel Rehearing (the “Petition”) with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Douglass v. Convergent Outsourcing, No. 13-3588, 2014 WL 4235570, — F.3d — (3d Cir. 2014). The Collection Agency requested that the Third Circuit revisit the appellate decision issued in Douglass by the three-judge panel just two weeks ago, which ruled that the disclosure of a consumer’s account number, which was visible through the transparent address window on the face of a debt collector’s envelope, violates the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
The Collection Agency argues that the Third Circuit should grant its Petition because the Douglass case concerns a matter of exceptional importance greatly affecting the $55.2 billion debt collection industry and the method and manner in which collection agencies send debt collection letters to consumers.
In Douglass, the Collection Agency sent a debt collection letter to a consumer in 2011 to collect a debt owed to T-Mobile USA. The collection letter contained the consumer’s name, address and a sequence of letters and numbers used by the Collection Agency to internally track the consumer’s collection account. All of this information, including the internal tracking number, showed through the clear glassine window of the envelope in which the collection letter was sent. The consumer filed a class-action lawsuit against the Collection Agency, complaining that the disclosure of the internal tracking account number, which appeared through the envelope, violated Section 1692f(8) of the FDCPA, which prohibits “using any language or symbol” other than a debt collector’s name and address on an envelope.
On appeal, the Third Circuit decided in favor of the Plaintiff and against Convergent. Although the Fifth and Eighth circuits read Section 1692f(8) to allow markings on an envelope, the Third Circuit held that the account number is a core piece of information pertaining to Douglass’s status as a debtor and Convergent’s debt collection effort and that by disclosing it to the public, it could be used to expose her financial predicament.