A Federal District Court in Tennessee ruled that the phrase "personal business matter" does not convey information regarding a debt under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq.
In Clifford v. MRS BPO, LLC, MRS BPO, LLC ("MRS") placed a call intended for the Plaintiff ("Mr. Clifford"), but instead reached a third party. When the third party asked what the call was about, the MRS collector stated that the call concerned a "personal business matter."
Mr. Clifford sued MRS, alleging that the collector's statement was an unlawful communication about Mr. Clifford's debt to a third party. Specifically, he alleged that because the third party knew MRS was a debt collector and deduced that "personal business matter" referred to a debt, the collector communicated Mr. Clifford's debt to the third party in violation of the FDCPA.
The Court wrestled with the FDCPA's definition of "communication." Mr. Clifford argued for a broad interpretation to include not just what the collector said, but what the person receiving the call knows and understands to be the message. The Court rejected this argument, holding that Mr. Clifford must allege the "conveyance of some specific information regarding the underlying debt." The Court added, "it is not the purpose of the FDCPA to punish debt collectors who merely called a third party by mistake and the third party was able to surmise that the call was from a debt collector."
While this decision will not foreclose lawsuits alleging third party communication, it provides a sensible and pragmatic review of plaintiff's burden to state an FDCPA claim.