The Chief Judge in the Northern District of Illinois dismissed a proposed FDCPA class action lawsuit today which alleged an account number on an envelope violated the statute. 

In Gonzalez v. FMS Inc., Case No. 14-cv-9424 (N.D. IL. July 7, 2015), the Honorable Ruben Castillo ruled that revealing an account number embedded in a string of numbers on the outside of an envelope was "benign" - no FDCPA violation.

Adopting the FDCPA's § 1692f(8) benign language exception, the judge found: It "is clear to this Court that the provision was only intended to prohibit markings that could be considered unfair or unconscionable, not those that are innocuous or benign." 

Judge Castillo rejected the plaintiff's contention that under the Third Circuit case, Douglass v. Convergent Outsourcing, 765 F.3d 299, 301-03 (3d Cir. 2014), the mere presence of an account number on an envelope violated the FDCPA. 

Being all the more logical, the judge noted: Showing an account number is simply not enough because "an unsophisticated consumer viewing the envelope could not plausibly divine that the letter inside was associated with a delinquent debt." Judge Castillo found that there was no basis to infer "that the account number embedded in the string of numbers on the envelope would have meaning to anyone other than Defendant."

The Chief Judge's detailed decision brings long awaited relief to the debt collection industry and some sanity back to this issue. We expect this ruling to carry considerable weight, especially in the other courts in the Seventh Circuit.


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