The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) requires debt collectors to send their debtors written notice containing certain information, including the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor, and a statement informing debtors that they have thirty (30) days to dispute the validity of the debt, or the debt collector will assume that the debt is valid. Debt collectors have long taken the position that any dispute as to the validity of a debt must be in writing. The Third Circuit (Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and U.S. Virgin Islands) has agreed with this position; the Ninth Circuit (Alaska, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, and Washington) has taken the opposite view.
This may seem like the sort of thing that would not come before the courts very often, and for the most part, that has been the case. Debt collectors and debtors alike usually assume that any sort of dispute must be in writing, as the FDCPA specifies that other disputes must be in writing to be effective.
It is this failure on the part of the FDCPA’s drafters, whether or not it was intentional, to specify whether debt disputes must be in writing that appears to have doomed the traditional viewpoint of the debt collection industry and the Third Circuit, at least here in the Second Circuit (Connecticut, New York, and Vermont). The Second Circuit recently ruled that the FDCPA does not require debt disputes to be in writing, in part because the plain language of the FDCPA specifically does not include a writing requirement, and in part because the right to dispute a debt is so fundamental that even those individuals who are unable to write, or who can write only with great difficulty, should not be deprived of the opportunity to exercise such an important right.