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Jeter v. Credit Bureau - 760 F.2d 1168 (11th Cir. 1985)

Rule:

Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, (FTC), 15 U.S.C.S. § 45(a)(1), declares unlawful all unfair or deceptive acts or practices in commerce. An act or practice is deceptive or unfair under 15 U.S.C.S. § 45(a)(1) if it has the tendency or capacity to deceive. The FTC Act was enacted to protect unsophisticated consumers, not only “reasonable consumers” who could otherwise protect themselves in the market place.

Facts:

Credit Bureau, Inc. operated a debt collection agency subject to Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"). Credit Bureau was collecting money on behalf of creditors who refer accounts (i.e., alleged debts) to Credit Bureau for collection. One of Credit Bureau's clients was Associated Consumers Club (Associated Consumers). Sometime prior to October 25, 1983, Plaintiff Jeter incurred what Associated Consumers believed was a valid legal debt with Associated Consumers, which the latter referred to Credit Bureau for collection. Thereafter, Credit Bureau sent Jeter a letter claiming that legal action would be recommended. Credit Bureau sent another letter that legal action might cause embarrassment, inconvenience, and further expense. Subsequently, Jeter’s lawyer sent a letter to Credit Bureau stating Jeter's position that she owed no money to Associated Consumers. A copy of the letter was sent to Associated Consumers. Thereafter, Credit Bureau determined that the collection of Jeter's account was impractical, closed its files, and made no further contact with Jeter. Jeter sued Credit Bureau claiming violations of the FDCPA, alleging that Credit Bureau violated federal collection law, 15 U.S.C.S. § 1692, for threatening to take action it did not intend to take, deceptive debt collection, and harassment. Both parties brought motions for summary judgment. After limited discovery, the trial court granted Credit Bureau’s motion. Jeter sought review.

Issue:

Was the grant of summary judgment in favor of Credit Bureau proper?

Answer:

Yes, in part.

Conclusion:

The Court reversed in part, holding that the trial court failed to apply the proper standard: the proper legal standard to be applied in determining whether a consumer would be deceived or harassed was that of the least sophisticated consumer. Where questions of fact existed as to whether Credit Bureau intended to take immediate legal action, summary judgment was inappropriate. The reviewing court affirmed in part, holding that Credit Bureau’s notice about the possibility of embarrassment was a true statement, not constituting intimidation.

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