Ms. Bryan received debt collection calls and voice mail messages from Allied Interstate, which had allegedly blocked its telephone number and only appeared as "Unknown" on the caller identification. Not knowing from whom the call was, Ms. Bryan played the voicemail message where her sister and mother could overhear. Ms. Bryan brought suit against Allied Interstate, alleging violations of 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(10), arguing that the blocked "Unknown" number was a "false representation or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect any debt.” Allied Interstate argued that, even if true, a blocked number is not a false representation or deceptive, and sought dismissal of this claim.
The district court, applying the "least sophisticated consumer standard", found that it was "plausible that an unsophisticated consumer acting with a quotient of reasonableness would find the act of intentionally causing a number to appear as “Unknown” to be false, misleading, or deceptive" and denied the motion to dismiss in that regard.
Ms. Bryan additionally alleged that Allied Interstate violated 15 U.S.C. § 1692d(6), which requires debt collectors to “meaningfully diclos[e] . . . the caller’s identity” when communicating with a consumer in connection with an alleged debt. Allied Interstate did clearly disclose its identity and that it was a debt collector in the voice mail message and the district court , relying on Glover v. Client Servs., Inc., No. 1:07-cv-81, 2007 WL
2902209, at *7 (W.D. Mich. Oct. 2, 2007), found it "difficult to see how a debt collector could convey this information via the caller ID feature alone." Even if there was an obligation to disclose, § 1692d only protects against "oppressive and outrageous conduct", which the district court found was not.
Lastly, Ms. Bryan alleged a violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1692c(b), which prohibits debt collectors from communicating with “any person other than the consumer” as Ms. Bryan unknowingly listened to the voicemail left by Allied Interstate in the presence of her mother and sister. The district court distinguished this from Fontell v. Hassett, 870 F. Supp. 2d 395 (D. Md. 2012), where the Plaintiff replayed a voicemail, as here Ms. Bryan was overheard while listening to the message for the first time. On the other hand, the district court found that, unlike a message left on a landline answering machine, this message was left on Ms. Bryan's mobile phone, which she was in complete control in deciding to listen to in mixed company. Accordingly, that claim was also dismissed.
While finding it "difficult to see" how it could have disclosed its name and status, the district court itself recognizes that the meaningful disclosure requirement could have been satisfied with a caller ID of "Allied Interstate- Debt Collector". There is no apparent showing that such would be technically impossible or even impractical. Obviously, debt collectors would not want to make such a disclosure, since no one would answer that call.
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