Confusing Complaint Dooms Student Loan Collection Effort

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By Bernie Pazanowski

Sept. 9 — A state law complaint filed to collect student loan debt was so confusing it violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held Sept. 7 ( Marquez v. Weinstein Pinson & Riley PS , 2016 BL 291054, 7th Cir., No. 15-3273, 9/7/16 ).

After making clear that the FDCPA applies to court filings, the opinion by Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner explained that the complaint was misleading concerning the proper timing to respond and the manner in which the response was to be made.

Under the FDCPA, debt collectors can’t make misleading statements when collecting a debt.

When the law firm trying to collect student loan debt filed suit in state court, the summons told the debtors to file an appearance in the case and directed them to the complaint, which said that the debt “will be assumed valid and correct if not disputed … within thirty (30) days.”

Read together, the summons and complaint suggest that after 30 days, the debtor “could no longer contest the validity or correctness of the debt,” the court said.

An “unsophisticated” debtor would be led to believe that the court—not just the debt collector—would consider the debt valid if not disputed within 30 days, it said.

Language in the demand letter would have cleared up the confusion, but it was deleted when the relevant paragraph was copied into the complaint, the court said.

Chief Judge Diane P.Wood and Judge Richard A. Posner joined the opinion.

Edelman Combs Latturner & Goodwin LLC represented the debtors. Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP represented the debt collector.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bernard Pazanowski in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at

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