By Stephanie Cooper Herdman
One of the latest cases to hit the 9th Circuit area in the Fair Debt and Collection Practice arena is the case of Koby v. ARS National Services, Inc., 09-CV—780 JAH in United States District Court of California. The Koby case brought up interesting questions including (1) Can a debt collector leave a voicemail message?; (2) What information must that message contain? (3) What are the consequences for third party interception of the message? and (4) Must a mini-Miranda statement be used if the message is the initial contact with the consumer?
The Court reached an answer on three of the four questions on a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. The parties moved for permission to appeal to the Ninth Circuit, which the District Court granted but the Ninth Circuit denied. The remaining causes of action are currently set for a settlement conference in August 2012.
Most importantly, the Court found that the voicemail was a communication. By finding that it was a communication it triggered all subsections of 1692 that involve initial communications and Miranda warnings and letters to be sent including but not limited to 1692(e)(11), 1692(e)(14), 1692(d)(6) and 1692(g).
The Court reviewed the following voicemails:
(a) “This is Robin calling for Michael Koby, if you could please return my call at 800-440-6613. My direct extension is 3171. Please refer to your reference number as 15983225.”
(b) “Hey, John, uh, it’s Mike Mazzouli with ARS National. Umm, there appears to be some papers here in my office, uh, John at this point your [sic] involved. Call me soon as you can. My direct number and my direct extension is 800-440-6613. I’m at extension 3697. Thank you.
(c) “This is Brian Cooper. This call is for Mike Simmons, I need you to return this call as soon as you get this message 877-333-3880 extension 2571.”
The Court ruled that both A and B were communications under the Act and violations of the FDCPA. The keys to why these two were ruled communications were mentions by the caller of reference numbers and papers in the office, therefore, the mentioning of the debt itself. The Court ruled that C was not a communication since it did not indicate a debt but that it may be misleading and fail to identify the debt collector, which would still lead to a FDCPA violation if proven.
In short, it appears that a debt collector must identify him or herself and give a mini-Miranda and process the five-day letter whether it is a live call or voicemail. There is no indication by the Court what would happen if there were third party interception of the voicemail calls. The Court does call to attention the two seminal cases on interception of Foti 424F.Supp.2d at 659 and Berg v Merchants Assn. Collection Div., 586 F.Supp.2d 1336, 1344 (S.D. Florida) 2008. These two cases state that nothing in the Constitution guarantees a debt collector the right to leave a message on a consumer’s voicemail.
Stephanie Cooper Herdman is of counsel to Lemberg & Associates in Nevada.