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Shields v. Professional Bureau of Collections of Maryland, Inc.

No. 20-4053. 12/16/2022. D.Kan. Judge Tymkovich. Student Loans—Collection Notices—Fair Debt Collection Practices Act—Standing—Concrete Injury.

December 16, 2022

Defendant, a debt collector, used an outside mailer to compose and send three collection letters to Shields, who owes student loan debt. The first letter listed the assigned balance as $184,580.73 and the debt balance as $217,657.60, but it did not explain the difference or that the debt could increase due to interest, fees, and other charges. The second letter listed the same debt balance, and the third letter listed a debt balance of $218,727.01 without explaining the increase. Shields sued defendant, alleging that it violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) by communicating her debt to the mailer and by misrepresenting her debt. Defendant moved to dismiss, alleging that Shields did not have a concrete injury and therefore lacked standing. Shields responded and included a declaration of additional facts to show her injuries. The district court treated defendant’s motion as a facial challenge to subject matter jurisdiction, declined to consider Shields’s declaration, and dismissed her complaint without prejudice. It later rejected Shields’s requests to reopen the case, reconsider dismissal, and allow an amended complaint.

On appeal, Shields argued that she suffered concrete tangible and intangible injuries and thus has standing to sue. The FDCPA generally prohibits debt collectors from communicating with persons in connection with a debt collection absent the consumer’s consent or court permission, and outside mailers are not an enumerated exception to this general rule. Shields attempted to link the alleged disclosure harm to the tort of public disclosure of private facts, but that tort concerns information that has been conveyed to the public at large. Here, Shields alleged private rather than public disclosure, which does not meet the publicity requirement. Further, while the FDCPA prohibits false or misleading representations concerning a debt balance, Shields alleged that the letters were generally prejudicial to consumers and caused her to be confused; she did not allege that the letters caused her to do anything, and her confusion and misunderstanding are insufficient to confer standing. Additionally, it would be unreasonable for a debtor such as Shields to believe that her debt would not continue to accrue interest, absent a well-pleaded allegation to the contrary. Accordingly, Shields failed to allege a concrete injury and lacks standing.

Shields also argued that the district court erred by not reopening the case and allowing her to file an amended complaint. However, the district court properly exercised its discretion in not reopening the case and not reconsidering the dismissal, and because it did not reopen the case, it properly declined to allow an amended complaint.

The order was affirmed.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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