Debt Collector’s Communication With Debtor’s Attorney May Violate FDCPA

Allen v. LaSalle Bank, N.A., 629 F.3d 364 (3d Cir. 2011).  Circuit Courts outside the Third Circuit have split on the question of whether a communication from a debt collector to a consumer’s attorney, as opposed to the consumer himself or herself, can violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”).  In this case, the Third Circuit, speaking through Judge Sloviter, joined the Fourth Circuit in holding that since “the scope of the FDCPA is broad,” and “there is nothing in the FDCPA that explicitly exempts communications to an attorney,” “[a] communication to a consumer’s attorney is undoubtedly an indirect communication to the consumer,” and can therefore be actionable under the FDCPA.

The Second and Ninth Circuits have reached the opposite conclusion.  In the view of those courts, as summarized by Judge Sloviter, “because an attorney will protect a consumer from a debt collector’s behavior, statements made only to a consumer’s attorney are not actionable per se.”

Due to the presence of other issues, the Third Circuit remanded Allen to the district court for further proceedings.  But the Third Circuit’s ruling means that debt collectors, including attorneys such as those whose conduct was in question in Allen, must comply with the FDCPA even when they are not dealing with debtors themselves.