The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a summary order affirming a district court’s holding that an emailed response to the plaintiff’s email did not constitute an “initial communication” under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA).

In Worley v. Simon, Meyrowitz & Meyrowitz, P.C., the plaintiff had a default judgment entered against her in state court for failure to pay rent. Approximately two years later, the plaintiff contacted her former landlord explaining she was having technical difficulties paying the balance through the landlord’s portal. That same day, the landlord responded to the plaintiff via email informing her that her case was with the defendant collection firm who was copied on the email. The plaintiff then sent an email to the defendant’s collection law firm stating: “[p]lease add to case file thank you.” A few days later, the law firm responded to the plaintiff via email to provide the outstanding balance.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the law firm for alleged violations of the FDCPA, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692e(11) and 1692g(a). Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that by sending the email the law firm improperly attempted to collect what it knew to be an unlawful debt stemming from the state-court judgment. The district court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice finding, among other things, that the email at issue did not constitute an “initial communication,” as required for certain claims under the FDCPA, because it was sent in response to an email from the plaintiff.

The plaintiff appealed relying on Second Circuit precedent for the proposition that a communication from a debt collector sent in reply to a communication from a consumer can still sometimes be deemed an “initial communication” under the FDCPA. However, the court found the plaintiff’s reliance misplaced because she was never “prompted” by the law firm to contact it regarding the debt. Here, the law firm sent the email at issue in response to the plaintiff’s unprompted communications. As such, the court held it does not constitute an “initial communication” for purposes of the FDCPA.

The court also upheld the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s remaining claims under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because the injuries alleged were the result of the state-court judgment and were thus barred.

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