Southern District of California Says Unanswered Calls are Not a Communication

On May 10, 2021, not only did the District Court in the Southern District of California grant summary judgment in favor of the defendant debt collector, it did so on its own motion. Yes- you read that right- the court entered a judgment in favor of the debt collector where the debt collector had not even asked for it to do so.

In the case of Pearson v. Apria HealthCare Group, Et al. (3:19-cv-02400 S.D. CA), a consumer alleged the defendant debt collector violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (RFDCPA).  According to the undisputed facts, the entirety of the case centered around three calls that the consumer did not answer. The consumer did not learn that the calls came from a collection agency until she called the number back, and asked for all calls to stop. The debt collector honored the consumer's request and did not make any additional calls or collection attempts. Based on these undisputed facts, the consumer moved for summary judgment on the FDCPA claims.

In reaching its conclusion, the court analyzed the word “communication” as it is defined in the FDCPA. In case anyone needs a refresher (and hasn’t been obsessing over this word since April 21st when the Hunstein decision came out), the FDCPA defines ‘communication’ as “the conveying of information regarding a debt directly or indirectly to any person through any medium.”  In holding that unanswered calls are not a communication, the court noted that no “information regarding a debt” was conveyed directly or indirectly to the consumer by her receipt of unanswered calls.   Interestingly, in discussing the FDCPA generally and the harms it was meant to prevent, the court noted that the FDCPA was not designed to deter mere information gathering or message delivery. Also of note- the consumer claimed, and the debt collector disputed that the calls were made before 8 am; however, the court deemed that such dispute was irrelevant.

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