What is the “Meaningful Involvement” Doctrine Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act?
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is the federal law regulating the conduct of debt collectors. It ensures that debt collectors not act unfairly, deceptively, or disrespectfully when collecting debts. Collection lawyers are regulated by the FDCPA and must be “meaningfully involved” in collection activity undertaken in their name or else they might be found to violate the law.
Although the term “meaningful involvement” is not used in the FDCPA, courts have inferred it from the prohibition that attorney debt collectors not make any “false representation or implication that any individual is an attorney or that any communication is from an attorney.” This language is from 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(3).
Thus, the FDCPA’s “meaningful involvement” requirement means that if an attorney debt collector sends a letter, on the attorney’s letterhead, the attorney must actually be involved in the collection process. If the average consumer receives such a letter, she is likely to believe that the attorney himself sent it to her. But if the attorney is just sending mass letters without reviewing them (i.e., being meaningfully involved), it creates a false impression as to the attorney’s actual involvement. This would be deceptive, and would violate the FDCPA.
One court went so far as to create a legal test for whether an attorney debt collector was meaningfully involved. Under this test, a communication from an attorney debt collector is “inherently” false and misleading, unless, at the time of signing it, the attorney: 1) drafted, or carefully reviewed, it; and 2) conducted an inquiry, reasonable under the circumstances, sufficient to form a good faith belief that the claims and legal contentions in the communication are supported by fact and warranted by law.
Not all courts follow this definition, but courts will certainly look to whether the attorney debt collector was involved in the case in some way to evaluate whether the FDCPA was violated.
If a debt collector violates the FDCPA, they may be liable for up to $1,000 in statutory damages, plus any actual damages, along with costs and attorney’s fees.
Do you think a debt collector may have violated your rights under the FDCPA in any way? If so, contact us to see if we can represent you. Culik Law is a Boston, Massachusetts law consumer protection law firm. Our attorneys represent individuals against debt collectors and protect their rights under FDCPA.