Risk that plaintiff may pay an unauthorized fee pure conjecture defeating Article III standing

Plaintiff’s FDCPA complaint in Benali v. AFNI, Inc., No. CV 15-3605-BRM-DEA (D.N.J. Jan. 4, 2017) asserted two causes of action: a violation of § 1692e by including in a collection letter a false and deceptive reference to a processing fee for payments made electronically and a violation of § 1692f(1) because including a processing fee for payments made electronically constitutes an unfair and unconscionable means to attempt to collect a debt. Plaintiff sought summary judgment because it was undisputed that defendant’s charging of the processing fee was not expressly permitted by the contract creating the debt. But there never any agreement between the parties and New Jersey state law neither affirmatively permits nor expressly prohibits a processing fee for credit card payments. Defendant asked for dismissal under Spokeo, Inc. v. Robbins, 136 S. Ct. 1540 (2016), contending that plaintiff has neither been harmed nor suffered an injury in fact and, thus, lacked Article III standing to maintain this action. The court sided with defendant: merely receiving a collection letter, without more, is not sufficient to confer Article III standing because, as Plaintiff unequivocally testified, the alleged “debt” was not his, and he knew it immediately upon receiving the collection letter. It was undisputed that there was no risk that plaintiff would pay the processing fee because he never had an account with defendant and immediately believed the letter to be a “scam.” Moreover, the alleged FDCPA violations did not result in any actual or threatened harm to Plaintiff. Arguing that the risk that plaintiff would pay his debt with his credit card, and blindly pay the processing fee, by believing that the fee could legally be charged to him “ is just another way of saying that a bare procedural violation is itself a concrete harm—a principle explicitly rejected by the Supreme Court.” The alleged risk of harm is entirely conjectural and hypothetical so insufficient to infer standing.

Download Related Document