A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit seeking class-action status that says a Nebraska debt collector sent letters that led a debtor to believe a debt would be viewed as valid by the court system if she did not dispute it.
Jody Jernigan’s lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Omaha against General Collection and the law firm Truell Murray & Associates, both based in Grand Island, was dismissed last week.
U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp wrote in an order that Jernigan was not harmed by what she called deceptive communication from the debt collectors.
The main dispute is language included in collection letters cited by Jernigan in the suit filed in June. Jernigan, the suit says, received letters saying, “Unless the debtor disputes the debt within 30 days after receipt of the notice, it will be assumed that the debt is valid.”
The suit says that Jernigan thought the wording meant that the Nebraska county court system, a forum widely used by creditors to legally enforce legitimate collection efforts, would assume that the debt was her legal obligation. Jernigan, the suit says, acknowledges defaulting on a credit line from a lender, and that Truell Murray had sued her in Douglas County Court.
“This court finds, as a matter of law, that nothing in the notice was ‘false’ or ‘deceptive,’ ” reads the dismissal order. “Even if Jernigan was misled by the notice, as she contends, and believed that the county court would assume her debt was valid if she did not respond within thirty days, she was in no way misled to her detriment, and the notice was not materially misleading.”
The suit sought class-action status, representing other people with claims similar to those of Jernigan. The proposed class consisted of people sued by Truell Murray on behalf of General Collection in the past year or so for collection of a personal, family or household debt who received the validation letter with the disputed wording.
General Collection had no comment on the matter, President Mark Stelk said in an email message. Attempts to contact lawyers for Jernigan via phone and email were unsuccessful.