Navigating Legal Implications of the Hunstein Decision for the Debt Collection Industry

In the complex legal landscape of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), strict statutory interpretations of standing, privacy laws, and compliance standards lead to conclusions that are not always black and white. JCAP is an analytically driven asset buyer based in Sartell, MN. The company is dedicated to fostering a thriving organizational culture that embodies its core values of integrity, respect, fairness, compliance, and communication. The company was founded in 2002 based on the bedrock principles of listening, identifying solutions, and “Doing the Right Thing.” In the following article, Jefferson Capital Systems reviews how the Hunstein line of FDCPA cases continues to impact the debt collection industry.

Examining Hunstein v. Preferred Collection & Management Services, Inc. (2021)

The doctrine of Article III standing derives from the Constitution’s limit that federal courts may decide only “Cases” and “Controversies.” The Supreme Court’s decision in TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez (2021) clarified the parameters of standing, necessitating a close analogy between alleged statutory harms and traditional common law harms.

Hunstein v. Preferred Collection & Management Services, Inc. (2021) exemplifies the evolving landscape of Article III standing in FDCPA litigation. Following his son’s medical treatment, Hunstein failed to pay the hospital bill. The hospital transferred the debt to a collection agency, Preferred Collection and Management Services. Preferred, hired a commercial mail vendor, CompuMail Information Services, Inc., to generate and mail its initial collection letter to Hunstein. Preferred provided CompuMail with personal information about Hunstein, including his name, his son’s name, and the amount of the unpaid debt. CompuMail used this information to generate a template letter, which it then mailed to Hunstein. Because CompuMail’s systems were highly automated and were processed in a high-volume manner, no employee of CompuMail was known to have actually seen the letter sent to Hunstein. Upon receipt of the letter, Hunstein sued Preferred, alleging that it violated the FDCPA by sharing his personal information about the debt with CompuMail. According to the FDCPA, a debt collector may not share personal information about the debt or the debtor with anyone except the consumer and certain designated individuals. The intent of the provision is to prevent debt collectors from shaming consumers into paying debts.

Challenging Preferred’s Argument and the Legal Interpretation of Standing

Preferred argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed because Hunstein lacked standing to bring an action under FDCPA. To achieve standing under FDCPA, a plaintiff must allege an invasion of privacy or another injury caused directly by a debt collector who has violated the FDCPA. The district court dismissed the case finding that Hunstein had not sufficiently alleged that Preferred’s actions violated the FDCPA because the data transmission did not qualify as a communication “in connection with the collection of any debt.” On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit initially found Hunstein had Article III standing to bring his claim. However, an en banc review of the decision held that Hunstein failed to allege a concrete harm and thus lacked standing. Because no one at the letter vendor actually read or saw his private information in this case, the court concluded that there was no invasion of privacy. “The problem with this theory is that his alleged reputational injury lacks a necessary element of the comparator tort—the requirement that the disclosure is public. Without publicity, a disclosure cannot possibly cause the sort of reputational harm remediated at the common law.” Since CompuMail’s system was highly automated, the letter was generated and mailed without ever being read by a human or publicized in a manner that could have publicly shamed Hunstein.

Clarifying Legal Interpretations of Harm

The 11th Circuit’s ruling was based on the fact that Hunstein did not suffer any harm from Preferred’s disclosure of his information to CompuMail so that it could generate the collection letter and that Hunstein did not suffer any damages. This ruling is significant because it clarifies how courts interpret “harm” in a strict liability FDCPA context. The Hunstein ruling found that the use of a letter vendor does not cause a consumer harm sufficient to establish Article III standing. A highly technical violation of the FDCPA under a strict constructionist reading of the statute, is not sufficient without a corresponding concrete harm. Thus, debt collectors can continue to disclose consumer information to vendors to assist with collecting debts, as long as the debt collectors and their vendors do not violate any debt collection laws or regulations.

Navigating Legal Compliance in Debt Collection Industry

JCAP adheres to stringent privacy laws and compliance standards, recognizing the importance of protecting consumer data and upholding regulatory requirements. The FDCPA and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) are central to the firm’s compliance framework, guiding its debt collection practices and communication strategies. The Hunstein case highlights the intersection of privacy rights and debt collection practices, underscoring the need for clarity in statutory interpretation and compliance enforcement. Their commitment to legal integrity and ethical debt collection practices positions it as a leader in navigating complex legal landscapes while prioritizing consumer rights and regulatory compliance.


As legal interpretations evolve and regulatory landscapes shift, organizations like JCAP remains steadfast in its commitment to legal compliance, ethical conduct, and consumer protection. The company’s proactive approach to legal interpretation, compliance training, and regulatory advocacy underscores its dedication to upholding the highest standards of legal and ethical conduct in the debt collection industry.

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