A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit seeking class-action status against collection agency General Collection and law firm Truell Murray & Associates, both based in Grand Island, Neb.
Jody Jernigan's lawsuit claimed the agency sent letters that led her to believe a debt would be viewed as valid by the court system if she did not dispute it.
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 lawsuit was filed in June in U.S. District Court in Omaha, Neb.
Jernigan's main dispute involved the language included in collection letters, specifically claims that, "Unless the debtor disputes the debt within 30 days after receipt of the notice, it will be assumed that the debt is valid."
"An undisputed debt," continued the lawsuit, filed by Omaha's Car & Reinbrecht law firm, summarizing language from the federal law, "may only assumed to be valid by the debt collector."
The suit stated 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 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 (Neb.) Court.
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.
"This court finds, as a matter of law, that nothing in the notice was false or deceptive,' " according to 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."
General Collection officials had no comment on the dismissal. General Collection's Web site says the company has been in business since 1959. It was bought by Mark Stelk, also named as a defendant in the suit, in 1997.
The site says the company's business has tripled under his ownership and employs 38 people.