Expert Article Library

Plain English Works Best for Collection Services

Case Name: Michael Durkin and Loretta Reed v. Equifax Check Services, Inc.

Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit; on appeal from the Northern District of Illinois

Date: April 18, 2005

Expert: Linguist. Allan Metcalf, English Professor and linguist

Issues: Do expert witnesses have to focus on particular details of what is at issue in a case when they make their conclusions and back their testimony up with proof that they have used acceptable methods?

Summary of case: In this FDCPA class action, the class consisted of private individuals from whom the check authorization and warranty service Equifax tried to collect on dishonored checks that the individuals had written to various retailers. The plaintiffs claimed that Equifax’ collection letters were unacceptably confusing and misleading in violation of Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

Role of the expert: Professor Metcalf testified for the plaintiffs.

Expert analysis: Professor Metcalf submitted an affidavit in which he concluded that Equifax’ form letters were difficult to read because company used lengthy sentences and big words, causing confusing to the receipient consumers.

The district court barred Professor Metcalf from testifying at trial finding his testimony irrelevant because he had performed a readability analysis of the entire letters instead of only the certain disputed parts which had been singled out as misleading. The Court also found his testimony unreliable because he had failed to show which methods he had used to reach his conclusion. The Court did not want to simply rely on Professor Metcalf’s job title as proof that he was qualified expert.

Summary prepared by M. Dellinger, Student, Golden Gate University School of Law