Advisory Opinion to Baughn (04-30-99)

April 30, 1999

Darrell Baughn, Esq
P. O. Box 352
Jackson, MI 39205

Dear Mr. Baughn:

This responds to your letter concerning the applicability of the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA") to the notice procedures required of a child support enforcement agency ("CSEA") to obtain a consumer report from a consumer reporting agency ("CRA," usually a credit bureau). Specifically, you ask if Section 604(a)(4)(C) of the FCRA, which requires that the person acting on behalf of the CSEA provide notice of its intent to request a report to the individual who is the report subject "by certified or registered mail to the last known address of the consumer," means that the CSEA must procure an "accepted" or "refused" signature on the return receipt.

We view Section 604(a)(4)(C) as requiring only that the CSEA make a good faith effort to notify the report recipient (usually a non-custodial parent who owes child support), not that it be able to prove receipt or follow procedures akin to the formal service of process that would be required to bring a lawsuit. If we were to read a more formal requirement (such as a signed return receipt) into the section, we would defeat its purpose in the case where the addressee, at the time of attempted delivery, denies he is the person to whom the letter is addressed and the notice is returned "address unknown" to the CSEA. Congress formulated Section 604(a)(4)(C) as a simple notice requirement,(1) and we see no implied duties beyond those set forth in the provision. Thus, we believe that a CSEA may procure (and a CRA may furnish) a consumer report when the required time has elapsed after the CSEA sends the notice to the non-custodial parent's last known address by certified or registered mail. Of course, prudence would dictate that the CSEA retain the receipt showing that it sent the notice to the report subject (non-custodial parent) by certified or registered mail, and the day it was sent.

The opinions set forth in this informal staff letter are not binding on the Commission.

Sincerely yours,

Clarke W. Brinckerhoff

1. Section 604(a)(4) was added to the FCRA by one provision included in a lengthy piece of legislation titled the "Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996" that was signed into law on August 22, 1996 (Public Law 104-193, Title III, Subtitle F, Section 352).