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Howell v. Equifax Information Services, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division

January 9, 2017

ROBERT and SHERRY HOWELL Plaintiffs,
v.
EQUIFAX INFORMATION SERVICES, LLC Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on defendant Equifax Information Services, LLC's motion for summary judgment [#53]. Equifax moves this Court for an order granting summary judgment on all claims asserted by the plaintiffs, Robert Howell and Sherry Howell. The matter is ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, the motion will be granted in part, and denied in part.

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiffs claim that Equifax violated their rights by willfully and negligently failing to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) 15 U.S.C. § 1681, and were injured as a result. It is undisputed that Equifax is a credit reporting agency (“CRA”) under the FCRA, meaning that Equifax collects credit information furnished to them by other sources and creates consumer disclosures and reports to sell to creditors. Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (“HSBC”) provided Equifax with credit information that resulted in Mr. Howell being labeled as deceased on his Equifax credit report, when in fact Mr. Howell was and remains very much alive. Plaintiffs argue that the furnishing of inaccurate information that was given to creditors led to two credit denials for Mr. Howell and that the inaccurate information remained on his account for months after he disputed the deceased notation.

         Equifax moves for summary judgment on the following grounds:

1. Mrs. Howell's claim fail as a matter of law because Equifax did not report any inaccurate information about her.
2. Mr. Howell's FCRA claim under § 1681i fails because he lacks proof that he contacted Equifax to dispute the HSBC account.
3. Mr. Howell's FCRA claim under § 1681e fails because he cannot show that Equifax failed to maintain reasonable procedures to assure the accuracy of his credit report.
4. Alternatively, the FCRA claims fail because the plaintiffs cannot show that they sustained actual damages and cannot prove any alleged violation caused the damages.
5. Finally, that plaintiffs cannot meet their burden under § 1681n of the FCRA to show that Equifax acted willfully.

         II. Factual Background

         Viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, the relevant facts are as follows. Plaintiffs found their “dream house” and applied for mortgage financing with Bank Star of the Bootheel in January 2013. It appears, however, that the actual application was made by Mr. Howell only, and in fact, Mrs. Howell testified in her deposition that “I don't think I applied for anything.” In any event, soon after Mr. Howell met with bank loan officer Erica Prater, she communicated to Mr. Howell that his Equifax credit report contained a notation that he was deceased and that because of this deceased notation, the bank could not allow the mortgage process to go any further until the problem was resolved.[1] Ms. Prater, in her affidavit, stated that she personally called Equifax to aid Mr. Howell in resolving the issue and then followed Equifax's instructions to dispute the deceased notation by faxing Equifax a letter on Bank Star of the Bootheel letterhead signed by Mr. Howell and notarized. Mr. Howell claims that he again disputed the deceased notation via phone, fax, and internet, contacting Equifax approximately 10 different times between January 2013 and April 2013. Ms. Prater further stated that Mr. Howell was ultimately unable to secure financing for his mortgage because of this deceased notation.

         In addition, Equifax's internal records indicate that between January 2013 and August 9, 2013, the inaccurate deceased notation from the HSBC credit line remained on Mr. Howell's credit report and was released at least 13 times to creditors during that period.[2] Finally, Mr. Howell asserts that he was denied financing to purchase a new vehicle approximately eighteen months after he first disputed the deceased notation because the notation remained on his credit report.

         III. Summary ...


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