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Martin v. Consumer Adjustment Company, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

December 22, 2017




         Pending are Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment (Doc. #27), and Defendant's motion for summary judgement (Doc. #29). As discussed below, the Court finds Plaintiff lacks standing. Accordingly, the Court denies both motions for summary judgment, and dismisses the case because Plaintiff lacks standing.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On November 3, 2016, Plaintiff filed her Complaint. Doc. #1. Plaintiff later filed an Amended Complaint, alleging two violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) by Defendant. Doc. #16. Plaintiff alleges Defendant violated 15 U.S.C. § 1692c(a)(2) when it sent a letter to Plaintiff after receiving notice that Plaintiff was represented by an attorney. Plaintiff also alleges Defendant violated 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(2) because the letter she received had two different balances marked “Amount Due.” Plaintiff seeks actual damages, statutory damages, attorney's fees, and any other appropriate relief.

         Plaintiff moves for partial summary judgment on her claim that Defendant violated the FDCPA by sending a letter with two different balances marked “Amount Due.” Doc. #27. Defendant moves for summary judgment on both alleged FDCPA violations, but first argues Plaintiff lacks standing, and thus, the Court should dismiss her claims. Doc. #29. The Court will discuss facts relevant to its standing analysis below.

         II. STANDARDS

         A moving party is entitled to summary judgment on a claim only if there is a showing that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Williams v. City of St. Louis, 783 F.2d 114, 115 (8th Cir. 1986). However, the Court must first find it has jurisdiction to grant relief requested by the parties. “Without jurisdiction the court cannot proceed at all in any cause. Jurisdiction is power to declare the law, and when it ceases to exist, the only function remaining to the court is that of announcing the fact and dismissing the cause.” Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 94 (1998). The party invoking federal jurisdiction has the burden of establishing it exists. Jones v. United States, 727 F.3d 844, 846 (8th Cir. 2013).

         The “irreducible constitutional minimum” of standing has three elements. Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 1547 (2016) (quoting Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992)). A plaintiff must have “(1) suffered an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.” Id. (citing Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560-61; Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Serv. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 180-81 (2000)). “When the defendant challenges standing at the summary judgment stage, the plaintiff must submit affidavits or other evidence that demonstrate through specific facts that [s]he has suffered an injury in fact.” Woods v. Caremark, L.L.C., No. 15-cv-00535, 2016 WL 6908108, at *2 (W.D. Mo. July 28, 2016) (citing Lujan, 504 U.S. at 561). “The plaintiff must establish that there exists no genuine issue of material fact as to justiciability or the merits.” Id. (citation and internal quotations omitted).


         Defendant argues Plaintiff lacks standing because she has not suffered an injury in fact.[1] The “fairly traceable” and “redressability” elements of the standing analysis are not at issue. Plaintiff's injury, if one exists, can easily be traced to Defendant's alleged violations of the FDCPA. Furthermore, Plaintiff's alleged injury would be “redressed by a favorable judicial decision” in which Plaintiff would recover actual or statutory damages as pleaded. Accordingly, the Court's analysis is limited to whether Plaintiff suffered an injury in fact sufficient to establish jurisdiction is proper.

         To establish injury in fact, a plaintiff must show he or she suffered “an invasion of a legally protected interest” that is “concrete and particularized” and “actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” Spokeo, 136 S.Ct. at 1548 (quoting Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560 (internal quotation marks omitted)). Spokeo presented the question “[w]hether Congress may confer Article III standing upon a plaintiff who suffers no concrete harm, and who therefore could not otherwise invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court, by authorizing a private right of action based on a bare violation of a federal statute.” Questions Presented, Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, No. 13-1339 (U.S.), available at (last visited Dec. 21, 2017).

         The Spokeo Court remanded the matter because the Court of Appeals failed to consider whether the plaintiff's injury was “both” concrete and particularized. Spokeo, 136 S.Ct. at 1545 (emphasis in original). In doing so, the Court reiterated, “Congress cannot erase Article III's standing requirements by statutorily granting the right to sue to a plaintiff who would not otherwise have standing.” Id. at 1547-48 (quoting Raines v. Byrd, 521 U.S. 811, 820 n.3 (1997)). The injury must be “concrete and particularized, ” and “[a] concrete injury must be de facto, that is, it must actually exist.” Id. at 1548 (internal quotations omitted) (emphasis in original). Concrete “is not, however, necessarily synonymous with tangible, ” and “intangible injuries can nevertheless be concrete.” Id. at 1549 (internal quotations omitted). To determine whether an intangible harm is sufficiently concrete to confer standing, “both history and judgment of Congress play important roles.” Id. If the “alleged intangible harm has a close relationship to a harm that has traditionally been regarded as providing a basis for a lawsuit in English or American courts, ” the intangible harm may satisfy the injury in fact requirement. Id. While Congress may elevate de facto injuries to legally cognizable status, this does not mean “a plaintiff automatically satisfies the injury-in-fact requirement whenever a statute grants a person a statutory right and purports to authorize that person to sue to vindicate that right.” Id. A plaintiff cannot “allege a bare procedural violation, divorced from any concrete harm, and satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement of Article III.” Id. If “the violation of a procedural right granted by statute” creates a “risk of real harm, ” a plaintiff “need not allege any additional harm beyond the one Congress has identified.” Id. (emphasis in original) (citations omitted).

         Following Spokeo, the Eighth Circuit requires a plaintiff to identify a risk of real harm that is neither speculative nor hypothetical in cases alleging violations of procedural rights. See Braitberg v. Charter Commc'ns, Inc., 836 F.3d 925, 930 (8th Cir. 2016) (finding the plaintiff lacked standing to bring a claim based on an alleged violation of the Cable Communications Policy Act's retention of personal information provisions where plaintiff failed to identify any risk of harm due to the retention); Demarais v. Gurstel Chargo, P.A., 869 F.3d 685, 691-92 (8th Cir. 2017) (finding the plaintiff had standing to assert an FDCPA claim where plaintiff suffered “harm of being subjected to baseless legal claims, [which creates] the risk of mental distress....”). District courts within the Eighth Circuit have applied Spokeo and its progeny in FDCPA cases to find a plaintiff lacks standing when no harm or risk of harm is established. See Wheeler v. Am. Profit Recovery, Inc., No. 15CV368, 2017 WL 4358718, at *3-4 (E.D. Mo. Sept. 29, 2017); May v. Consumer Adjustment Co., No. 14CV166, 2017 WL 227964, at *3-4 (E.D. Mo. Jan. 19, 2017); Jackson v. Abendroth & Russell, P.C., 207 F.Supp.3d 945, 952-62 (S.D. Iowa 2016).

         The Court recognizes Congress, in passing the FDCPA, “created a statutory right to be free from attempts to collect debts not owed, helping to guard against” identified harms such as “personal bankruptcies, ” “marital instability, ” “loss of jobs, ” and “invasions of individual privacy.” Demarais, 869 F.3d at 692; see also 15 U.S.C. ยง1692(a) (listing Congressional findings detailing the need to pass the FDCPA). Nonetheless, Plaintiff must demonstrate a concrete harm, that is one ...

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