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Cramer v. Equifax Information Services, LLC

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

October 15, 2019

AMBER J. CRAMER, Plaintiff,
v.
EQUIFAX INFORMATION SERVICES, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CHARLES A. SHAW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on defendant Bay Area Credit Service, LLC's motion for summary judgment. Doc. 76. Plaintiff Amber Cramer opposes the motion and it is fully briefed. For the following reasons, the motion will be granted.

         I. Background

         On July 2, 2018, plaintiff filed a six-count complaint against defendants Equifax Information Services, LLC (“Equifax”), Bay Area Credit Service, LLC (“Bay Area”), and Consumer Collection Management, Inc. (“CCM”) pursuant to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq., the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692 et seq., and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), 47 U.S.C. §§ 227 et seq. On January 28, 2019, plaintiff filed a joint stipulation of dismissal with prejudice as to defendant CCM. Docs. 41, 42. On June 18, 2019, plaintiff filed a stipulation of dismissal with prejudice as to defendant Equifax, which the Court construed as a motion for leave to voluntarily dismiss with prejudice, and granted. Docs. 68, 70. The only remaining claims in this action are the FDCPA (Count II) and FCRA (Count IV) claims against defendant Bay Area.

         In Count II, plaintiff asserts defendant Bay Area violated the FDCPA by making false, misleading, and deceptive statements in an effort to collect a debt; continuing to list a debt on plaintiff's credit report even after it was aware of facts demonstrating the debt was the result of identity theft; and using unfair and unconscionable means to collect a debt. Count II seeks actual damages, statutory damages, costs, and attorney's fees.

         In Count IV, plaintiff asserts defendant Bay Area violated the FCRA by willfully and negligently failing to investigate her credit dispute and delete the debt from its reports despite knowing or having reason to know it was inaccurate. Count IV seeks actual damages, statutory damages, punitive damages, costs, and attorney's fees.

         II. Legal Standard

         The standards applicable to summary judgment motions are well settled. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), a court may grant a motion for summary judgment if all of the information before the court shows “there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         The initial burden is placed on the moving party. City of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa v. Associated Elec. Co-op., Inc., 838 F.2d 268, 273 (8th Cir. 1988) (the moving party has the burden of clearly establishing the non-existence of any genuine issue of fact that is material to a judgment in its favor). Once this burden is discharged, if the record shows that no genuine dispute exists, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party who must set forth affirmative evidence and specific facts showing there is a genuine dispute on a material factual issue. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

         Once the burden shifts, the non-moving party may not rest on the allegations in her pleadings, but by affidavit and other evidence must set forth specific facts showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Herring v. Canada Life Assur. Co., 207 F.3d 1026, 1029 (8th Cir. 2000); Allen v. Entergy Corp., 181 F.3d 902, 904 (8th Cir. 2000). The non-moving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is “genuine” only “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Herring, 207 F.3d at 1029 (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). A party resisting summary judgment has the burden to designate the specific facts that create a triable question of fact. See Crossley v. Georgia-Pacific Corp., 355 F.3d 1112, 1114 (8th Cir. 2004). Self-serving, conclusory statements without support are not sufficient to defeat summary judgment. See Conolly v. Clark, 457 F.3d 872, 876 (8th Cir. 2006).

         With this standard in mind, the Court accepts the facts below as true for purposes of resolving this motion for summary judgment.

         III. Facts

         On December 23, 2016, an individual appeared at St. Alexius Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri for emergency drug overdose treatment. This individual provided plaintiff's correct name, social security number, and date of birth. The address this individual provided was not where plaintiff then currently or previously resided. As a result of the treatment, three separate debts became due to three separate medical providers: (1) Golden Arch Emergency Physicians (“Golden Arch”); (2) American Medical Response (“AMR”); and (3) SLUCare (“SLU”). After the debts became delinquent, Bay Area was hired by two medical providers to collect on the Golden Arch and AMR debts.

         Plaintiff reviewed her credit score in July of 2017 and discovered the three delinquent debts. Plaintiff filed a police report with the Columbia, Missouri Police Department alleging identity theft. On July 14, 2017, plaintiff received a call on her cell phone from Roger Rex, a representative of Bay Area. The telephone transcript evidences that Mr. Rex informed plaintiff he was attempting to collect a $1, 505.00 debt for Golden Arch arising out of medical services provided on December 23, 2016 at St. Alexius Hospital. Plaintiff stated the charge was a result of fraud and a police report had been filed. In response, Mr. Rex told plaintiff: “So, no issues, what I'll do for you is I'll take this as an identity theft and let my client know that it needs investigation and needs to be kept on hold.” Doc. 79-6. The transcript does not reflect a discussion of any debt other than the one specifically owed to Golden Arch. The AMR debt was not mentioned by either party. After the July 14, 2017 phone call, Bay Area asserts and plaintiff does not dispute that Bay Area ceased all efforts to collect on the debt owed to Golden Arch and never reported the debt to a consumer reporting agency.

         In September of 2017, defendant Bay Area first reported the AMR debt of $792.00 to the three national consumer reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian (the “CRAs”). By letter dated November 8, 2017, plaintiff submitted a written dispute of the AMR debt to the three CRAs. Plaintiff did not send a copy of the dispute letter to Bay Area. On November 19, 2017, Bay Area received an Automated Consumer Dispute Verification from Equifax forwarding plaintiff's written dispute of the AMR debt.

         Following receipt of a dispute from a CRA, Bay Area's policy is to match the demographic information of the consumer to the information on the debt to determine if it is the same person, including verifying the social security number and date of birth. When Bay Area received plaintiff's dispute on November 19, 2017, plaintiff's demographic information matched the information attached to the AMR debt. Despite the match, Bay Area ceased its collection efforts. From November 24, 2017 to July 13, 2018, defendant Bay Area continued to report the AMR debt to the CRAs, but indicated in its reports that the debt was disputed.

         IV. ...


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