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Brown v. Collection Services of Athens, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

December 23, 2014

BARRY BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
COLLECTION SERVICES OF ATHENS, INC., Defendant.

ORDER

MARC T. TREADWELL, District Judge.

Before the Court is the Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Doc. 11). For the following reasons, the Defendant's motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

I. BACKGROUND

The Plaintiff Barry Brown alleges the following facts, which the Court must accept as true. On November 19, 2013, the Defendant Collection Services of Athens, Inc. ("Collection Services") sent a debt collection letter ("Letter") to Brown's residence to recover a debt. (Docs. 1 at ¶ 9; 1-1). Brown had allegedly defaulted on one or more debts related to medical services for the alleged amount of $2, 864.00. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 10). Collection Services titled the Letter "PAYROLL DEDUCTION REQUEST" and requested Brown arrange a payroll deduction through Brown's employer. (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 12-14). It went on to say: "If you do not want to involve your employer, you may discuss other alternatives." (Doc. 1-1). The Letter then "demanded" Brown call Collection Services "within [ten] days to set up the amount [Brown] would like to be deducted from [his] paycheck to pay this account." (Doc. 1 at ¶ 15).

Collection Services listed in the Letter's heading "Responsible Party #2173522." (Doc. 1-1). Brown alleges the Letter's "demand" for him to set up a paycheck deduction was to pay off "this account." (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 19, 26). Brown emphasized "this account" is singular and presumably references the debt for "Responsible Party #2173522." (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 19-20). Then, Collection Services listed a series of nine debts in a chart in the body of the Letter-a debt for Responsible Party #2173522 in the amount of $871.00 plus eight other debts with different responsible party numbers all of which total $2, 864.00. (Doc. 1-1). This chart cataloged the name of the creditor, account number, the responsible party number, the date of service, and the current balance for each debt. (Doc. 1-1). The Letter also included a tear-away attachment that could be mailed to pay the "balance." (Doc. 1-1). The only responsible party listed in this attachment was Responsible Party #2173522, and the balance of $2, 864.00 was listed underneath it. (Docs. 1 at ¶¶ 19-20; 1-1).

Brown filed a claim asserting the Letter violated multiple provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"). (Doc. 1). Collection Services then moved for judgment on the pleadings. (Doc. 11).

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c), "[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings." "Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate when there are no material facts in dispute and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Douglas Asphalt Co. v. Qore, Inc., 541 F.3d 1269, 1273 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Cannon v. City of W. Palm Beach, 250 F.3d 1299, 1301 (11th Cir. 2001)). "A motion for judgment on the pleadings is subject to the same standard as is a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss." Provident Mut. Life Ins. Co. of Phila. v. City of Atlanta, 864 F.Supp. 1274, 1278 (N.D.Ga. 1994).

To avoid dismissal pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "At the motion to dismiss stage, all well-pleaded facts are accepted as true, and the reasonable inferences therefrom are construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Garfield v. NDC Health Corp., 466 F.3d 1255, 1261 (11th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). However, "where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not show[n]'-that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). "[C]onclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of facts or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal." Oxford Asset Mgmt., Ltd. v. Jaharis, 297 F.3d 1182, 1188 (11th Cir. 2002). The complaint must "give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Where there are dispositive issues of law, a court may dismiss a claim regardless of the alleged facts. Marshall Cnty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cnty. Gas Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir.1993).

B. Fair Debt Collection Practices Act[1]

To state a claim pursuant to the FDCPA, a plaintiff must show that a debt collector attempted to collect a consumer debt through an act or omission prohibited by the FDCPA. See Pescatrice v. Orovitz, 539 F.Supp.2d 1375, 1378 (S.D. Fla. 2008). "The [FDCPA] provides a civil cause of action against any debt collector who fails to comply with the requirements of the Act." Edwards v. Niagara Credit Solutions, Inc., 584 F.3d 1350, 1352 (11th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). Prohibited acts include, inter alia : (1) falsely representing "the character, amount, or legal status of any debt, " 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(2)(A); (2) representing or implying "nonpayment of any debt will result in the... seizure, garnishment, attachment, or sale of any... wages of any person unless such action is lawful and the debt collector... intends to take such action, " 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(4); (3) threatening "to take any action that cannot legally be taken or that is not intended to be taken, " 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(5); (4) using "any false representation or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect any debt, " 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(10); and (5) using "unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect any debt, " 15 U.S.C. § 1692f. See also Hepsen v. Resurgent Capital Servs., LP, 383 F.Appx. 877, 881 (11th Cir. 2010) ("The FDCPA generally prohibits debt collectors from using any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt, ' and the use of unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect any debt.'" (quoting 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692e, 1692f)).

The "least sophisticated consumer" standard is used "to evaluate whether a debt collector's conduct is deceptive, misleading, unconscionable, or unfair."[2] Crawford v. LVNV Funding, LLC, 758 F.3d 1254, 1259 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting LeBlanc v. Unifund CCR Partners, 601 F.3d 1185, 1193-94, 1200-01) (11th Cir. 2010)) (internal quotation marks omitted). "The inquiry is not whether the particular plaintiff-consumer was deceived or misled; instead, the question is whether the least sophisticated consumer' would have been deceived by the debt collector's conduct." Id. (quoting Jeter v. Credit Bureau, Inc., 760 F.2d 1168, 1177 n.11 (11th Cir. 1985)) (internal quotation marks omitted). "The least sophisticated consumer' can be presumed to possess a rudimentary amount of information about the world and a willingness to read a collection notice with some care." LeBlanc, 601 F.3d at 1194 (citation omitted). "[T]he test has an objective component in that while protecting naive consumers, the standard also prevents liability for bizarre or idiosyncratic interpretations of collection notices by preserving a quotient of reasonableness." Id. (quoting United States v. Nat'l Fin. Servs., Inc., 98 F.3d 131, 136 (4th Cir. 1996)) (internal quotation marks omitted).[3]

In its motion, Collection Services argues the Letter did not imply or threaten a garnishment action, did not misrepresent the character or amount of the debt owed, and was not otherwise false, misleading, or unfair. (Doc. 11 at 4, 10, 18). Further, Brown's reading of the Letter is "bizarre and idiosyncratic" and ignores the fact the Letter was clearly a request for a voluntary payroll deduction. (Doc. 11 at 7-8). Brown alleges the Letter was written in such a way as to pressure him into thinking that his failure to respond would result in contact with his employer and a garnishment action, and moreover, the Letter misrepresented the amount of the debt owed. (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 27-28). Brown contends he sufficiently alleged facts to demonstrate Collection Services violated multiple provisions: 15 U.S.C. §§ ...


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