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Collins v. Experian Info. Solutions, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

January 5, 2015

CURTIS J. COLLINS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
EXPERIAN INFORMATION SOLUTIONS, INC., Defendant-Appellee

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. D.C. Docket No. 2:11-cv-00938-AKK.

For Curtis J. Collins, Plaintiff - Appellant: David L. Selby II, Bailey & Glasser, LLP, Birmingham, AL; Patricia Mulvoy Kipnis, Bailey & Glasser, LLP, Haddonfield, NJ; Wesley L. Phillips, Phillips Law Group, LLC, Birmingham, AL.

For Experian Information Solutions, Inc., Defendant - Appellee: Gregory Russell Hanthorn, Rebecca Brown Crawford, Jones Day, Atlanta, GA; Leilus Jackson Young Jr., Ferguson Frost & Dodson, LLP, Birmingham, AL.

Before MARTIN, JULIE CARNES and BLACK, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 1331

BLACK, Circuit Judge

Curtis J. Collins appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Experian Information Solutions, Inc. (Experian), in his lawsuit alleging Experian negligently and willfully violated its duty under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. § 1681i(a), to conduct a reasonable reinvestigation of disputed information contained in his credit file.[1] This appeal presents us with a question of first impression--whether an allegation of a violation of § 1681i(a), requiring a consumer reporting agency to conduct a " reasonable reinvestigation" of disputed information contained in a consumer's credit file, requires the consumer reporting agency to have disclosed the consumer's credit report to a third party in order for a consumer to recover actual damages. Looking to the plain language of the FCRA, we are convinced that a consumer's credit report need not be published to a third party in order to entitle the consumer to actual damages under § 1681i(a), and we reverse the district court's finding to the contrary.

I. BACKGROUND

In April 2010, Equable Ascent Financial, LLC (Equable) sued Collins in the Small Claims Court of Jefferson County, Alabama. In its complaint, Equable alleged it had been assigned an account from GE Capital Corp., and that Equable had the right to bring an action for payment on that account. Collins answered, denying

Page 1332

he owed Equable any money. After a trial where both parties appeared with counsel, the court entered judgment in favor of Collins on July 26, 2010.

The purported debt to Equable was listed on an Experian credit report pulled in June 2010. In order to remove the Equable debt from his credit file, Collins wrote to Experian on July 30, 2010, explaining:

I don't owe any money to Equable Ascent Financial for account [] #XXX1237. This account is wrong. Delete it immediately. Equable Ascent sued me for this debt in the small claims court of Jefferson County, Alabama, case #SM-10-2973, in my answer to the lawsuit I denied I owed any money on the account, judgment was entered for defendant, you can call the court for more information at 205-325-XXXX or the attorneys for Equable Ascent at 205-250-XXXX.

Experian's corporate representative testified that due in part to a zip code discrepancy on the envelope, Experian believed the letter may not have been sent by Collins. Experian sent Collins a letter at his home address on August 9, 2010, stating it had received a suspicious request regarding his personal credit information that it had determined was not sent by Collins. The letter advised Collins:

If you believe that information in your personal credit report is inaccurate or incomplete, please [call, visit our website, or write]. Be sure to include all of the following: your full name including middle initial . . .; Social Security number; current mailing ...

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