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Foster v. Franklin Collection Service, Inc.

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

August 15, 2017

ROBIN FOSTER, and JONATHAN FOSTER, Plaintiffs,
v.
FRANKLIN COLLECTION SERVICE, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO AMEND THE COMPLAINT AND DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

          C. ASHLEY ROYAL, SENIOR JUDGE

         Plaintiffs Robin Foster and Jonathan Foster bring this action against Defendant Franklin Collection Service, Inc. (“Franklin”) pursuant to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq., and Georgia's Fair Business Practices Act (“GFBPA”), O.C.G.A. § 10-1-391 et seq. Plaintiffs also assert a negligence claim against Franklin. Presently before the Court is Franklin's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, and Plaintiffs' Amended Motion to Amend their Complaint.[1] Having considered the pleadings, the parties' arguments, and relevant legal authority, Franklin's Motion [Doc. 12] is DENIED without prejudice, Plaintiffs' Motion [Doc. 21] is GRANTED, and the Stay of Discovery is now LIFTED.

         BACKGROUND

         In December of 2014, Robin Foster was visiting her family in Mississippi when she received medical treatment at RedMed Urgent Clinic (“RedMed”). At the time of her visit, Robin paid RedMed a $25.00 co-pay. Shortly thereafter, Robin received a bill from RedMed for $367.00. RedMed filed the health insurance claim incorrectly, and this bill did not include Robin's health insurance coverage. After RedMed refiled the claim correctly with Blue Cross Blue Shield, Robin's health care provider, the total bill was reduced to $271.75. Blue Cross Blue Shield paid $221.75 of this bill, and then RedMed billed Robin for the remaining $50.00, even though Robin already paid the $25.00 copay. Jonathan Foster, Robin's husband, paid the $50.00 in or around November of 2015. Collectively, the Fosters and Blue Cross Blue Shield paid RedMed $297.75. Thereafter, the account balance was zero.

         On February 10, 2016, Franklin sent a letter to Jonathan Foster demanding payment for his “outstanding balance of $317.00 owed to REDMED LLC.”[2] At the bottom of the letter, it stated: “THIS COMMUNICATION IS FROM A DEBT COLLECTOR. THIS IS AN ATTEMPT TO COLLECT A DEBT, AND ANY INFORMATION OBTAINED WILL BE USED FOR THAT PURPOSE.”[3] According to Robin, she never authorized RedMed or anyone else to contact Jonathan Foster regarding her account with RedMed, and this repeated attempt to collect a debt that no longer existed created unnecessary conflict and stress in the Fosters' marriage.

         On January 8, 2017, Robin and Jonathan Foster filed suit against Franklin alleging Franklin violated the FDCPA and GFBPA, and Franklin is liable for the negligence of its employees, attorneys, and agents. On April 18, 2017, Franklin filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc. 12], and on May 2, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a Response in Opposition and a Motion to Amend their Complaint.

         Having directed Plaintiffs to file their Proposed Amended Complaint, the Court will first consider their Motion to Amend and then address the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.

         MOTION TO AMEND THE COMPLAINT

         I. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) sets forth the procedures for amending pleadings and provides that a party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course within certain time constraints.[4] Where, as in this case, the time to amend as a matter of course has passed, a party may amend its pleading only by leave of court or by written consent of the opposing party.[5] When the party seeks leave of court, “[t]he court should freely give leave when justice so requires.”[6]

         Under Rule 15(a)'s liberal amendment policy, “unless a substantial reason exists to deny leave to amend, the discretion of the district court is not broad enough to permit denial.”[7] However, factors such as undue delay, undue prejudice to defendants, and futility of the amendments are sufficient to justify denying a motion to amend.[8] When an amended complaint fails to state a viable claim as a matter of law, it is not an abuse of discretion to deny a motion to amend.[9]

         II. Discussion

         Franklin contends Plaintiffs' Motion to Amend their Complaint should be denied because any amendment would be futile. Specifically, Franklin argues because the account in issue was paid in full, no “debt” exists for purposes of the FDCPA; thus, Plaintiffs cannot bring FDCPA or GFBPA claims.[10] However, the Court disagrees.

         The Eleventh Circuit has stated, “[t]he FDCPA specifies that the consumer debt sought to be collected need not actually exist for the debt collector to be bound by the FDCPA's requirements-indeed, the statute applies to ‘any obligation or alleged obligation.'”[11] Here, the medical debt was an alleged obligation that Franklin attempted to collect, and thus, Franklin is still bound by the FDCPA's requirements regardless if the medical debt actually existed. Accordingly, having read and considered Plaintiffs' Proposed Amended Complaint, it does not appear that Plaintiff's amendment is futile or that any of the substantial reasons for denying ...


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