United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division
FINAL REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
F. KINO, UNITED STATES MACHSTKATE JUDGE.
Kayla Bumpus filed the above-styled action against Defendant
National Credit Systems, Inc. (“NCS”), on April
14, 2016. [Doc. 1]. Plaintiff Bumpus alleges that Defendant
NCS negligently or willfully violated 15 U.S.C. §
1681s-2(b) of the Fair Credit Reporting Act
(“FCRA”) by failing to conduct a reasonable
investigation of Plaintiff's disputes of information
furnished to credit reporting agencies and by failing to
correct inaccurate information furnished to credit reporting
agencies. [Doc. 1 ¶¶ 23-25]. Plaintiff seeks actual
damages, statutory damages, punitive damages, and
attorney's fees. [Id.]. On March 17, 2017,
Defendant NCS moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 56 on Plaintiff's FCRA claim
based upon the pleadings, statements of material facts,
exhibits, and discovery materials submitted to the court.
evaluating the merits of a motion for summary judgment, the
court must “view the evidence and all factual
inferences raised by it in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party, and resolve all reasonable doubts about the
facts in favor of the non-moving party.” Comer v.
City of Palm Bay, Florida, 265 F.3d 1186, 1192
(11thCir. 2001). However, mere conclusions and
unsupported self-serving statements by the party opposing
summary judgment are insufficient to avoid summary judgment.
See Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326
(11th Cir. 2005). Therefore, the evidence
presented by the parties having been evaluated in accordance
with the foregoing principles, the following facts are deemed
to be true for the limited purpose of evaluating
Defendant's motion [Doc. 48] for summary judgment.
about February 7, 2013, Plaintiff Kayla Bumpus entered into a
one-year lease with JAI Property Management
(“JAI”) for a home on Maple Valley Court in Union
City, Georgia. [Doc. 50-1, Defendant's Statement of
Material Facts (“DSMF”) ¶ 1; Doc. 48-6, Ex.
D]. The lease included monthly rent in the amount of $850 as
well as a security deposit of $850 which, in the event the
lease was breached, would be applied to unpaid rent, late
fees, or “damage to the apartment beyond ordinary wear
and tear.” [DSMF ¶ 2; Doc. 48-6, Ex. D
¶¶ 1, 7; Doc. 53, Plaintiff's Response
(“Pla. Resp.”) to DSMF ¶ 2]. The terms of
the lease provided that upon early termination of the lease,
Plaintiff was required to: a. pay all monies currently due;
b. pay all sums due through the end of the notice period of
60 days; c. pay an additional termination fee of $850 (one
month's rent); and d. forfeit any security deposit. [DSMF
¶ 3; Doc. 48-6, Ex. D ¶ 6]. Joshua Vance was
Plaintiff's co-tenant. [Plaintiff's Statement of
Material Facts (“PSMF”) ¶ 6; Plaintiff's
Affidavit (“Pla. Aff.”) ¶ 9; Vance Aff.
a few months after Plaintiff moved in, the apartment was
burglarized twice. [PSMF ¶ 1; Pla. Aff. ¶ 4; Doc.
48-5, Plaintiff's Deposition (“Pla. Dep.”) at
20]. Plaintiff also encountered maintenance issues with the
air conditioning unit, which broke down on multiple
occasions. [PSMF ¶ 2; Pla. Aff. ¶ 5; Pla. Dep. at
20-21]. Plaintiff testified, “This created particular
problems for me because my son has asthma, a condition that
is aggravated by the heat.” [Pla. Aff. ¶ 5].
Plaintiff testified that because she feared for their safety
and her son's health and because she was frustrated with
the ongoing maintenance issues at the apartment, she decided
to terminate her lease early. [PSMF ¶ 3; Pla. Aff.
¶ 6; Pla. Dep. at 20-21]. On or about June 20, 2013,
Plaintiff contacted JAI representative D.J. Mathew by email
regarding termination of the lease. [DSMF ¶ 4; Doc.
48-7, Ex. E]. Mr. Mathew wrote Plaintiff the following, in
If you guys move out by June 30th, you will not
have to pay for July rent because you are not in the
property. As I told Josh [Vance], please make sure to do a
walkthrough with Sam by the 1st or 2nd
of July. . . . You will have 60 days to pay the lease
cancellation fee of $850.00, if it is not paid within the 60
days, it will be sent to collections. If you guys do have to
stay some days in July, you will have to pay the prorated
amount for the days in the property. If you guys stay in the
property in July and the rent is not paid, I will have to
file for eviction by the 10th.
[Doc. 48-7, Ex. E].
testified that she sent an email to Mr. Mathew on July 4,
2013, which stated: “We will vacate the property by the
10th of July. Per our previous conversation we will pay the
cancellation fee of 850 in 60 days. And the 10 days we stayed
here should be paid by the credit of no a/c for half of the
month last month.” [Pla. Aff. ¶ 7, Ex. A].
Plaintiff and her co-tenant, Mr. Vance, testified that they
moved out of the apartment over the weekend of July 6-7,
2013. [PSMF ¶ 6; Pla. Aff. ¶ 9; Vance Aff. ¶
5]. Plaintiff and Mr. Vance also testified that they left the
apartment clean, in good order, and undamaged except for
ordinary wear and tear. [PSMF ¶ 7; Pla. Aff. ¶ 9;
Vance Aff. ¶ 5]. According to Plaintiff, although she
was supposed to have access to the apartment through July 10,
2013, JAI had the locks changed and, as a result, Plaintiff
was unable to access the apartment after July 7. [PSMF ¶
8; Pla. Aff. ¶ 10].
testified that JAI did not conduct a final inspection of the
apartment after she moved out and did not provide her with a
final list of damages to the apartment. [PSMF ¶ 9; Pla.
Aff. ¶ 10]. JAI does not know whether a move out
inspection was ever conducted on the apartment or whether a
final list of damages to the apartment was ever compiled.
[PSMF ¶ 10; Doc. 55-3, Mathew Deposition (“Mathew
Dep.”) at 22-23, 40-41]. JAI did not return
Plaintiff's $850 security deposit. [PSMF ¶ 13; DSMF
to Defendant NCS, Plaintiff left an account balance of $2,
734.70 after her $850 security deposit was applied to the
balance. [Doc. 48-8, Ex. F]. The balance included pro-rated
July rent of $302, a June 2013 late fee of $52.50, a July
2013 late fee of $30.20, a lease termination fee of $1, 700,
and a maintenance fee of $1, 500. [DSMF ¶ 5; Doc. 48-8,
Ex. F]. The maintenance fee of $1, 500 allegedly covered the
costs for damages, painting, cleaning, and removing trash.
[Mathew Dep. at 22; Doc. 48-8, Ex. F]. JAI was unable to
confirm the costs for cleaning the apartment or the costs to
remedy any alleged damages caused by Plaintiff and her
co-tenant. [PSMF ¶ 12; Mathew Dep. at 44-52]. Plaintiff
and Mr. Vance testified that in late August or early
September 2013, they paid JAI the agreed upon early
termination fee of $850 and that the payment was made by two
money orders each in the amount of $425. [PSMF ¶ 14;
Pla. Aff. ¶ 8; Vance Aff. ¶ 4]. Plaintiff testified
that over the next year, she heard nothing from JAI. [PSMF
¶ 15; Pla. Aff. ¶ 11].
about August 25, 2014, JAI placed Plaintiff's account
(“the debt”) in the amount of $2, 734.70 with
Defendant NCS for collection. [DSMF ¶ 6]. NCS began
collection efforts and sent a collection letter to Plaintiff
on or about August 28, 2014. [DSMF ¶ 7]. Plaintiff
testified that in August of 2014, she was denied a student
loan to attend law school because of derogatory information
that Defendant NCS had placed on her credit report, claiming
that Plaintiff owed JAI over $2, 700. [PSMF ¶ 16; Pla.
Aff. ¶¶ 11, 12; Pla. Dep. at 29, 32, 37-38].
Plaintiff promptly exercised her rights under the FCRA,
specifically 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681i(a) and 1681s-2(b),
by disputing the accuracy of the information that Defendant
NCS placed on her credit reports with Equifax, Trans Union,
and Experian. [PSMF ¶ 17].
about September 8, 2014, Plaintiff contacted NCS by telephone
and disputed the debt. She was asked to provide documentation
of her dispute. [DSMF ¶ 14]. Plaintiff testified that on
or about November 24, 2014, she emailed NCS' Collections
Manager, Mike Cook, a copy of the June and July 2013 email
exchange with Mr. Mathew regarding the termination of
Plaintiff's lease and the corresponding amounts due.
[DSMF ¶ 15; PSMF ¶ 18; Pla. Aff. ¶¶ 7,
14, Ex. A]. Mr. Cook forwarded this email to NCS Service
Representative Katie March, who reviewed the emails received
from Plaintiff, the lease agreement, the final account
statement, and NCS' account notes. [DSMF ¶ 16; Doc.
48-4, Ex. B, March Deposition (“March Dep.”) at
18, 24-26, 31; Doc. 48-11, Ex. I].
November 25, 2014, Ms. March contacted Mr. Mathew to confirm
the balance due on the account and forwarded a copy of
Plaintiff's email regarding the termination fee to Mr.
Mathew for his review. [DSMF ¶ 17; March Dep. at 18-20;
Doc. 48-12, Ex. J]. Mr. Mathew responded and indicated that
the balance should be reduced by $850, from $2, 734.70 to $1,
884.70, in accordance with the June 20, 2013, email exchange.
[DSMF ¶ 18; Doc. 48-7, Ex. E; Doc. 48-12, Ex. J].
Subsequently, JAI reduced the amount of Plaintiff's
alleged debt by $850, from $2, 734.70 to $1, 884.70. [PSMF
¶ 20; Mathew Dep. at 26-27]. Ms. March adjusted the
balance in NCS' account system and sent Plaintiff a
letter reflecting the updated balance of $1, 884.70. [DSMF
¶ 19; March Dep. at 21-22]. As noted supra, the
majority of the $1, 884.70 alleged debt was attributable to a
$1, 500 maintenance fee for cleaning, damages, and
maintenance to the apartment. [PSMF ¶ 21].
about December 1, 2014, Defendant NCS received an Automated
Consumer Dispute Verification (“ACDV”) from
Equifax which contained a dispute code indicating: “013
- Disputes current balance - verify original loan amount,
scheduled monthly payment amount, actual payment amount,
amount past due, current balance.” [DSMF ¶ 20;
Doc. 48-13, Ex. K]. The ACDV listed a second dispute code:
“012 - claims paid the original creditor before
collection status or charge off. Verify account status,
payment rating, current balance.” [DSMF ¶ 21; Doc.
48-13, Ex. K]. On or about December 29, 2014, NCS received an
ACDV from Experian which contained a dispute code indicating:
“109 - Disputes all amounts. Verify all amounts.”
[DSMF ¶ 25; Doc. 48-14, Ex. L]. On or about February 2,
2015, NCS received an ACDV from Experian which contained a
dispute code indicating: “112 - Claims inaccurate
information; Did not provide specific dispute; Please provide
complete ID and verify account information.” [DSMF
¶ 29; Doc. 48-15, Ex. M].
than seven months later, on or about September 28, 2015,
Defendant NCS received an ACDV from Equifax which contained a
dispute code indicating: “013 - Disputes current
balance - verify original loan amount, scheduled monthly
payment amount, actual payment amount, amount past due,
current balance.” [DSMF ¶ 33; Doc. 48-16, Ex. N].
The ACDV listed a second dispute code: “012 - claims
paid the original creditor before collection status or charge
off; Verify account status, payment rating, current
balance.” [DSMF ¶ 34; Doc. 48-16, Ex. N]. On or
about October 26, 2015, NCS received an ACDV from Equifax
which contained a dispute code indicating: “003 -
Consumer not liable for account (i.e. ex-spouse, business).
If liable provide complete ID and ECOA code.” [DSMF
¶ 38; Doc. 48-17, Ex. O]. On or about January 19, 2016,
NCS received an ACDV from Equifax which contained a dispute
code indicating: “003 - Consumer not liable for account
(I.E. ex-spouse, business). If liable provide complete ID and
ECOA code.” [DSMF ¶ 42; Doc. 48-18, Ex. P].
Sapp, Defendant NCS' Vice President of Operations,
testified that NCS does not use its own personnel to conduct
reinvestigations of consumer disputes that it receives from
the credit reporting agencies. [PSMF ¶ 25]. For the last
ten years and at all times relevant to this dispute, NCS has
outsourced its reinvestigations under 15 U.S.C. §
1681s-2(b) to a company in India called Blaise Information
Systems (“Blaise”). [PSMF ¶ 26]. After
Defendant NCS received the various ACDVs, Blaise allegedly
conducted reinvestigations which were guided by the dispute
codes. [DSMF ¶¶ 22, 26, 30, 35, 39, 43; Sapp
Deposition (“Sapp Dep.”) at 72-75; Doc. 48-9, Ex.
G]. Blaise allegedly reviewed the information provided by the
credit reporting agencies and the account file, including any
updated information found in NCS' account notes. [DSMF
¶¶ 23, 27, 31, 36, 40, 44]. Blaise employees did
not communicate with Plaintiff or her co-tenant, Mr. Vance,
when conducting the reinvestigations of Plaintiff's
disputes. [PSMF ¶¶ 33, 34; Pla. Aff. ¶ 22;
Vance Aff. ¶ 7].
around January 2016, Plaintiff applied to the State Bar of
Georgia and listed the JAI debt in response to question 15.3:
“Have you ever had any type of account or debt turned
over to a collection agency or an account that has been
charged off?” [PSMF ¶ 37]. Plaintiff informed the
bar examiners that the JAI debt was in the “dispute
process.” [PSMF ¶ 38]. The bar examiners sent a
communication to Plaintiff stating, “It will be
necessary for you to provide proof of arrangements, six
consecutive months of payments and/or settlement letters
according to the Board's policy concerning the item(s)
you listed in answer to question 15.3.” [PSMF ¶
39; Pla. Aff. ¶ 18; Doc. 48-19, Ex. Q]. Plaintiff
testified that she was also denied a student loan because of
Defendant's reporting of the JAI debt to the credit
reporting agencies. [PSMF ¶ 44; Pla. Dep. at 29, 32,
37-38; Pla. Aff. ¶¶ 11, 12, Ex. B].
March 2016, Plaintiff applied to lease an apartment at the
Camden Vantage Apartments in Atlanta. Plaintiff was required
to post a security deposit equal to one month's rent,
which was $1, 259. [PSMF ¶ 41; Pla. Aff. ¶ 19]. The
security deposit requirement that Camden Vantage imposed on
Plaintiff was expressly identified by Camden Vantage as an
“adverse action, ” and Camden Vantage provided
Plaintiff notice of this adverse action in compliance with
the FCRA, specifically 15 U.S.C. § 1681m(a). [PSMF
¶ 42]. In its adverse action notice, Camden Vantage
identified the following as factors that resulted in the
adverse action: Plaintiff's unsatisfactory credit
history; her unsatisfactory rent-to-income ratio; and her
unsatisfactory or insufficient credit score. [PSMF ¶ 43;
Doc. 48-21, Ex. S].
about March 10, 2016, Plaintiff paid NCS the debt of $942.35
that was allegedly owed to JAI. [PSMF ¶ 40; Pla. Aff.
¶ 18; Sapp Dep. at 85]. As of March 29, 2016,
Plaintiff's Equifax credit report showed that a debt of
$942 was “unpaid” and owed to JAI. The Equifax
report showed that the original amount owed on the debt was
$1, 884. [Pla. Aff. ¶ 23, Ex. E, Doc. 55-1 at 24].
facts will be set forth as necessary during discussion of
Plaintiff's FCRA claim.
Summary Judgment Standard
Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides, “The court shall
grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a) (amended 2010). Rule 56(a) “mandates the entry of
summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon
motion, against a party who fails to make a showing
sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential
to that party's case, and on which that party will bear
the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552 (1986). The standard for
granting summary judgment mirrors the directed verdict
standard under Rule 50(a), which requires the court to grant
a directed verdict where there can be but one reasonable
conclusion. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 106
S.Ct. 2505, 2511 (1986).
movant bears the initial burden of asserting the basis of its
motion, and that burden is a light one. See Celotex,
106 S.Ct. at 2553. The movant is not required to negate its
opponent's claim. See id. Rather, the movant may
discharge this burden merely by “‘showing' -
that is, pointing out to the district court - that there is
an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's
case.” Id. at 2554.
evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the court must view
the evidence and factual inferences in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party. See Frederick v.
Sprint/United Mgmt. Co., 246 F.3d 1305, 1309
(11th Cir. 2001). However, the nonmoving 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., 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356 (1986). Instead, “the
nonmoving party must present evidence beyond the pleadings
showing that a reasonable jury could find in its
favor.” Fickling v. United States, 507 F.3d
1302, 1304 (11th Cir. 2007) (citing Walker v.
Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990)).
court will apply these standards in ruling on Defendant's
motion for summary judgment.