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Jones v. Craig

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

January 29, 2019

JOHN JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
JASON A. CRAIG AND ASSOCIATES, P.C., Defendant.

          ORDER

          MARC T. TREADWELL, JUDGE

         Defendant Jason A. Craig and Associates, P.C. has moved for judgment on the pleadings seeking dismissal of Plaintiff John Jones' complaint. For the following reasons, the motion (Doc. 11) is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On July 11, 2017, the Defendant sent a letter to the Plaintiff, attempting to collect a debt that the Plaintiff owed. Doc. 1 ¶¶ 12, 17, 20. The letterhead reads “JASON A. CRAIG & ASSOCIATES, ATTORNEYS AT LAW, ” and the letter is signed by the “COLLECTION DEPARTMENT OF JASON A. CRAIG & ASSOCIATES.” Doc. 1-1. The top right-hand corner of the letter shows the client name as Extremity Healthcare, Inc. and the debt amount as $54.61. Id. Further, the letter reads, in relevant part:

This communication is from a debt collector. This is an attempt to collect a debt. Any information obtained will be used for that purpose. At this time, no attorney with this firm has personally reviewed the particular circumstances of your account. However, if you fail to contact our office, our client may consider remedies to recover the balance due, which will include attorney review of your account. In this case this office is acting as a debt collector and not as an attorney.

Id. Based on the information contained in the letter, the Plaintiff “believed Defendant was a law firm composed of many attorneys.” Doc. 1 ¶ 28.

         The Plaintiff later learned that, on the date the letter was delivered, “the only lawyer associated full time with the Defendant was Jason A. Craig.” Id. ¶ 23. According to the Plaintiff, the Defendant did not have any other shareholders, partners, or full-time associates, and only Jason A. Craig was covered by the Defendant's malpractice insurance. Id. ¶¶ 24-25.

         On June 7, 2018, the Plaintiff filed a complaint, alleging the Defendant used a false and misleading name-Jason A. Craig & Associates, Attorneys at Law-to intimidate the Plaintiff into paying a debt in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). See generally Doc. 1. The Defendant moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that (1) its name is not false because the name was duly registered with the Georgia Secretary of State at the time the letter was sent, and that (2) the name, even if deceptive or misleading, was not material. See generally Doc. 11-1.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard under Rule 12(c)

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 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 Philadelphia v. City of Atlanta, 864 F.Supp. 1274, 1278 (N.D.Ga. 1994).

         To avoid dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), and therefore also a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings, 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) (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 (quotation marks and citation omitted). Where there are dispositive issues of law, a court may dismiss a claim regardless of the alleged facts. Marshall Cty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cty. Gas Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993).

         B. Claim under Section 1692e

         The Plaintiff claims the Defendant violated 15 U.S.C. § 1692e of the FDCPA because the Defendant's July 11, 2017 letter, which identified the Defendant as “Jason A. Craig & Associates, Attorneys at Law, ” misled the Plaintiff into believing the Defendant was “a law firm composed of many attorneys” when the Defendant was actually composed of a single attorney. See generally Doc. 1. Section 1692e provides that a debt collector[1] may not “use any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt.” To determine whether a debt collector's communication violates § 1692e, the Court applies a “least-sophisticated consumer” standard. LeBlanc v. Unifund CCR Partners, 601 F.3d 1185, 1193 (11th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). Under this standard, the inquiry is not whether the particular plaintiff-consumer was deceived or misled but rather whether the “'least sophisticated consumer' would have been deceived” by the debt collector's conduct. Jeter v. Credit Bureau, Inc., 760 F.2d 1168, 1177 n.11. Whether the least sophisticated consumer would be misled by a particular communication “is a question of law that may be resolved in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.” Smith v. Lyons, Doughty & Veldhuius, P.C., 2008 WL 2885887, at *3 (D.N.J. July 23, 2008) (citations omitted); see Galuska v. Collectors Training Inst. of Ill., Inc., 2008 WL 2050809, at *3 (M.D. Pa. May 13, 2008) (“Whether a communication is misleading under the FDCPA presents a question of law for the court; disputed facts must be resolved by a jury.”). The least sophisticated consumer is presumed to possess “a rudimentary amount of ...


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