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Torrie v. Goodman Law Offices Pc

United States District Court, D. Arizona

November 4, 2014

Megan Torrie, Plaintiff,
v.
Goodman Law Offices PC, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.

Defendants Goodman Law Offices and Clint Goodman have filed a motion for partial summary judgment. Doc. 15. The motion is fully briefed. The Court will grant Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment. Plaintiff has filed a motion to supplement her response to the motion for summary judgment. Doc. 27. The Court will deny this motion.[1]

I. Background.

In 2010, Megan Torrie purchased two houses that were part of the Continental Ranch Community Association ("Association"). Doc. 16, ¶ 2.[2] The houses were located at 8619 and 8627 N. Kimball Way. Id. Both properties were subject to the Association's "Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions for Continental Ranch." Id. These covenants require homeowners to pay a semi-annual assessment. Id., ¶ 3. If a homeowner fails to pay an assessment, the owner agrees to pay a late fee and "such additional costs, fees, charges and expenditures... as the Association may incur in the process of collecting monies due and delinquent from the Owner." Id., ¶ 9. These "additional charges" may include attorneys' fees, late charges, costs of suit, interest, and collection costs. Id. The additional charges may be included in "any judgment in any suit or action brought to enforce collection of delinquent assessments[.]" Id.

Torrie failed to pay the semi-annual assessments on both properties. Id., ¶ 3. In 2011, the Association retained Clint Goodman of the Goodman Law Offices to recover the unpaid assessments and late fees. Id., ¶ 4. Goodman filed two cases in Justice Court, one for the unpaid fees on the 8619 property and another for the unpaid fees on the 8627 property. Id. Torrie failed to appear in either case. Id. The Justice Court entered default judgments of $1, 406.36 for the unpaid fees on the 8627 property and $1, 100.58 for the unpaid fees on the 8619 property. Id. The judgment for the 8627 property ("First Judgment") included attorneys' fees and costs, and imposed an interest rate of ten percent per annum. Doc. 22-1 at 5. In May of 2012, a "Satisfaction of Judgment" was filed for the judgment on the unpaid fees for the 8627 property. Id., ¶ 5; Doc. 22-1 at 8. Goodman claims that this was a clerical error; the Satisfaction of Judgment should have been filed for the judgment on the unpaid fees for the 8619 property. Doc. 16, ¶ 5. Torrie states that she "is unaware of the details giving rise to such actions." Doc. 22, ¶ 5.

The litigation for the unpaid fees continued. On January 1, 2013, Goodman filed "an action for collection, lien enforcement and foreclosure" on the 8627 property. Doc. 16, ¶ 6. When Torrie once again failed to appear, a default judgment of $3, 755.36 was entered against her. Id., ¶ 6; Doc. 22-1 at 19. This amount included the unpaid assessments on the 8627 property, late fees, costs, and interest. Doc. 22-1 at 19. Torrie argues that the amount also covered unpaid assessments already included in the First Judgment for the 8627 property. Doc. 22 at 4.

On April 24, 2013, Goodman wrote a letter to Torrie, notifying her of the judgment and stating that she owed $3, 810.36, an amount that included a charge for writing the letter. Doc. 16, ¶ 6; Doc. 22-1 at 25. On August 7, 2013, Torrie's lawyer sent a check for $1, 500 to Goodman. Doc. 16, ¶ 8. Torrie's lawyer noted on the check "Assessments 2008-2013, " instructed Goodman to apply the check as prescribed by A.R.S. § 33-1807(k), and requested a detailed breakdown of "any additional amounts" owed. Doc. 22-1 at 35. On October 31, 2013, after an additional assessment and late fee had been charged for the 8627 property, Goodman returned the check. Doc. 16, ¶ 8; Doc. 22-1 at 38. Goodman claims he returned it because he "was concerned that acceptance could have been deemed an accord and satisfaction." Doc. 16, ¶ 8. On November 11, 2013, Torrie's lawyer sent a second check for $1, 500 that Goodman accepted. Id.

On October 22, 2013, Torrie successfully set aside, for a defect in service, the default judgment awarded in the 2013 foreclosure action. Id., ¶ 7. This case remains ongoing. On February 18, 2014, the Justice Court that had issued the "Satisfaction of Judgment" in May of 2012 found the satisfaction had been entered in error. Doc. 22-1 at 61. The court reinstated the First Judgment for the unpaid fees on the 8627 property. Id.

On December 31, 2013, Torrie filed this lawsuit. Doc. 1. She claims that Clint Goodman and the Goodman Law Offices ("Defendants") violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act in their attempts to recover her unpaid assessments and late fees. Id. Defendants move for partial summary judgment on Torrie's claims. Doc. 15.

II. Legal Standard.

A. Summary Judgment.

A party seeking summary judgment "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, 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). Summary judgment is also appropriate 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, 477 U.S. at 322. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit will preclude the entry of summary judgment, and the disputed evidence must be "such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

B. Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA") seeks to eliminate abusive debt collection practices, to ensure that debt collectors who abstain from those practices are not competitively disadvantaged, and to promote consistent state action to protect consumers. 15 U.S.C. § 1692(e); Jerman v. Carlisle, McNellie, Rini, Kramer & Ulrich LPA, 559 U.S. 573, 577 (2010). The FDCPA regulates interactions between consumer debtors and "debt collector[s], " defined to include any person who "regularly collects... debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another." 15 U.S.C. § 1692a(6). A lawyer regularly engaged in debt collection activity, even when that activity consists of litigation, is considered a debt collector. See Heintz v. Jenkins, 514 U.S. 291, 299 (1995). A debt collector "who ...


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