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Christopher v. Rjm Acquisitions LLC

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 3, 2015

Jennifer Christopher, Plaintiff,
v.
RJM Acquisitions LLC, Defendant.

ORDER

JAMES A. TEILBORG, Senior District Judge.

Before the Court are Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, or in the Alternative, Summary Adjudication, (Doc. 31), and Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. 40). The Court now rules on the motions.

I. Background

On November 28, 2011, Defendant purchased an account from Bookspan/Doubleday Entertainment LLC ("Bookspan"). (Defendant's Separate Statement of Undisputed Facts ("DSOF"), Doc. 32, at ¶ 1; Plaintiff's Controverting Statement of Facts ("PCSOF"), Doc. 37, at ¶ 1). The account was a Mystery Book Club account opened by someone by the name of Jennifer Christopher, with a balance of $97.36. (DSOF at ¶ 2). Plaintiff, also named Jennifer Christopher, never opened such an account and does not owe the debt, but, as explained below, received collection letters on the debt from Defendant. (PCSOF at ¶¶ 2, 15, 16; DRPCSOF at ¶ 15, 16)

Bookspan provided Defendant the following address for Jennifer Christopher: 800 E. Stewart St. Apt. 4, Willcox AZ XXXXX-XXXX ("Willcox address"). (DSOF at ¶ 3; PCSOF at ¶ 3). Defendant subsequently received a new address for Jennifer Christopher from TLO, a third party "skip trace" vendor that specializes in locating new addresses of individuals who move. The new address was 525 E. Sequoia Dr., Phoenix AZ XXXXX-XXXX ("Phoenix address"). (DSOF at ¶ 4, 18; PCSOF at ¶ 4, 18).

On April 16, 2013, Defendant sent a collection letter addressed to Jennifer Christopher at the Phoenix address. (DSOF ¶ 5; PCSOF at ¶ 5, 12). In pertinent part, the letter informed the recipient of the following:

Unless you notify this office within 30 days after receiving this notice that you dispute the validity of this debt or any portion thereof, this office will assume this debt is valid. If you notify this office in writing 30 days after receiving this notice that you dispute the validity of this debt or any portion thereof, this office will obtain verification of the debt or obtain a copy of a judgment and mail you a copy of such judgment or verification. If you request of this office in writing within 30 days after receiving this notice this office will provide you with the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor.

(Doc. 1-1). Although Plaintiff received this letter, Defendant did not receive a response. (PCSOF at ¶¶ 11, 13; DSOF at ¶ 5, Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Controverting Statement of Facts ("DRPCSOF"), Doc. 39, at ¶ 11).

On May 25, 2013, Defendant received another new address for Jennifer Christopher via Anchor Software, a company that provides address moves updates via what is known as the National Change of Address file. The new address was 1899 Reserve Blvd. Apt. 4, Gulf Breeze, FL, XXXXX-XXXX ("Florida address"). (DSOF at ¶¶ 6; PCSOF at ¶¶ 6, 19; DRPCSOF at ¶ 19).

Pursuant to its policy, Defendant sent a collection letter addressed to Jennifer Christopher at the Florida address on June 11, 2013. (DSOF at ¶¶ 7, 8; PCSOF at ¶¶ 7, 8). Like the letter sent to the Phoenix address, this letter informed the recipient of the following:

Unless you notify this office within 30 days after receiving this notice that you dispute the validity of this debt or any portion thereof, this office will assume this debt is valid. If you notify this office in writing 30 days after receiving this notice that you dispute the validity of this debt or any portion thereof, this office will obtain verification of the debt or obtain a copy of a judgment and mail you a copy of such judgment or verification. If you request of this office in writing within 30 days after receiving this notice this office will provide you with the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor.

(Doc. 1-2). Plaintiff received this letter, and on August 2, 2013 called Defendant and informed one of Defendant's representatives that she was not the owner of the debt. (DSOF at ¶ 9; PCSOF at ¶¶ 9, 13, 14). Defendant has not made any attempts to collect the debt from Plaintiff since that phone call. (DSOF at ¶ 10; PCSOF at ¶ 10).

Plaintiff brought this cause of action under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. Both parties moved for summary judgment. Oral argument was held on January 28, 2015.

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate when "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). "A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support that assertion by... citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits, or declarations, stipulations... admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, " or by "showing that materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Id. 56(c)(1)(A)&(B). Thus, summary judgment is mandated "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, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

Initially, the movant bears the burden of pointing out to the Court the basis for the motion and the elements of the causes of action upon which the non-movant will be unable to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. To be entitled to summary judgment, the movant must support its motion with evidence that would entitle it to a directed verdict at trial, id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)); i.e., the party must show that "a reasonable jury would not have sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue." Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a). The burden then shifts to the non-movant to establish the existence of material fact. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. The non-movant "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts" by "com[ing] forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) (1963) (amended 2010)). A dispute about a fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The non-movant's bare assertions, standing alone, are insufficient to create a material issue of fact and defeat a motion for summary judgment. Id. at 247-48. However, in the summary judgment context, the Court construes all disputed facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Ellison v. Robertson, 357 F.3d 1072, 1075 (9th Cir. 2004).

III. Discussion

The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from "us[ing] any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt." 15 U.S.C. § 1692e. "Whether conduct violates [§ 1692e]... requires an objective analysis that takes into account whether the least sophisticated debtor would likely be misled by a communication.'" Gonzales v. Arrow Fin. Servs., LLC, 660 F.3d 1055, 1061 (9th Cir. 2011) (brackets in original) ( quoting Donohue v. Quick Collect, Inc., 592 F.3d 1027, 1030 (9th Cir. 2010)). This standard is designed to protect consumers of "below average sophistication or intelligence, " and those who are "uninformed or naïve." Id. (quoting Duffy v. Landberg, 215 F.3d 871, 874-75 (8th Cir.2000)). Although this is a low standard, even the hypothetical unsophisticated debtor is considered to retain a "basic level of understanding and willingness to read with care" and does not impose liability for "bizarre, "idiosyncratic, " or "peculiar misinterpretations." Id. (quoting Rosenau v. Unifund Corp., 539 F.3d 218, 221 (3d Cir. 2008)). Moreover, "immaterial statements, by definition, do not affect a consumer's ability to make intelligent decisions." Donohue v. Quick Collect, Inc., 592 F.3d 1027, 1034 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Hahn v. Triumph Partnerships LLC, 557 F.3d 755, 757-58 (7th Cir. ...


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