Bultemeyer v. CenturyLink Incorporated

Filing 116

ORDER: Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment 111 and Defendant's Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment 109 are denied. See order for details. Signed by Judge Steven P. Logan on 10/14/2020. (LMR)

Download PDF
1 WO 2 3 4 5 6 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 7 FOR THE DISTRICT OF ARIZONA 8 Lydia Bultemeyer, 9 10 Plaintiff, vs. 11 12 CenutryLink, Inc., Defendant. 13 14 ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) No. CV-14-02530-PHX-SPL ORDER 15 Before the Court is Plaintiff Lydia Bultemeyer’s Motion for Partial Summary 16 Judgment (Doc. 109), and Defendant CenturyLink’s Cross-Motion for Partial Summary 17 Judgment. (Doc. 111) The Motions have been fully briefed and are ready for 18 consideration.1 19 I. 20 Defendant is a national telecommunications provider whose services are available 21 in Maricopa County. (Doc. 2 at 3) Plaintiff is an individual residing in the City of Phoenix. 22 (Doc. 1 at 3) On April 6, 2014, Plaintiff accessed Defendant’s website and began an online 23 order for residential internet services. (Doc. 110 at 3) Plaintiff proceeded most of the way 24 through the five-step process, going as far as to enter her personal information, agreeing to BACKGROUND2 25 26 27 28 1 Because it would not assist in resolution of the instant issues, the Court finds the pending motion is suitable for decision without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b); Partridge v. Reich, 141 F.3d 920, 926 (9th Cir. 1998). 2 The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted. 1 Defendant’s terms and conditions, and proceeding to the final “Checkout” stage. (Doc. 1 2 at 4) It was then that she abandoned her order, without entering her payment information. 3 (Doc. 1 at 4) Defendant ran a consumer report on Plaintiff between Step 4 (where she 4 entered her personal information), and Step 5 (Checkout). (Doc. 110 at 2) Plaintiff filed a 5 complaint on November 14, 2014, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, 6 alleging one violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et 7 seq. (Doc. 1) Plaintiff claims Defendant accessed her information without a permissible 8 business purpose, which is prohibited under 15 U.S.C. § 1681b(f). (Doc. 1 at 5) Defendant 9 later filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 10 12(b)(6), which the Court denied on September 18, 2015. (Docs. 12, 29) In its September 11 18, 2015 Order, the Court instructed the parties to conduct expedited discovery and submit 12 bifurcated summary judgment pleadings. (Doc. 29 at 4–5) The parties were instructed to 13 address two issues: 1) whether Plaintiff “initiated” a business transaction; and (2) whether 14 Defendant had a legitimate business purpose to run Plaintiff’s consumer report. (Doc. 29 15 at 4) The Court also invited the parties to consider Bickley v. Dish Network, LLC, 751 F.3d 16 724 (6th Cir. 2014). (Doc. 29 at 5) 17 The parties initially moved for summary judgment in June of 2016. The Court 18 granted summary judgment to Defendant due to lack of Article III standing, which Plaintiff 19 appealed. (Docs. 85, 96) The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded 20 this Court’s grant of summary judgment. (Doc. 98) The Court ordered a rebriefing on 21 March 3, 2020. (Doc. 106) 22 Plaintiff again moves for partial summary judgment on the issue of whether 23 Defendant had a permissible business purpose under 15 U.S.C § 1681b(a). (Doc. 109) 24 Defendant moves for partial summary judgment on the same issue. (Doc. 111) 25 26 II. LEGAL STANDARDS A. Motions for Summary Judgment 27 A court must grant summary judgment “if the movant shows that there is no genuine 28 dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” 2 1 Rule 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322–23 (1986). Material facts 2 are those facts “that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” 3 Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine dispute of material 4 fact arises if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the 5 nonmoving party.” Id. In other words, where different inferences can be drawn, summary 6 judgment is inappropriate. Boulder Oro Valley LLC v. Home Depot USA Inc., No. CV-17- 7 00453-TUC-DCB, 2019 WL 2106419, at *1 (D. Ariz. Mar. 26, 2019) (quoting Sankovich 8 v. Life Ins. Co. of North Am., 638 F.2d 136, 140 (9th Cir. 1981)). 9 The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the 10 court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record, together with 11 affidavits, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. 12 Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the movant is able to do so, the burden then shifts to the non- 13 movant who “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to 14 the material facts,” and, instead, must “come forward with ‘specific facts showing that 15 there is a genuine issue for trial.’” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 16 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). When considering a motion for summary judgment, a court must 17 view the factual record and draw all reasonable inferences in a light most favorably to the 18 nonmoving party. Leisek v. Brightwood Corp., 278 F.3d 895, 898 (9th Cir. 2002). “In 19 reviewing cross-motions for summary judgment, each motion must be considered on its 20 own merits.” Acosta v. City Nat’l Corp., 922 F.3d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 2019) (internal 21 quotations omitted). When parties file cross-motions for summary judgment, the court must 22 review each motion separately, giving the nonmoving party for each motion the benefit of 23 all reasonable inferences. Eat Right Foods Ltd. v. Whole Foods Mkt, Inc., 880 F.3d 1109, 24 1118 (9th Cir. 2018). 25 B. Statutory Background 26 FCRA prohibits a person (or company) from using or obtaining consumer reports 27 without a permissible purpose. 15 U.S.C. § 1681b(f). Permissible purposes include when 28 the consumer to whom the report relates gave written instruction, and when it is used for 3 1 “legitimate business need[s]” in connection with a business transaction “initiated by the 2 customer.” 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681b(a)(2),(F)(i). 3 III. DISCUSSION 4 The parties move for partial summary judgment on some of the same issues, mainly 5 whether Defendant had a permissible purpose under FCRA. Whether Defendant had a 6 permissible purpose turns on whether Plaintiff “initiated” a “business transaction,” thus, 7 both issues the Court requested were briefed. Plaintiff also included an argument about 8 written consent, which Defendant failed to address. The Court now considers each motion 9 on its merits. 10 A. Whether Defendant had a permissible purpose under FCRA 11 Defendant asserts that it needed Plaintiff’s data to verify her identity and prevent 12 identity theft, which it contends is a “legitimate business need.” (Doc. 111 at 9) Defendant 13 cites Bickley for support. 751 F.3d at 731 (“[Service providers] have a legitimate interest 14 in confirming that prospective consumers are who they claim to be and are eligible for 15 services.”). Plaintiff contends that Defendant did not use her information after it obtained 16 a consumer report, and that it should have waited until after the purchase was initiated to 17 pull her information. (Doc. 113 at 4–5) The determination of whether there was a legitimate 18 business purpose turns on whether Plaintiff provided written instruction or initiated a 19 business transaction. See infra III.B and C for the Court’s analysis. 20 21 B. Whether Plaintiff gave written permission to Defendant to pull her consumer report 22 Plaintiff asserts that she did not give Defendant written permission under 15 U.S.C. 23 § 1681b(a)(2) to obtain or use her consumer report. (Doc. 109 at 10) Plaintiff has alleged 24 that she checked a box that confirmed she was aware that a credit check would be required 25 to complete an online order. (Doc. 110 at ¶11) She argues this is not written consent for 26 purposes of FCRA. (Doc. 109 at 10) Defendant did not address this argument in its 27 opposition brief. Regardless, lack of written permission alone is insufficient to show a 28 FCRA violation. See Traveler v. Glenn Jones Ford Lincoln Mercury 1987, No. CV-054 1 0817-PHX-SRB, 2006 WL 173687, at *3 (D. Ariz. Jan. 24, 2006). Accordingly, the Court 2 will focus its analysis on 15 U.S.C. § 1681b(a)(3)(A). 3 C. Whether Plaintiff initiated a business transaction 4 Plaintiff’s position is that she did not initiate a business transaction because at the 5 time her consumer report was pulled, she was “comparison shopping.” (Doc. 109 at 2, 13– 6 14) Plaintiff argues that this situation distinguishes her case from Bickley. In Bickley, the 7 customer was an identity thief making an order from over the phone, using the plaintiff’s 8 personal information. 751 F.3d at 726. The phone representative ran a consumer report 9 based on the information provided. Id. Plaintiff argues that a telephone customer or an in- 10 store customer would expect their information to be used by the provider, but that an online 11 customer would not, because the online customer is just “shopping” for prices. (Doc. 109 12 at 13–14) Plaintiff argues price comparisons are not business transactions for the purposes 13 of FCRA, because according to Federal Trade Commission guidance, “the customer must 14 clearly understand that he or she is initiating the purchase.” (Doc. 109 at 12) Under this 15 definition, Plaintiff argues that “initiation” would not occur she clicked on the submit 16 button at the final stage of the order process. (Doc. 109 at 12) 17 Defendant’s position is that, in starting an online order, Plaintiff initiated a business 18 transaction. (Doc. 111 at 13) Defendant argues that “initiated” should be interpreted using 19 “dictionary definitions” and Ninth Circuit interpretations of “commence” as used in a 20 different federal statute. (Doc. 111 at 12) The Oxford English Dictionary defines initiate 21 as “begun, commenced, introduced.” The Ninth Circuit defined “commence” as “to initiate 22 by performing the first act. To institute or start.” Smith v. Confederated Tribes of Warm 23 Springs Reservation of Oregon, 783 F.2d 1409, 1412 (9th Cir. 1986). 24 The issue is not only whether Plaintiff initiated the transaction; it is also whether 25 Defendant knew or should have known that Plaintiff did not intend to initiate the 26 transaction. See Rand v. Citibank, N.A., No. 14-CV-04772 NC, 2015 WL 510967, at *3 27 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 6, 2015) (the plaintiff was a longtime customer of the defendant and the 28 defendant knew or should have known a new application was fraudulent before pulling a 5 1 consumer report). 2 This Court has stated that when a consumer is “comparison shopping” there is no 3 permissible purpose under 15 U.S.C. § 1681b(a)(3)(A) and written permission from the 4 consumer is needed. Traveler, 2006 WL 173687, at *4 (defendant car dealership pulled 5 plaintiff’s credit report after plaintiff inquired as to pricing and lending options). In 2015, 6 the Northern District of California addressed issues extremely similar to those in the instant 7 case. In Heaton v. Social Finance, Inc., one plaintiff followed an online multistep process 8 to potentially obtain student loan refinancing or a personal loan. No. 14-CV-05191-TEH, 9 2015 WL 6744525, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 4, 2015). The layout of the terms and conditions 10 and the loan products on the website were very similar to the website display here. Id. In 11 one of the steps, the plaintiff clicked “agree” to the defendant’s credit disclosure, signifying 12 his agreement to a soft credit pull. Id. Before the plaintiff finalized the transaction, but after 13 he had “requested” a loan, the company performed a hard pull on his credit report. Id. The 14 plaintiff in that case cited the same Federal Trade Commission letter as Plaintiff and argued 15 that his actions on the website constituted comparison shopping behavior. Id. at *4. The 16 court found it persuasive but not binding. Id. The defendant argued that by agreeing to the 17 terms and conditions and progressing to a certain point in the loan application, plaintiff had 18 initiated a transaction. Id. Ultimately the court concluded that material issues of fact existed 19 as to whether a permissible purpose for conducting a hard credit inquiry existed. Id. at *5. 20 IV. CONCLUSION 21 In reviewing the record, motions, and responsive briefings, the Court has found 22 there to be issues of material fact as to whether a permissible purpose under 15 U.S.C. § 23 1681b(a) exists. 24 /// 25 /// 26 /// 27 /// 28 /// 6 1 Accordingly, 2 IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and 3 4 Defendant’s Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment are denied. Dated this 14th day of October, 2020. 5 6 Honorable Steven P. Logan United States District Judge 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 7

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?