McInerney v. Roosen Varchetti & Olivier, PLLC
OPINION AND ORDER Granting in Part and Denying in Part 16 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by District Judge Sean F. Cox. (JMcC)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Case No. 17-10037
Roosen Varchetti & Olivier PLLC,
Sean F. Cox
United States District Court Judge
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART
DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
This is an FDCPA case. At issue is Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. The
Court has determined that oral argument will not assist it in determining the merits of the issues
presented and therefore will decide the matter on the briefs submitted. See E.D. Mich. L.R.
7.1(f)(2). For the reasons below, the Court shall grant the motion in part and deny it in part. The
Court shall grant summary judgment in Defendant’s favor as to Plaintiff’s 15 U.S.C. § 1692i
claim for filing in the wrong venue. But the Court concludes that Defendant is not entitled to
summary judgment in its favor as to Plaintiff’s § 1692e and § 1692f(1) claims for false
representation of a debt and attempt to collect an amount not permitted by law because there are
genuine issues of fact for trial.
On July 10, 2015, Plaintiff Ryan McInerney applied for credit with World’s Foremost
Bank. Def. Stmt. of Uncontested Facts, ¶ 1 (Doc. # 15). On the application Plaintiff listed his
address as 16319 Philomene Blvd., Allen Park, MI. Id. World’s Foremost Bank also sent
statements to Plaintiff at a post office box in Allen Park. Id. at ¶ 2.
On September 27, 2016, Defendant Roosen, Varchetti, & Olivier, PLLC filed suit against
Plaintiff in the 24th District Court, which is located in Allen Park, Michigan. Ex. 1, p. 5.
Defendant was attempting to collect a consumer debt allegedly arising from Plaintiff’s account
with World’s Foremost Bank. Id. The complaint requested a judgment of $4,865.13 plus presuit interest of $568.93 for a total of $5,434.06, plus allowable costs, attorney fees, and interest.
Id. Before filing the complaint, pursuant to Defendant’s policy for determining venue in
consumer collection cases, Defendant verified with the United States Post Office that there was
no change of address order on file for Plaintiff. Def. Stmt. of Uncontested Facts, ¶¶ 3, 5.
After Defendant had difficulty serving Plaintiff, it sought a second address verification
from the Post Office on November 4, 2016. Id. at ¶ 7. The Post Office again indicated that
Plaintiff had not filed a change of address. Id. Defendant’s process server was subsequently
informed that Plaintiff had moved to Lincoln Park, Michigan. Id. at ¶ 8. On November 29,
2016, Defendant obtained an order for alternative service by first-class mail to Plaintiff’s address
in Lincoln Park. Complaint, Ex. 1, p. 2 (Doc. # 1). Plaintiff eventually filed a motion for change
of venue to the 25th District Court in Lincoln Park, which Defendant did not oppose. Def. Stmt.
of Uncontested Facts, ¶ 9.
On December 29, 2016, Plaintiff called Defendant and asked about the amount due on his
debt. Id. at 10; Complaint, ¶ 23. Plaintiff was told that the amount owed was $5,529.06.
Complaint, ¶ 23. This amount was $95 more than what was listed in the Collection Complaint
and represented the combined total of the filing fee for the Collection Complaint ($75) and the
fee for the motion for alternative service ($20). Def. Stmt. of Uncontested Facts, ¶ 11.
Plaintiff filed this action on January 5, 2017, alleging that Defendant violated the FDCPA
by filing its collections suit against Plaintiff in Allen Park despite knowing that Plaintiff resided
in Lincoln Park. Plaintiff also alleged that Defendant also violated the FDCPA by artificially
inflating the amount of debt due during the phone call with Plaintiff. Finally, Plaintiff alleged
that Defendant violated the Michigan Regulation of Collection Practices Act, M.C.L. § 445.261,
et seq. Defendant has moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s FDCPA claims (Doc. # 16)
and Plaintiff has responded (Doc. # 17).1
STANDARD OF DECISION
Summary judgment will be granted where no genuine issue of material fact exists.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248; 106 S. Ct. 2505; 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). No
genuine issue of material fact exists where “the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational
trier of fact to find for the non-moving party.” Matsushita Elect. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587; 106 S. Ct. 1348; 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). “The mere existence of a
scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff’s position will be insufficient; there must be
evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.
The Court “must view the evidence, all facts, and any inferences that may be drawn from
the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Skousen v. Brighton High Sch.,
305 F.3d 520, 526 (6th Cir. 2002). “The court’s duty to view the facts in the light most
favorable to the nonmovant does not require or permit the court to accept mere allegations that
are not supported by factual evidence.” Chappell v. City of Cleveland, 585 F.3d 901, 906 (6th
Cir. 2009). “This is so because the nonmovant, in response to a properly made and supported
Defendant did not move for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s state law claim.
motion for summary judgment, cannot rely merely on allegations but must set out specific facts
showing a genuine issue for trial.” Id.
The FDCPA was enacted “to eliminate abusive debt collection practices by debt
collectors, to insure that those debt collectors who refrain from using abusive debt collection
practices are not competitively disadvantaged, and to promote consistent State action to protect
consumers against debt collection abuses.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692(e). The FDCPA is considered a
strict liability statute, Kistner v. Law Offices of Michael P. Margelefsky, 518 F.3d 433, 438 (6th
Cir. 2008), and a consumer need only prove that the debt collector violated “any provision” of
the Act to be entitled to damages. 15 U.S.C. § 1692k.
I. Whether Defendant Violated 15 U.S.C. § 1692i by Filing Suit in the Wrong Venue
Defendant first moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s claim that it violated
§ 1692i(a), which provides:
Any debt collector who brings any legal action on a debt against any consumer
shall-(1) in the case of an action to enforce an interest in real property securing
the consumer's obligation, bring such action only in a judicial district or similar
legal entity in which such real property is located; or
(2) in the case of an action not described in paragraph (1), bring such
action only in the judicial district or similar legal entity–
(A) in which such consumer signed the contract sued upon; or
(B) in which such consumer resides at the commencement of the action.
Defendant does not argue that it did not violate § 1692i(a)(2) when it filed suit against
Plaintiff in Allen Park. Instead, Defendant contends that any violation of § 1692i resulted from a
bona fide error. The FDCPA includes an affirmative defense, commonly known as the bona fide
error defense, which provides:
A debt collector may not be held liable in any action brought under this
subchapter if the debt collector shows by a preponderance of evidence that the
violation was not intentional and resulted from a bona fide error notwithstanding
the maintenance of procedures reasonably adapted to avoid any such error.
15 U.S.C. § 1692k(c). This is an affirmative defense on which the debt collector bears the
burden of proof. Smith v. Transworld Sys., Inc., 953 F.2d 1025, 1034 (6th Cir. 1992). To
qualify for the bona fide error defense, a debt collector must prove by a preponderance of the
evidence that: (1) the violation was unintentional; (2) the violation was a result of a bona fide
error; and (3) the debt collector maintained procedures reasonably adapted to avoid any such
error. Hartman v. Great Seneca Financial Corp., 569 F.3d 606, 614 (6th Cir. 2009).
A. Subjective Prong: Whether the Violation was Unintentional
“The first element of the bona fide error defense is a subjective test that assesses the
credibility of the debt collector’s assertions that the FDCPA violation was not intentional.”
Montgomery v. Shermeta, Adams & Von Allmen, P.C., 885 F.Supp.2d 849, 856 (W.D. Mich.
2012). To establish this element, Defendant need only “show that the violation was
unintentional, not that the communication itself was unintentional.” Lewis v. ACB Bus. Servs.,
Inc., 135 F.3d 389, 402 (6th Cir. 1998).
Here, Defendant has shown that its violation, filing suit in the wrong venue, was
unintentional. Defendant filed suit in Allen Park, which is where Plaintiff indicated that he lived
on his credit application and where his credit statements were sent. Prior to filing suit,
Defendant verified that Plaintiff had no change of address order on file with the United States
Post Office. There is no evidence suggesting that Defendant knew Plaintiff resided in Lincoln
Park when it filed suit. Absent this knowledge, Defendant’s violation is an unintentional factual
error, for which the bona fide error defense may be invoked. See Jerman v. Carlisle, McNellie,
Rini, Kramer & Ulrich LPA, 559 U.S. 573, 594; 130 S.Ct. 1605; 176 L.Ed.2d 519 (2010)
(“Lawyers can, of course, invoke § 1692k(c) for violations resulting from qualifying factual
In response, Plaintiff argues that Defendant’s actions of filing a motion for alternative
service to Plaintiff’s Lincoln Park address and having a second summons issued with Plaintiff’s
Lincoln Park address listed constitute intentional acts. Plaintiff contends that Defendant’s
knowing continuation of a collection lawsuit in the wrong venue is an intentional action that is
not excused by the bona fide affirmative defense.
Plaintiff’s argument is unsupported by the text of § 1692i(a)(2), which applies to “[a]ny
debt collector who brings any legal action on a debt” and specifies the venue in which a debt
collector may “bring such action.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692i(a)(2). The statute “specifically makes it
unlawful to instigate a lawsuit in a venue not authorized by the Act.” Green v. Hocking, 9 F.3d
18, 21 (6th Cir. 1993), abrogated on other grounds by Heintz v. Jenkins, 514 U.S. 291; 115 S.Ct.
1489; 131 L.Ed.2d. 395 (1995) (emphasis added). By its terms, a violation of the statute occurs
when a lawsuit is initiated in an improper venue. In Michigan, this occurs when a complaint is
filed with a court. See M.C.R. 2.101(B). But § 1692i contains no provision prohibiting the
maintenance of a collection suit brought in an improper venue. Instead, “[o]nce the debt
collector sues in the wrong venue, the consumer must defend, and the damage is done.” BeelerLopez v. Dodeka, LLC, 711 F.Supp.2d 679, 680 (E.D. Tex. 2010). Because § 1692i applies to
the commencement of an action, Defendant did not violate the FDCPA by continuing to
prosecute the action it brought in Allen Park. Therefore, Defendant has established the
subjective prong of its bona fide error defense.
B. Objective Prongs: Whether the Error was Bona Fide & Whether the Defendant
Maintained Procedures Reasonably Adapted to Avoid Error
“The second and third elements of the bona fide error defense are objective inquiries.”
Lift v. Portfolio Recovery Assocs., LLC, 146 F.Supp.3d 857, 875 (E.D. Mich. 2015). As to the
second element, a bona fide error as “one that is made in good faith; inadvertently; without fraud
or deceit.” Durthaler v. Accounts Receivable Mgmt., Inc., 854 F.Supp.2d 485, 494 (S.D. Ohio.
2012). Here, Defendant’s unintentional error was bona fide. There is no indication that its
decision to bring the suit in Allen Park was made in bad faith or that fraud was involved.
As to the third element, determining whether or not procedures are reasonable is a factintensive inquiry that is typically left to the fact-finder. Montgomery, 885 F.Supp.2d at 857.
However, “[w]here the undisputed record establishes that the procedures in place are extensive
and were adhered to, the matter may be resolved as a question of law.” Id.
Defendant has shown that it maintains procedures reasonably adapted to avoid the error
made here. Defendant chose the venue by relying on the address Plaintiff listed on his credit
application and the address where his credit statements were sent. It was not unreasonable for
Defendant to rely on the debtor’s own representations when deciding where to file suit. Further,
the record indicates that before Defendant files a collection suit, its practice is to determine
whether the debtor has submitted a change of address form with the United States Post Office.
This practice is reasonably calculated to verify the address of the debtor so that the suit may be
filed in the proper venue. Plaintiff argues to the contrary, noting that the Postal Service will only
keep change of address records for one year, if they exist. But the third element of the bona fide
defense only requires that Defendant maintained procedures that were reasonable, not that it
undertook exhaustive efforts to verify the debtor’s address. Therefore, because Defendant filed
suit in Allen Park in reasonable reliance on Plaintiff’s own representations and in the absence of
any change of address order on file with the Postal Service, the Court concludes that Defendant
has established the third element of the bona fide error defense.
In sum, there is no genuine issue of material fact on this claim and Defendant has
established all three elements of the bona fide error defense. Therefore, Defendant is entitled to
summary judgment on Plaintiff’s § 1692i claim.
II. Whether Defendant Violated the FDCPA by Inflating the Debt Amount
Defendant also moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s claims that Defendant
violated the FDCPA by attempting to collect an inflated amount not permitted by law and by
falsely representing the character, amount, or legal status of a debt by inflating the amount owed.
Plaintiff’s claims stem from a phone call during which Defendant told Plaintiff the amount owed
was $5,529.06, which was $95 more than the amount sued upon by Defendant.
A. § 1692e
Plaintiff alleges Defendant violated 15 U.S.C. § 1692e, which prohibits a debt collector
from using “any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the
collection of any debt.” Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant violated § 1692e(2)(A) (false
representation of a debt) and § 1692e(10) (use of a false representation or deceptive means to
collect or attempt to collect a debt).
“Whether a debt collector's actions are false, deceptive, or misleading under § 1692e is
based on whether the ‘least sophisticated consumer’ would be misled by defendant's actions.”
Wallace v. Washington Mut. Bank, F.A., 683 F.3d 323, 326 (6th Cir. 2012). A statement must be
materially false or misleading to violate § 1692e. Id. This materiality requirement “simply
means that in addition to being technically false, a statement would tend to mislead or confuse
the reasonable unsophisticated consumer.” Id. at 327.
The issue here is whether Defendant’s inclusion of the additional $95 in costs when
informing Plaintiff of the amount owed constitutes a FDCPA violation. Defendant contends that
its request for costs was permissible because the costs it requested are allowed by Michigan law.
Defendant further argues that including the accrued amount of allowable costs in the amount
owed does not constitute an FDCPA violation as a matter of law.
The Sixth Circuit has acknowledged “that a party cannot include unawarded penalties or
specific costs in the ‘remaining principal balance’ of a claimed debt and thereby mislead a
debtor.” Clark v. Main Street Acquisition Corp., 553 Fed. App’x. 510, 514 n. 1 (6th Cir. 2014).2
Similarly, other courts have held that a debt collector violates the FDCPA when it fails to
explain that costs and fees were included in the account balance. See, e.g., Fields v. Wilber Law
Firm, P.C., 383 F.3d 562, 566 (7th Cir. 2004) (the plaintiff stated a claim under § 1692e where
the debt collector did not explain that it included attorney fees in the balance); Annunziato v.
Collecto, Inc, 207 F.Supp.3d 249, 261 (E.D. N.Y. 2016) (the defendant violated § 1692e where it
Defendant relies on Clark’s statement that “the simple request for costs in an unstated
amount, where such costs are permitted by state law to the prevailing party, is not a false
representation and does not violate [the FDCPA].” Clark, 553 Fed. App’x at 514-15. This
statement is distinguishable. Clark involved an affidavit (to verify the alleged debt) that
requested costs. The affidavit, which sought “1,429.24, plus interest . . . and costs,” id. at 513,
did not include costs in the debt amount or suggest that costs had already been awarded. In
contrast, this case involves a challenge to the Defendant’s unexplained inclusion of unawarded
costs in the represented debt amount.
did not indicate the total amount due included an estimate of the defendant’s collection costs);
Richard v. Oak Tree Group, Inc., 614 F.Supp.2d 814, 822 (W.D. Mich. 2008) (the defendant
violated § 1692e(2) where it provided no explanation for the inclusion of collection fees).
Defendant is correct that the costs it requested are recoverable under Michigan law. See
M.C.L. 600.2441(1)(a) (allowing $20 as costs on motions); M.C.L. 600.2529(2) (providing that
filing fees are taxable as costs). But these costs are not recoverable until the party has prevailed
in the action and obtained a judgment. See M.C.R. 2.625(A)(1) (“Costs will be allowed to the
prevailing party in an action . . . .”); M.C.R. 2.625(F) (providing that costs may be taxed “by the
court on signing the judgment” or following post-judgment proceedings); see also Ronnisch
Constr. Group, Inc. v. Lofts on the Nine, LLC, 886 N.W.2d 113, 123 (Mich. 2016) (“For there to
be a ‘prevailing party,’ there must have been a material and enforceable alteration of the legal
relationship of the parties resulting from judicial imprimatur.”). Nothing in the record indicates
that Defendant had prevailed on its collection complaint when it called Plaintiff, which was
about three months after Defendant filed suit. There is also no indication that Defendant was
otherwise entitled to the costs sought under Plaintiff’s loan agreement. See Fields, 383 F.3d at
565 (“But when a debtor has contractually agreed to pay attorneys' fees and collection costs, a
debt collector may, without a court's permission, state those fees and costs and include that
amount in the dunning letter.”). Accordingly, there is a question of material fact regarding
whether Defendant was entitled to the costs sought when it included them in its representation of
the debt amount to Plaintiff.
Additionally, the record contains no information regarding the details of Defendant’s
communication to Plaintiff beyond the statement that he owed $5,529.06, which was $95 more
than the amount sued upon. Nothing in the record indicates that Defendant told Plaintiff that the
additional amount sought represented costs incurred or that those costs were not yet recoverable.
In sum, there is a question of material fact regarding whether Defendant’s representation
of the debt included, without explanation, costs not yet recoverable in the debt amount, thereby
making a false representation in violation of § 1692e(2)(A) and (10). See Clark, 553 Fed App’x
at 514 n. 1. There is also a question of material fact regarding whether Defendant made a
misleading representation to Plaintiff in violation of § 1692e. And, because unexplained
inclusion of costs in the debt amount, even if the amount included is small, may “tend to mislead
or confuse the reasonable unsophisticated consumer,” the alleged violations are material. See
Wallace, 683 F.3d at 327. Therefore, Defendant is not entitled to summary judgment on
Plaintiff’s § 1692e claims.
B. § 1692f(1)
Finally, Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant used unfair or unconscionable means to
collect or attempt to collect a debt, in violation of § 1692f. Section 1692f(1) proscribes the
following conduct: “The collection of any amount (including any interest, fee, charge, or
expense incidental to the principal obligation) unless such amount is expressly authorized by the
agreement creating the debt or permitted by law.” In other words, a violation of this statute
occurs when a debt collector attempts to collect an amount that is not permitted by law. See
Stratton v. Portfolio Recovery Assocs., LLC, 770 F.3d 443, 451 (6th Cir. 2014); see also
McCollough v. Johnson, Rodenberg & Lauinger, 587 F.Supp.2d 1170, 1178 (D. Mont. 2008)
(“Requesting fees or costs not authorized by law violates the FDCPA.”).
As discussed above, Defendant included $95 in costs that it was not yet authorized under
Michigan law to collect in its representation of the debt amount. And the record does not
indicate that the costs were otherwise authorized by Plaintiff’s loan agreement. Therefore, there
is a question of material fact regarding whether Defendant sought to collect an amount not
permitted by law in violation of § 1692f(1) and Defendant is not entitled to summary judgment
on this claim.
For the reasons above, IT IS ORDERED that Defendant’s Motion for Summary
Judgment is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. The Court GRANTS Defendant’s
motion as to Plaintiff’s § 1962i claim but DENIES Defendant’s motion as to Plaintiff’s § 1692e
and § 1692f(1) claims.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/Sean F. Cox
Sean F. Cox
United States District Judge
Dated: October 23, 2017
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was served upon counsel of record on
October 23, 2017, by electronic and/or ordinary mail.
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