Robin v. Miller and Steeno, P.C.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER re: 13 MOTION for Partial Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiff Gerald Robin, Jr. IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment (ECF #13) is GRANTED as set forth herein. Signed by District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh, Jr on 7/29/14. (CSG)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
GERALD A . ROBIN, JR.,
MILLER AND STEENO, P.C.,
Case No. 4:13CV2456 SNLJ
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on plaintiff’s motion for partial summary
judgment. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. For the
following reasons, the Court will grant the motion for partial summary judgment.
Facts and Background
Plaintiff Gerald A. Robin, Jr. (“plaintiff” or “Robin”) contends defendant Miller
and Steeno, P.C. (“defendant”) violated § 1692c(a)(2) of the Fair Debt Collection
Practices Act (“FDCPA”) by continuing to communicate with plaintiff despite being
informed, by means of a telephone conversation initiated by plaintiff to defendant, that
plaintiff was presently represented by a bankruptcy attorney with respect to the debt at
issue. Plaintiff filed this motion for partial summary judgment as to liability on that
claim. Plaintiff reserves his right to have other claims pled in his complaint and damages
determined at trial.
Plaintiff is an individual consumer and the services that give rise to the alleged
debt relate to a consumer credit card. Defendant is a debt collector and regularly attempts
to collect debts alleged to be due another using the mail and telephone. On November
21, 2013, plaintiff called defendant in response to a telephone call that he had received
from defendant. Plaintiff spoke with Frenchaire Andrews (“Andrews”), an employee of
defendant working in the collections department. A partial transcript of the November
21, 2013 telephone call follows:
ROBIN: Okay. Well right now ma'am I'm gonna . . . I've got me a
bankruptcy lawyer. If you'd like that information I can give that to you.
ANDREWS: All right. Who's your attorney?
ROBIN: My attorney's Scott Brinkman.
ROBIN: Yes ma'am. And, he's at 1 North Taylor Avenue, St. Louis,
ANDREWS: All right.
ROBIN: His number's 314-932-1067.
ANDREWS: And do you have a case number?
ROBIN: Umm, not at this time. No ma’am.
ANDREWS: Would you like to set up an account payment plan until your case
gets filed for your bankruptcy to prevent any further legal action?
ROBIN: Uh, not at this time. No ma'am.
ANDREWS: Okay, so I just want to make you aware that without a payment
plan, that opens up the door to further legal action. But I will note the file that
your bankruptcy is pending and just to be aware that further legal action may
continue until your bankruptcy has been filed.
ROBIN: I understand that.
ANDREWS: Is this a good number to leave a message at?
ROBIN: Uh, no ma'am.
ANDREWS: And is there a number where we can call you back?
ROBIN: Uh, no. I'd prefer you not call me.
ANDREWS: Okay. Not a problem.
Plaintiff’s claim under § 1692c(a)(2), for this motion, focuses solely on the foregoing
Summary Judgment Standard
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), a district court may grant a
motion for summary judgment if all of the information before the court demonstrates that
“there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The
burden is on the moving party. City of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa v. Associated Elec. Co-op.
Inc., 838 F.2d 268, 273 (8th Cir. 1988). After the moving party discharges this burden,
the nonmoving party must do more than show that there is some doubt as to the facts.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Instead,
the nonmoving party bears the burden of setting forth affirmative evidence and specific
facts by affidavit and other evidence showing that there is a genuine dispute of a material
fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986); Celotex, 477 U.S. at
324. A party resisting summary judgment has the burden to designate the specific facts
that create a triable controversy. See Crossley v. Georgia–Pacific Corp., 355 F.3d 1112,
1114 (8th Cir. 2004). Moreover, the requirement, on a motion for summary judgment,
that facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party applies only
if there is a genuine dispute as to those facts. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d
1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011).
“The purpose of the FDCPA is ‘to eliminate abusive debt collection practices by
debt collectors,’ . . . and debt collectors are liable for failure to comply with ‘any
provision’ of the Act.” Richmond v. Higgins, 435 F.3d 825, 828 (8th Cir. 2006) (quoting
15 U.S.C. § 1692(e) and § 1692k(a)). To establish a violation of the FDCPA, plaintiff
must prove that he is a consumer; defendant is a debt collector; there was an attempt to
collect a debt; and defendant violated, by act or omission, a provision of the FDCPA.
Campbell v. Credit Protection Ass'n, L.P., No. 4:12CV289 AGF, 2013 WL 1282348, at
*4 (E.D. Mo. Mar. 27, 2013) (citing Pace v. Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC, 872
F.Supp.2d 861, 864 (W.D. Mo. 2012)). The FDCPA prohibits a debt collector from
communicating with a consumer when the debt collector knows the consumer is
represented by an attorney. Specifically, § 1692c(a)(2) provides:
Without the prior consent of the consumer given directly to the debt collector or
the express permission of a court of competent jurisdiction, a debt collector may
not communicate with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt . .
. if the debt collector knows the consumer is represented by an attorney with
respect to such debt and has knowledge of, or can readily ascertain, such attorney's
name and address, unless the attorney fails to respond within a reasonable period
of time to a communication from the debt collector or unless the attorney consents
to direct communication with the consumer[.]
There is no dispute that plaintiff is a consumer, defendant is a debt collector, and
there was an attempt to collect a debt. The disputed issue is whether defendant violated a
provision of the FDCPA. Plaintiff contends that the undisputed facts – the recorded
telephone call – establish that defendant communicated with plaintiff with actual
knowledge that he was represented by counsel with respect to the debt at issue. Plaintiff
argues that defendant’s actions during the telephone call including repeated demands for
payment, legal threats, and demands for contact information were all directly contrary to
§ 1692c(a)(2). As a result, plaintiff seeks summary judgment as to liability on his
§ 1692c(a)(2) claim.
Defendant opposes the motion arguing that the undisputed facts establish that
there was no violation of the FDCPA, or, if there was technically a violation it does not
justify imposition of liability. Alternatively, defendant argues that there remain genuine
issues of disputed material fact. Defendant, however, has not offered any statement of
material facts that are in dispute as required by Local Rule 4.01(E) and Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 56(c)(1).1 Indeed, it is clear that there are no factual disputes. Instead,
the dispute is whether the communications that occurred during the November 21, 2013
telephone call violated the FDCPA, which is a legal question.
Although defendant stated in the factual background in its response that it had pled the
bona fide error affirmative defense set forth in § 1692k(c), it did not offer any evidence
or argument on this defense or press this defense in its response. As a result, defendant
has failed to satisfy the requirements for avoid liability based on that defense. Picht v.
Jon R. Hawks, Ltd., 236 F.3d 446, 451 (8th Cir. 2001); Rogers v. Medicredit, Inc.,
4:12CV2277 CEJ, 2013 WL 2403661, at *2-3 (E.D. Mo. May 31, 2013).
This Court concludes that defendant violated the plain language of § 1692c(a)(2)
of the FDCPA during the telephone conversation with plaintiff on November 21, 2013.
After being advised that plaintiff had a bankruptcy attorney with regard to the debt, the
Court does not find fault with the inquiry as to a case number for the bankruptcy. The
conversation, however, should have ended immediately thereafter. Defendant’s questions
and comments about setting up a payment plan to avoid further legal action and inquiring
as to a telephone number to contact plaintiff constitute prohibited conduct.
Defendant argues that if there was technically a violation, it was de minimis and
not the kind of communication that § 1692c(a)(2) was designed to prevent. This
argument, however, is not relevant to liability but instead, is an issue for damages. See
Lester E. Cox Medical Center, Springfield, Mo v. Huntsman, 408 F.3d 989, 994 (8th Cir.
2005) (noting that for de minimis or technical violations, some courts refuse to award
statutory damages). Damages are not an issue in the instant motion.
In a final attempt to avoid liability for the violation, defendant contends that the
communication fell within an exception under § 1692c(c). Subsection (c) pertains to a
consumer’s written request that a debt collector cease further communication. Certain
exceptions are set forth in subsection (c) including notifying the consumer that the debt
collector intends to invoke specific remedies. Defendant argues that is what occurred
here – that it simply notified plaintiff it might invoke specific remedies, to wit, “further
legal action.” Setting aside whether this constitutes notification that it intended to invoke
a “specific remedy, “[s]ubsections (a) and (c) are independent prohibitions on
communication, triggered by separate and distinct conditions.” Crouch v. J.J. Marshall
& Associates, Inc., 1:07CV477, 2007 WL 3173975 (W.D. Mi. Oct. 26, 2007). As
explained by the district court in Crouch:
Under subsection (a)(2), once a consumer is represented by an attorney and the
debt collector has knowledge of that representation, the debt collector may not
communicate with that consumer. This does not prohibit the debt collector from
communicating with the consumer's attorney. Subsection (c) prohibits a debt
collector from communicating with the consumer if the consumer makes such a
request in writing. Because the record does not contain evidence of such a
request, Defendant cannot rely on the exceptions listed under (c)(2) and (c)(3).
Even if such a request had been made, nothing under subsection (c) suggests the
debt collector could communicate directly with a consumer if that consumer was
represented by an attorney. Instead, the communication authorized as an
exception under subsections (c)(2) and (c)(3) should be sent to the consumer's
This Court agrees with that interpretation of subsections (a) and (c) of § 1692c and finds,
therefore, that defendant’s argument is unsupported by the text of § 1692.
Plaintiff has established that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that he
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on his §1692c(a)(2) claim as to liability. On
this basis, plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment will be granted.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment
(ECF #13) is GRANTED as set forth herein.
Dated this 29th day of July, 2014.
STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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