Lorna Meyer v. TLRA Debt Recovery
ORDER GRANTING 29 Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiffs claims that Defendants voicemail message failed to provide meaningful disclosure that it was a debt collector and that Defendants collection letter overshadows Plaintiffs dispute rights are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. Signed by Judge Xavier Rodriguez. (rg)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
SAN ANTONIO DIVISION
LORNA MEYER, pleading on her own
behalf and on behalf of all other similarly
CHRISTUS HEALTH d/b/a TLRA DEBT
Civil Action No. SA-17-CV-213-XR
On this date, the Court considered the status of the above-styled and numbered case.
After careful consideration, the Court GRANTS Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (Docket no. 29).
Plaintiff filed her Original Complaint on March 17, 2017. Docket no. 1. Plaintiff filed her
Amended Complaint on April 10, 2017, Docket no. 4, and filed her Second Amended Complaint
on June 5, 2017. Docket no. 10. Plaintiff filed her live Third Amended Complaint on July 29,
2017. Docket no. 23. Plaintiff brings causes of action under the Fair Debt Collections Practices
Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. (“FDCPA”). Id.
Plaintiff incurred a debt for medical treatment with Defendant Christus Health prior to
February 16, 2017. Docket no. 23 at 2. Plaintiff alleges that Christus Health uses the name TLRA
Debt Recovery (“TLRA”) to collect its own debts and indicate to consumers that a third party is
collecting or attempting to collect the debt. Id. Plaintiff thus alleges that Defendant is a “debt
collector” under 15 US.C. § 1692(a)(6). On or about February 16, 2017, Plaintiff alleges
Defendant, using the name TLRA, sent its initial dunning letter to Plaintiff. Id.
Plaintiff states the first line of the letter states, “YOUR ACCOUNT HAS BEEN
PLACED WITH OUR OFFICE FOR COLLECTIONS!” and alleges the letter is false, deceptive,
and misleading under the “unsophisticated/least sophisticated consumer standard.” Id. Plaintiff
alleges the quoted statement is intended to convey to Plaintiff that her account has left the
original creditor and has been placed with collections. Id. Plaintiff states the letter does not name
Christus Health in the header, giving no indication TLRA is a “division” of Christus Health, and
that the letter states Christus Health is a “client” of TLRA. Id. at 3.
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant “masquerades as TLRA,” rather than sends out bills
directly as Christus, because debt collectors instill fear in consumers and are more effective at
collections. Id. Plaintiff alleges Christus is attempting to instill fear upon her that it will engage
in additional collection activity. Id. Plaintiff argues these statements misrepresent material facts
because Christus is TLRA, so the account is being sent from the same entity. Id. Plaintiff states
the letter names Christus Health as the “Client” of TLRA, which is a false statement because
TLRA is the same entity as Christus. Id.
Plaintiff also alleges the initial collection letter “overshadows” Plaintiff’s right to dispute
her debt. Id. at 4. Plaintiff states an initial collection letter must inform the consumer of her right
to dispute a debt and no communication may overshadow or be inconsistent with that right. Id.
Plaintiff states the collection letter states, “Please contact our office at 1-800-877-8572 to discuss
your options, make a payment over the phone, or to establish a monthly payment plan to prevent
further collection efforts,” just above the notice of Plaintiff’s dispute rights. Id. Plaintiff alleges
the term “discuss your options” implies that Plaintiff may take advantage of her dispute options
over the phone, rather than in writing. Id.
Plaintiff also alleges Defendant engaged in misleading conduct when Defendant made a
February 2017 phone call to attempt to collect a debt. Id.at 5. Plaintiff did not answer the call,
and Defendant allegedly left a voicemail message that stated: “Hello, We have an important
message from TLRA, the Collection Division of Christus Health. Please call 1-800-877-8572 at
your earliest convenience. Have your home phone number available for the representative to
assist you. Again that number is 1-800-877-8572. Thank you and have a nice day.” Id. Plaintiff
states that at the time of the call, she “had no recollection of the February 16th letter” and “did
not recall that TLRA was a debt collector.” Id. Plaintiff states, upon information and belief, that
she had not read the initial collection letter. Id. Plaintiff alleges she did not know the purpose of
the voicemail message after she listened to it. Id.
Plaintiff alleges Defendant failed to provide meaningful disclosure of the caller’s identity
and that the purpose of the call is unclear. Id. Plaintiff argues the “Collection Division of a
hospital, which is also synonymous with a Billing Division,” could call for many reasons, such
as information on a patient’s insurance, overpayment, an appointment, or to seek payment for a
bill. Id. Plaintiff argues Defendant failed to provide meaningful disclosure concerning the
purpose of the call by failing to indicate the call was made to collect a debt. Id.
Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant failed to state the required “Mini-Miranda language”
and failed to properly inform Plaintiff of Defendant’s status as a debt collector. Id. at 6. Plaintiff
alleges Defendant made a material misrepresentation to Plaintiff regarding her rights. Id. Plaintiff
alleges it is Defendant’s regular practice to leave the message she received on voicemails of
consumers who do not answer their phones. Id.
Plaintiff now brings claims for unfair and deceptive acts and practices in violation of 15
U.S.C. §§ 1692d(6), 1692e, 1692e(5), 1692e(10), 1692e(11), 1692f, and 1692g(b). Id. at 10.
Plaintiff alleges Defendant violated the FDCPA by (1) failing to inform Plaintiff on a voicemail
message as to the purpose of the phone call and not identifying itself as a debt collector, (2)
instructing Plaintiff in a collection letter to call to dispute her debt in a way that overshadowed
the dispute notice required by statute, and (3) making a false and deceptive representation to
Plaintiff in the collection letter by implying its collective division TLRA is an independent third
party debt collector. Plaintiff also brings her claims as a class action on behalf of herself and all
“others similarly situated who have received similar debt collection notices and/or
communications from Defendant which, as alleged herein, are in violation of the FDCPA.” Id. at
“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim
for relief must contain: (1) “a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court’s
jurisdiction”; (2) “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
the relief”; and (3) “a demand for the relief sought.” FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a). In considering a motion
to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), all factual allegations from the complaint should be taken as true,
and the facts are to be construed favorably to the plaintiff. Fernandez-Montez v. Allied Pilots
Assoc., 987 F.2d 278, 284 (5th Cir. 1993). To survive a 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must
contain “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause
of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims that the voicemail message was left in
violation of the FDCPA, and that language in the collection letter overshadowed the dispute
notice required by the FDCPA. Docket no. 29. Defendant also asks the Court to dismiss
Plaintiff’s related class action claims. Id. at 10. Although Defendant’s Motion appears generally
directed at the entire Complaint, it fails to address Plaintiff’s claim that Defendant made a false
and deceptive representation when it implied its collective division TLRA was an independent
third party debt collector. Thus, the Court views Defendant’s Motion as a partial Motion to
A. Plaintiff does not adequately allege that Defendant’s voicemail message failed to
provide meaningful disclosure that it was a debt collector.
Plaintiff alleges Defendant violated the FDCPA because it failed to identify TLRA as a
debt collector and did not indicate the purpose of the phone call on the voice message it left for
Plaintiff. To prevail on an FDCPA claim, Plaintiff must prove (1) she has been the object of
collection activity arising from a consumer debt, (2) Defendant is a debt collector defined by the
FDCPA, and (3) Defendant engaged in an act or omission prohibited by the FDCPA. See Birdow
v. Allen, 2013 WL 4511639, at *2 (W.D. Tex. Aug. 23, 2013); Browne v. Portfolio Recovery
Assocs., Inc., 2013 WL 871966, at *4 (S.D. Tex. Mar. 7, 2013) (citing Stewart v. Alonzo, 2009
WL 174938, at *2 (S.D. Tex. Jan. 26, 2009)). The FDCPA “prohibits ‘debt collector[s]’ from
making false or misleading representations and from engaging in various abusive and unfair
practices.” Heintz v. Jenkins, 514 U.S. 291, 294 (1995).
To determine if a debt collector has committed a violation, the debt collector's
representations, notices, and communications to the consumer are viewed objectively from the
standpoint of the “least sophisticated consumer” or an “unsophisticated consumer.” 1 “This
standard serves the dual purpose of protecting all consumers, including the inexperienced, the
untrained, and the credulous, from deceptive debt collection practices and protecting debt
collectors against liability for bizarre or idiosyncratic consumer interpretations of collection
materials.” Gonzalez v. Kay, 577 F.3d 600, 603 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoting Taylor v. Perrin,
Landry, deLaunay & Durand, 103 F.3d 1232, 1236 (5th Cir. 1997)).
A debt collector violates the FDCPA if it places “telephone calls without meaningful
disclosure of the caller’s identity” or, in subsequent communications, fails to disclose “that the
communication is from a debt collector.” 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692d(6), 1692e(11). The voicemail
message, as a subsequent communication given that it followed the initial collection letter, only
must disclose that the communication is from a debt collector. § 1692d(6).
Defendant argues that Plaintiff fails to adequately state a claim because the message
sufficiently discloses that TLRA is a debt collector. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant fails to
provide meaningful disclosure that it is a debt collector by stating on the voicemail message:
“We have an important message from TLRA, the Collection Division of Christus Health.”
Plaintiff alleges the least sophisticated or an unsophisticated consumer would take “collection
The Fifth Circuit has not yet chosen between the “least sophisticated consumer” and
“unsophisticated consumer” standards, but it has explained that the unsophisticated consumer
standard “serves the same purposes [as the least sophisticated consumer standard] and apparently
would lead to the same results in most cases, except that it is designed to protect consumers of
below average sophistication or intelligence without having the standard tied to the very last rung
on the sophistication ladder.” McMurray v. ProCollect, Inc., 687 F.3d 665, 669 (5th Cir. 2012).
division” to generally identify several possible types of divisions, only one of which is to seek
collection of a debt.
Plaintiff does not sufficiently claim that the phrase “collection division” fails to provide
meaningful disclosure that Defendant is a debt collector. In the message as Plaintiff alleges it,
TLRA introduces itself as a division of Christus Health, and specifically states that it is a
collection division. Even taking Plaintiff’s allegations as true and construing them in a light most
favorable to Plaintiff, the Court does not find that Plaintiff adequately alleges failure to
meaningful disclose the identity of a debt collector when the phrase “collection division” is used.
See Beeders v. Gulf Coast Collection Bureau, 796 F.Supp.2d 1335, 1340 (M.D. Fla. 2011)
(finding use of the words “Collection Bureau” in name of calling entity was sufficient disclosure
that it was a debt collector). Plaintiff alleges no other facts about the message that would lead the
least sophisticated or an unsophisticated consumer to believe TLRA was anything other than a
debt collector. Accordingly, Plaintiff does not adequately plead that Defendant, by identifying
itself as “Collection Division,” failed to provide meaningful disclosure as to its identity as a debt
B. Plaintiff does not adequately allege that Defendant’s collection letter overshadows
Plaintiff’s dispute rights.
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant violated the FDCPA because it instructed Plaintiff in a
collection letter to call to dispute her debt in a way that overshadowed the required dispute
notice. As stated above, Plaintiff must prove she was the object of collection activity arising
from a consumer debt, that Defendant is a debt collector, and Defendant engaged in an act or
omission prohibited by the FDCPA. See Birdow, 2013 WL 4511639, at *2 (W.D. Tex. Aug. 23,
2013). The debt collector's representations, notices, and communications to the consumer are
viewed objectively from the standpoint of the least sophisticated or an unsophisticated consumer.
A debt collector violates the FDCPA if it fails to inform a consumer of her rights to
dispute a debt. 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a). If a consumer disputes the debt in writing within thirty
days after receipt of a notice, the debt collector must “obtain verification of the debt or a copy of
a judgment against the consumer” and mail the consumer “a copy of such verification or
judgment.” Id. Courts have held Section 1692g implies that the required disclosures “be set forth
in a form and within a context that does not distort or obfuscate its meaning.” Peter v. GC Servs.
L.P., 310 F.3d 344, 348 (5th Cir. 2002); see Bartlett v. Heibl, 128 F.3d 497, 500 (7th Cir. 1997)
(citing Avila v. Rubin, 84 F.3d 222, 226 (7th Cir. 1996); Terran v. Kaplan, 109 F.3d 1428, 1431–
34 (9th Cir. 1997); Russell v. Equifax A.R.S., 74 F.3d 30, 34–35 (2nd Cir. 1996); Miller v.
Payco–General American Credits, Inc., 943 F.2d 482, 484 (4th Cir. 1991)). A debt collector’s
letter engages in overshadowing when contradictory language is in “screaming headlines” or the
notice language is in fine print, faint print, or confusing typeface. Peter, 310 F.3d at 349 n.2; see
Miller, 943 F.2d at 483; Rabideau v. Management Adjustment Bureau, 805 F.Supp. 1086, 1090,
Defendant argues that Plaintiff fails to adequately state a claim because Plaintiff makes
no allegation that it failed to include each statutory disclosure required by the FDCPA. Plaintiff,
however, alleges that certain parts of the collection letter overshadow Plaintiff’s validation
rights. Plaintiff alleges the bolded language in the letter overshadows her validation rights
because it states, above the non-bolded language about validation rights, to: “Please contact our
office at 1-800-877-8572 to discuss your options, make a payment over the phone, or to establish
a monthly payment plan to prevent further collection efforts.” Plaintiff argues the least
sophisticated or an unsophisticated consumer would read “discuss your options” in this sentence
to mean the consumer can take advantage of dispute options over the phone, rather than in
Courts have generally found contradiction or apparent contradiction of a consumer’s
validation rights “where payment is demanded in a concrete period shorter than the 30–day
statutory contest period.” Peter, 310 F.3d at 349; see Terran, 109 F.3d at 1434 (finding request
for immediate phone call did not contradict printed notice); Vasquez v. Gertler & Gertler, Ltd.,
987 F. Supp. 652, 657 (N.D. Ill. 1997) (concluding request for payment without “further delay”
did not “demand[ ] payment within a period shorter than 30 days.”). Although the letter asks
Plaintiff to contact Defendant by phone, that language does not contradict the language
informing Plaintiff of her right to dispute her debt in writing, nor does the letter anywhere
require Plaintiff to make an immediate payment. Plaintiff does not adequately allege that the
sentence that immediately precedes the required validation rights language contradicts or
overshadows that validation rights language. Accordingly, Plaintiff does not adequately plead
that Defendant’s collection letter includes language that overshadows her dispute rights.
Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (Docket no. 29) is hereby GRANTED. Plaintiff’s claims
that Defendant’s voicemail message failed to provide meaningful disclosure that it was a debt
collector and that Defendant’s collection letter overshadows Plaintiff’s dispute rights are
DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. 2
Any class claims related to the dismissed claims are also dismissed.
It is so ORDERED.
SIGNED this 27th day of September, 2017.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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?