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RIEBE v. JUERGENSMEYER & ASSOCS.

October 31, 1997

MICHAEL RIEBE and BARBARA RIEBE, Plaintiffs,
v.
JUERGENSMEYER AND ASSOCIATES and JOHN E. JUERGENSMEYER, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: NORGLE

 CHARLES R. NORGLE, SR., District Judge:

 Before the court are Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint and Motion for Attorney's Fees. For the following reasons, the court grants the Motion to Dismiss and denies the Motion for Attorney's Fees.

 I. BACKGROUND

 The origin of this federal case is a minor's failure to return a library book. In 1995, Elizabeth Riebe, a minor, borrowed a library book from the St. Charles Public Library ("the Library"). The due date came and went without Ms. Riebe returning it. The Library waited. After Ms. Riebe failed to return the book for six months, the Library retained Defendants to write to her parents ("Plaintiffs") requesting payment of $ 29.95. *fn1" Addressed to Plaintiffs, the letter, as Plaintiffs see it, implied that they, or their daughter, could be arrested and imprisoned for intentional theft of public library property. Attached to the letter was a copy of the provisions of the Illinois Criminal Code. *fn2" Rather than paying the $ 29.95 or at least returning the book, and thereby putting the matter to rest, Plaintiffs filed a complaint in federal court, alleging that Defendants' letter violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq. (1996).

 Defendants now move to dismiss Plaintiffs' amended complaint and for attorney's fees. They argue that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction under the FDCPA because their letter to Plaintiffs did not involve a "debt" within the meaning of the statute. *fn3"

 II. DISCUSSION

 A. Motion to Dismiss

 Congress created the FDCPA to protect consumers from unfair, deceptive, and harassing debt collection practices. 15 U.S.C. § 1629(e). However, this protection extends only to the collection of a "debt" as the word is defined by the FDCPA. That is:

 
Any obligation or alleged obligation of a consumer to pay money arising out of a transaction in which the money, property, insurance, or services which are the subject of the transaction are primarily for personal, family, or household purposes . . . .

 15 U.S.C. § 1692(a)(5).

 In a recent opinion, the Seventh Circuit clarified the meaning of "debt" under the FDCPA. Bass v. Stolper, Koritzinsky, Brewster & Neider, 111 F.3d 1322, 1325-26 (7th Cir. 1997). In Bass, the court addressed whether the FDCPA "applies to third-party efforts to collect payment from consumers who use a dishonored check for the purchase of goods or services." Id. at 1323. The crux of the case, however, was "whether the payment obligation that arises from a dishonored check constitutes a 'debt' as defined in the [FDCPA]." Id. The court answered in the affirmative, and held that "an offer or extension of credit is not required for a payment obligation to constitute a 'debt' under the FDCPA." Id. at 1326. The court reasoned that "the plain language of the [FDCPA] defines 'debt' quite broadly 'as any obligation to pay arising out of a [consumer] transaction.'" Id. at 1325. The court concluded that "as long as the transaction creates an obligation to pay, a debt is created." Id.

 Though the Bass court noted that the statute defined "debt" broadly, it acknowledged that not all obligations to pay are considered "debts" under the FDCPA. Id. at 1324. In doing so, the court focused on the term "transaction" included in the statute's definition of "debt." Id. at 1325-26; see also Newman v. Boehm, Pearlstein & Bright, Ltd., 119 F.3d 477, 480-81 (7th Cir. 1997) (under Bass, the definition of "debt" under the FDCPA "focuses on the transaction creating the obligation to pay"). "Transaction" is not defined in the FDCPA. Bass, 111 F.3d at 1325. However, the court stated that "the term 'transaction' is a broad reference to many types of business dealings between parties . . . ." Id. (citing Webster's New World Dictionary 1509 (2d ed. 1986)).

 As an illustration, the court explained that some conduct, such as theft, "did not amount to a transaction" which could give rise to a "debt" under the statute. 111 F.3d at 1326 (citing Zimmerman v. HBO Affiliate Group, 834 F.2d 1163 (3rd Cir. 1987) (payment obligation arising from theft of television signals was outside the reach of the FDCPA because there was no transaction)). The court stated, "although a thief undoubtedly has an obligation to pay for the goods or services he steals, the FDCPA limits its reach to those ...


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