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RUFFIN-THOMPKINS v. EXPERIAN INFORMATION SYSTEMS

December 31, 2003.

MARY RUFFIN-THOMPKINS, Plaintiff
v.
EXPERIAN INFORMATION SYSTEMS, INC., Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HARRY LEINENWEBER, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Mary Ruffin-Thompkins ("Ruffin-Thompkins"), a resident of the Northern District of Illinois, brings a one-count action against Experian Information Solutions, Inc. ("Experian"), an Ohio corporation that is authorized to do business in Illinois, alleging violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (the "FCRA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. (2003). Before the Court is Experian's Motion for Summary Judgment filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the following reasons, the Court grants the motion.

I. BACKGROUND

  The following facts are either undisputed or taken in the light most favorable to Ruffin-Thompkins. This case has its roots in a dispute that Ruffin-Thompkins had with Grossinger City Toyota ("Grossinger"). While the facts of the underlying dispute are not entirely clear, it appears that it involved allegations that Grossinger had fraudulently entered into a contract with Ruffin-Thompkins for the purchase of a car. Eventually, Ruffin-Thompkins filed a lawsuit against Grossinger in the Circuit Court of Cook County. In July 2002, that case settled, with Grossinger agreeing to pay off the balance of Ruffin-Thompkins's loan and voiding her contractual obligation to purchase a car.

  Experian is a consumer reporting agency as defined by 15 U.S.C. § 1681a(f). As such, it gathers consumer credit information from other sources that it uses to generate credit reports. These reports are available to the consumer or to other parties upon request. Experian enters the story because despite the settlement between Grossinger and Ruffin-Thompkins, US Bank, the lender for the loan in that case, reported the account to Experian as a "Repossession/Past Due 30 Days." Upon learning of this negative notation, on October 3, 2002 Ruffin-Thompkins wrote to Experian requesting that "repossession of an automobile be deleted immediately from my credit report." In her letter, she explained that she never had an account with Grossinger and that her lawsuit against the company had been settled in her favor. She enclosed an incomplete credit report dispute form and a letter from her attorneys to Grossinger stating their intent to represent Ruffin-Thompkins in her action against it. Neither Ruffin-Thompkins's letter to Experian nor the enclosed documents mentioned US Bank. None of the documents specified the account that she wished to dispute. On October 14, 2002, Experian issued a response to Ruffin-Thompkins that explained that "[u]sing the information provided the following item was not found: Grossinger City Toyota." According to Ruffin-Thompkins's complaint, on October 21, 2002, she sent a letter directly to US Bank with copies to various parties including Experian, in which she requested that the repossession notation be removed from her account. Experian denies this because Ruffin-Thompkins never produced the document in the course of discovery despite Experian's request for such materials. Whether or not Experian received this letter is immaterial, however, because Ruffin-Thompkins does not mention it in her Response to Defendant Experian Information Solution's Motion for Summary Judgment (the "Response") and does not contend that it placed Experian on notice of the inaccuracy in her account.

  On December 23, 2002, Experian received another letter from Ruffin-Thompkins that stated that she was disputing US Bank's report. She enclosed the same letter from her attorney to Grossinger that she sent with her October 3, 2002 letter and a letter from her attorney informing her of a settlement with Grossinger.

  Experian handled Ruffin-Thompkins's request for a reinvestigation by following an established procedure for handling consumer disputes. It forwarded her letter to one of its customer service representatives for review and processing. On January 2, 2003, that representative generated a Consumer Dispute Verification form (the "CDV"), and sent it to US Bank. A CDV identifies the consumer and the basis for the consumer's dispute and asks the creditor to verify or amend the reported information. In this case, the CDV described the dispute as "claims company will change or delete." US Bank returned the CDV to Experian on January 9, 2003, stating that the account had been closed at the customer's request and that it had a zero balance. US Bank did not delete the account. On January 16, 2003, Experian mailed confirmation of the results of the investigation to Ruffin-Thompkins. The confirmation summary indicated that the US Bank account would remain reported as a Paid/Repossession but that Experian had added the comment, "[a]ccount closed at consumer's request," to her credit report. The summary also informed Ruffin-Thompkins that if she disagreed with the outcome of the investigation, she could contact the creditor directly or could add a statement to the credit file disputing the accuracy or completeness of the account information.

  Despite this offer, Ruffin-Thompkins made no further contact with Experian, Instead, on January 30, 2003, she filed the instant action against the company. On April 5, 2003, pursuant to US Bank's instructions, Experian deleted the US Bank account from Ruffin-Thompkins's file and sent her a Revised Disclosure to inform her of the deletion. II. DISCUSSION

  A. Summary Judgment

  Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A fact is "material" if it could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law; a dispute is "genuine" where the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Andersen v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

  The burden is initially upon the movant to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). In assessing the movant's claim, the Court must view all the evidence and any reasonable inferences that may be drawn from that evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Miller v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co., 203 F.3d 997, 1003 (7th Cir. 2000). Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party "may not rest upon the mere allegations" contained in its pleading, but rather "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); Backer v. Tenenbaum-Hill Assoc., Inc., 914 F.2d 107, 110 (7th Cir. 1990); Schroeder v. Lufthansa German Airlines, 875 F.2d 613, 620 (7th Cir. 1989). B. Count I — FCRA

  Ruffin-Thompkins brings this suit pursuant to several sections of the FCRA. Specifically, she alleges that Experian: (1) willfully and negligently failed to maintain reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy in its credit report in violation of § 1681e(b); (2) willfully and negligently failed to conduct a reasonable reinvestigation of the disputes and failed to delete the inaccurate information from her file after investigation in violation of 1681i(a); and (3) willfully and negligently failed to note her dispute on her report in violation of 1681i(c). As discussed in detail below, she has raised no genuine issues of material fact on any of these claims.

  1. Section 1681e(b)

  Section 1681e(b) of the FCRA provides that "[w]henever a consumer reporting agency prepares a consumer report it shall follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information concerning the individual about whom the report relates." § 1681e(b). In order to avoid summary judgment on her claim, Ruffin-Thompkins must raise a genuine issue of material fact as to each of the following four elements: (1) that the consumer credit report contained inaccurate information about the US Bank account; (2) that the inaccuracy was due to Experian's failure to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy; (3) that she suffered actual damages; and (4) that her damages were caused by the inaccuracy. Philbin v. Trans Union Corp., 101 F.3d 957, 963 (3d. Cir. 1996); Zahran v. Trans Union Corp., No. 01 C 1700, 2003 WL 1733561, at *3 ...


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