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BENSON v. TRANS UNION
August 25, 2005.
NATHANIEL BENSON, Plaintiff,
TRANS UNION, LLC, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: MILTON SHADUR, Senior District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Nathaniel Benson ("Benson") has sued consumer reporting agency
Trans Union, LLC ("Trans Union"), asserting violations of the
Fair Credit Reporting Act ("Act,"
15 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1681u)*fn1 as well as advancing a common law defamation
claim.*fn2 Trans Union has moved for summary judgment as to
all claims under Fed.R.Civ.P. ("Rule") 56. Because Trans Union
has demonstrated the nonexistence of any genuine issue of
material fact, its Rule 56 motion is granted and this action is
dismissed with prejudice.
Summary Judgment Standard
Every Rule 56 movant bears the burden of establishing the
absence of any genuine issue of material fact (Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)). For that purpose courts consider the evidentiary record in the light most favorable to
nonmovants and draw all reasonable inferences in their favor
(Lesch v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., 282 F.3d 467, 471 (7th Cir.
2002)). But to avoid summary judgment a nonmovant must produce
"more than a scintilla of evidence to support his position" that
a genuine issue of material fact exists (Pugh v. City of
Attica, 259 F.3d 619, 625 (7th Cir. 2001)) and "must set forth
specific facts that demonstrate a genuine issue of triable fact"
(id.). Ultimately, summary judgment is warranted only if a
reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the nonmovant
(Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).
What follows is a summary of the facts viewed of course in the
light most favorable to nonmovant Benson but within the
limitations created by the extent of his compliance (or
noncompliance) with the strictures of LR 56.
On September 16, 2003 Trans Union received a communication from
Benson via its website disputing an account that had been reflected as delinquent on his Trans-Union-generated credit
report (T. St. ¶ 34). Benson's correspondence explained that the
account in question, identified as Peoples' Energy #5500003681294
("Peoples Account"), was inaccurately reflected on his credit
report as past due in the amount of $2,270.60 because, as he
wrote (T. Ex. B-1):
The bill was for my father's business address Nate's
Grove Meat. He has the exact same name as mine. I had
no involvement with the address of 8357 S. Cottage
Grove. This item belongs to Nathaniel Benson, Sr.
In response Trans Union began an investigation into the Peoples
Account by transmitting a verification request to Peoples Gas (T.
St. ¶ 38). After Peoples Gas did not respond to that request,
Trans Union deleted the Peoples Account from Benson's credit file
on October 14, 2003 so that it no longer appeared on his credit
report (T. St. ¶ 39). Discovery in this case, however, has
revealed that Benson worked at his father's business and that the
Peoples Account was opened using Benson's name, social security
number and birth date (T. St. ¶¶ 19, 20, 21, 24).
In January 2004*fn4
Benson applied to Citibank, F.S.B.
("Citibank") for a home equity loan (T. St. ¶ 107). Citibank
accessed Benson's credit report on January 22 and sent Benson a
letter on January 27 denying his application (T. St. ¶¶ 106,
108). That letter reads in pertinent part (T. Ex. C-1):
We regret to inform you that we are unable to approve
your request for the following reasons:
SERIOUSLY DELINQUENT CREDIT OBLIGATIONS
(PAID/UNPAID) ON CREDIT BUREAU
DELINQUENT CREDIT OBLIGATIONS (PAID/UNPAID) ON
Citibank's decision was based in part on information,
not necessarily of a derogatory nature, from the
consumer reporting agency(s) listed below . . .:
TRANS UNION CORPORATION.
On January 31 Benson ordered and received a copy of his Trans
Union credit report, which now showed a delinquent account with
CBC in the amount of $2270.60 ("CBC Account") (B. St. ¶ 9). As
reflected in a letter that Benson had received on August 23,
2003, Peoples Gas had then placed the Peoples Account with CBC
for collection (B. St. ¶ 2; B. Ex. A). Benson telephoned Trans
Union to dispute his credit report on February 5 (B. St. ¶ 10).
On February 6 Trans Union began an immediate investigation of
Benson's dispute by sending CBC an Automatic Consumer Dispute
Verification form ("ACDV") (T. St. ¶ 48), which referred to
Benson's dispute this way (T. Ex. B-6):
Customer states belongs to another individual with
same/similar name. Provide complete ID (incld. SSN,
DOB, Generation Code, etc.).
CBC responded on February 19, confirming that the name, social
security number and address on the ACDV matched the information
it had received from Peoples Gas when the account was placed for
collection (T. St. ¶ 49, 50). On February 25 Trans Union then sent Benson an updated copy of his credit report, which still
reflected the CBC Account (T. St. ¶ 55).
Benson telephoned Trans Union again on March 1 to complain
about his credit report (T. St. ¶ 57). On March 2 Trans Union
sent CBC another ACDV (T. St. ¶ 59), which characterized Benson's
dispute in these terms (B. St. ¶ 16):
Consumer states inaccurate information. Did not
provide specific dispute. Verify complete ID and Acct
Before it received a response from CBC, Trans Union received a
letter from Benson that said as to the CBC account (T. Ex. B-10):
This item is inaccurate, because this account was
opened by my father, Nathaniel Benson, Sr.,
SS#429-68-7251 (who also sometimes uses the suffix
Jr.) who owned the property located at 8329 S.
Cottage Grove, Chicago, IL 60619. The debt in
question could not belong to me due to the fact that
location [sic] that the services were provided for
was his place of business; which was formerly known
as Nate Grove Meats. There may be some confusion as
to whose [sic] this item belongs to since my father
and I have the same name and now temporarily use my
Benson's letter included copies of (1) his credit report, with
the CBC account circled, and (2) a document from the Internal
Revenue Service ("IRS") addressed to (T. Ex. B-10):
Nate Grove Meats
Nate Benson Sr.
8329 S. Cottage Grove
Chicago, IL 60619-5905298
On March 24 Trans Union responded to Benson with a letter of
its own (T. St. ¶ 67), explaining that it was investigating
Benson's dispute and would respond in writing once its investigation was complete (T. Ex. B-12). But even before it sent
that letter, on March 20 it had received CBC's response to the
ACDV, confirming that Benson's name, address and social security
number not that of his father were associated with the CBC
Account (T. St. ¶ 69). So on March 29 Trans Union sent Benson an
updated copy of his credit report, still reflecting the CBC
Account as delinquent (T. St. ¶ 72).
Before he received that latest credit report Benson had applied
for a line of credit for the purchase of a car, this time with
Bank of America, N.A. ("Bank of America") (T. St. ¶ 101).
Benson's application, submitted on March 27, was denied by Bank
Of America on April 17 in a letter reading (T. St. ¶ 100; T. Ex.
If you would like a statement of specific reasons why
your application was denied, please call us or write
to us at our number and address below within 60 days
of the date of this letter . . .
Our decision was based in whole or in part on
information we obtained from [Trans Union]. The
agency . . . played no part in our decision other
than providing us with information about you and are
unable to provided specific reasons why we have
denied credit to you.
Benson did not communicate further with Bank of America after
receiving that letter (T. St. ¶ 104). Instead he filed suit on
June 7. After receiving the Complaint Trans Union sent CBC yet
another ACDV about the CBC Account (T. St. ¶ 76). On June 17 CBC
again verified that the CBC Account contained Benson's name,
address and social security number (T. St. ¶ 77). Trans Union then telephoned CBC on June 22 (T. St. ¶ 78). CBC again verified
Benson's identifying information, but it informed Trans Union
that the CBC Account had been transferred back to Peoples Gas,
the original creditor (T. St. ¶ 79). On that same day Trans Union
deleted the CBC Account from Benson's file.
It is undisputed that Trans Union is a "consumer reporting
agency" within the meaning of Section 1681a(f), that the credit
reports at issue are "credit reports" within the meaning of
Section 1681a(d) and that Benson is a "consumer" for purposes of
Section 1681a(c). Sections 1681n and 1681o respectively provide
private rights of action for willful and negligent noncompliance
with any duty imposed by the Act and allow recovery for actual
damages and attorney's fees and costs, as well as punitive
damages for willful noncompliance (see Casella v. Equifax Credit
Info. Servs., 56 F.3d 469, 473 (2d Cir. 1995)).
Benson claims Trans Union failed to fulfill its duties under
the Act (1) by not following reasonable procedures to assure the
accuracy of his credit report as required by Section 1681e(b),
(2) by failing to conduct an adequate reinvestigation as required
by Section 1681i(a) when he disputed his credit report and (3) by
failing to include a statement of dispute on his credit report as
required by Section 1681i(c). This opinion addresses those claims
in turn. Reasonable Procedures for Assuring Accuracy
Section 1681e(b) reads:
Whenever 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
To avoid summary judgment on his claim under that provision,
Benson must raise a genuine issue of material fact as to each of
four elements: (1) that there was inaccurate information in his
consumer credit report, (2) that the inaccuracy was due to Trans
Union's failure to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum
possible accuracy, (3) that he suffered ...
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