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Simmons v. Med-I-Claims

February 9, 2007

KENNETH SIMMONS PLAINTIFF,
v.
MED-I-CLAIMS ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael M. Mihm United States District Judge

ORDER

Now before the Court is Defendant Med-I-Claims Services' ("MICS") Motion for Summary Judgment [#19]. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

JURISDICTION

The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, as the claims asserted in the Complaint present federal questions under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA" or "the Act"), 15 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The factual background of this case is neither lengthy nor complicated. Pro se Plaintiff Kenneth Simmons ("Simmons") is a resident of Mackinaw, Illinois, located in Tazewell County. For reasons not relevant to this action, Simmons was arrested by the Tazewell County Sheriff on June 16, 2004. As Simmons was being restrained by one of the arresting officers, he requested medical assistance. The Sheriff's office contacted Mackinaw Rescue Squad, which transported Simmons to Pekin Memorial Hospital by ambulance. Mackinaw Rescue Squad's services for transportation, supplies, oxygen, and mileage cost a total of $465.00.

Defendant MICS provides Mackinaw Rescue Squad with services that include printing and mailing invoices to patients, and forwarding payments to the provider. On November 17, 2004, MICS sent an itemized invoice to Simmons, listing $465.00 as the total due. In the upper left hand corner of the statement is Mackinaw Rescue Squad's name, address, and phone number. Printed immediately below Mackinaw Rescue Squad's information is "Billing Provided by: Med-I-Claims Services, Inc." Below the itemization of charges, the statement instructs: "Make Checks Payable To: Mackinaw Rescue Squad," and "If you have any questions about your bill, please contact Med-I-Claims Services, Inc., at 309-682-5289. All accounts due within 30 days."

When Simmons failed to respond to the 11/17/04 invoice, MICS sent him a second invoice on December 27, 2004. Simmons also did not pay this invoice, so MICS closed Simmons' account. In January 2005, Mackinaw Rescue Squad referred Simmons' account to Midwest Collections, apparently a collection agency retained by Mackinaw Rescue Squad. According to MICS, Simmons informed Midwest Collections that Tazewell County was responsible for the charges because he was in the County's custody at the time he needed medical attention. Midwest Collections then closed its account, and Mackinaw Rescue Squad referred the account back to MICS, in order to bill Tazewell County.

MICS contacted the Tazewell County Sheriff's Office, which informed MICS that Simmons had himself requested medical attention and was himself responsible for the charges. The Sheriff's office also provided MICS with documentation regarding the arrest. Upon receipt of this information, MICS sent Simmons an invoice on February 27, 2006. The 2/27/06 invoice, the central subject of this litigation, is apparently a duplicate of the original 11/17/04 invoice. The invoice date provided on the February 2006 statement is November 17, 2004. However, this February 2006 invoice contains a hand-written notation on the bottom: "We spoke to Tazewell County regarding this incident. They have documentation stating that you requested medication attention. Please call our office to set up a payment plan. This is your responsibility." The envelope in which the invoice was resent on 2/27/06 was marked only with Simmons' mail address for delivery, MICS' name and return address, a postage stamp, and the usual marks placed on the envelope by the United States Postal Service.

Simmons filed this action against MICS and "Employee/Employees Unidentified" on June 16, 2006. Simmons ten-count Amended Complaint alleges that MCIS and "Employee/Employees Unidentified" each violated §§1692e, 1692f, 1692g(a)(3), 1692g(a)(4), and 1692(g)(a)(5) of the FDCPA. Relatively early in the litigation, even before the Court held a Rule 16 conference, Defendant MICS has moved for Summary Judgment. The Summary Judgment record consists of an affidavit submitted by the owner and operation of MICS, copies of police reports describing the details of Simmons' arrest, and copies of the 11/17/04 invoice, the 2/27/06 invoice, and the envelope in which the 2/27/06 invoice was mailed. Simmons filed his Response, "Objections to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment," and MICS has filed a Reply. Simmons has also attempted to file another Response to MCIS' Reply, which is generally not permitted under the rules governing summary judgment pleadings without the Court's permission. See Local Rule 7.1.(D). However, the Court has reviewed Simmons' additional Response, and it presents no arguments beyond those raised in Simmons' first Response, and therefore has no effect on the Court's consideration of the pleadings. The matter is more than fully briefed, and this Order follows.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment should be granted where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving party has the responsibility of informing the Court of portions of the record or affidavits that demonstrate the absence of a triable issue. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party may meet its burden of showing an absence of disputed material facts by demonstrating "that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Id. at 325. Any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial is resolved against the moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Cain v. Lane, 857 F.2d 1139, 1142 (7th Cir. 1988).

If the moving party meets its burden, the non-moving party then has the burden of presenting specific facts to show that there is a genuine issue of material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e) requires the non-moving party to go beyond the pleadings and produce evidence of a genuine issue for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. Nevertheless, this Court must "view the record and all inferences drawn from it in the light most favorable to the [non-moving party]." Holland v. Jefferson Nat. Life Ins. Co., 883 F.2d 1307, 1312 (7th Cir. 1989). Summary judgment will be denied where a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Hedberg v. Indiana Bell Tel. Co., 47 F.3d 928, 931 (7th Cir. 1995).

DISCUSSION

The FDCPA was enacted "to eliminate abusive debt collection practices by debt collectors, to ensure that those debt collectors who refrain from using abusive debt collection practice are not competitively disadvantaged, and to promote consistent State action to protect consumers against debt collection abuses." 15 U.S.C. § 1692(e). While creditors generally are not subject to the FDCPA, the Act subjects third-party debt collectors to limitations on the content and nature of their written correspondence and other communications with debtors. For example, the FDCPA prohibits "debt collectors" from employing abusive debt collection practices, such as late-night phone calls, embarrassing communications through third parties, harassment, and false and misleading representations. Jenkins v. Heintz, 25 F.3d 536, 538 (7th Cir. 1994). "Obviously, Congress did not intend to eliminate all debt collection practices, only those which it considered unfair." Id.

MICS has moved for full or partial summary judgment on four separate grounds. As a threshold matter, MICS argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on all counts because it is not a "debt collector," and therefore its activities do not violate the sections of the Act under which Simmons has brought his Complaint. In the alternative, MICS argues that the law does not support the claims against Defendant employee/employees (Counts 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10), that there is no factual dispute that the claims under 15 U.S.C. ยง 1692f(8) must fail (Counts 3 and 4), and that there is no factual ...


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