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Acik v. I.C. System

August 6, 2009

AHMET ACIK, ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
I.C. SYSTEM, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Plaintiff Ahmet Acik has filed a class action on behalf of himself and others similarly situated against Defendant I.C. System, Inc. ("ICS"), alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq. ("FDCPA"). A class was certified on June 11, 2008. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment on the issue of liability. For the reasons set forth below, ICS's motion is granted and denied in part. Acik's motion is granted and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

Acik was injured in January, 2006, and received medical treatment for his injuries from Chicagoland Plastic Surgery, Ltd. ("CPS"). Acik signed a "Patient Registration Form" ("Form") when he began receiving the medical care. The Form includes the following statement:

I understand that all bills are to be paid in full within 45 days of submission to my insurance company. Chicagoland Plastic Surgery, Ltd. does not wait for the settlement of lawsuits. Interest of 1.5% per month, up to 9% annually will be charged after 60 days. A payment plan will eliminate the need for collections. I understand that I am responsible for all costs and fees, including attorney fees, and interest incurred from the date of my initial consultation with any physician at Chicagoland Plastic Surgery, Ltd.

Acik was charged $200 for the care he received. The amount went unpaid, and Pro Medical Billing ("PMB"), which provided the billing services for CPS, turned the debt over to ICS. PMB informed ICS that Acik owed (1) the original debt of $200; (2) a collection fee of $60; and (3) an interest fee of $18.50. PMB had previously informed ICS that it was to charge an annualized interest rate of 9% while accounts were being collected.

ICS contacted Acik via a letter on June 27, 2006, approximately five months after Acik received services from CPS. The collection letter stated, in relevant part, the following:

Dear Ahmet Acik:

Your delinquent account has been turned over to this collection agency. The amount reflected above is the amount you owe as of the date of this letter. This amount may change due to interest or charges added to the account after the date of this letter. . . . .

Interest at the rate of 9.00% annually is being added to this delinquent account. . . . .

You may pay online . . . . There are no additional charges for making your payment online. . . . .

NOTICE

Unless you notify us within 30 days after receiving this notice that you dispute the validity of this debt or any portion thereof, we will assume this debt is valid. If you notify us in writing within 30 days after receiving this notice that the debt or any portion thereof is disputed, we will obtain verification of the debt (or obtain a copy of a judgment if there is one) and mail you a copy of such judgment or verification. If you make a written request within 30 days after receiving this notice we will provide you with the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor.

Si ud tiene alguna pregunta acerca de esta cuenta llame 800/279-9420 y referir al numero de su cuenta.*fn2 RE: Pro Medical Billing

Principal: $200.00

Additional Client Charges: $78.50

Amount Placed For Collection: $278.50

BALANCE DUE: $278.50

June 27, 2006 Ltr. from ICS to Acik. The "Additional Client Charges" amount consisted of a $60 collection fee and $18.50 in interest, though the letter itself did not provide this information; the letter stated only that $78.50 in "Additional Client Charges" was due.

ICS also maintains procedures which it contends are designed to avoid collecting unauthorized amounts. ICS and PMB entered into a contract before ICS began collection work on PMB's accounts. The one page contract contains a paragraph titled "You are responsible for providing accurate & up-to-date account information." In this paragraph the client, PMB, is directed to "[p]lace only amounts over $25 that are validly due and owing by the debtor indicated." The contract goes on to state that if the information provided is inaccurate, PMB will indemnify ICS for resulting costs incurred by ICS. The contract also asks for the annual percentage of interest that PMB "request[s] and authorize[s] [ICS] to accrue on all [of PMB's] accounts"; PMB answered "9%." The next line asks, "Will you have contracts on every account?", followed by two boxes labeled "Yes" and "No." PMB selected the "Yes" box. Finally, ICS maintains a computer program whose purpose is, inter alia, to flag extremely high interest and collection fees as compared to the principal being collected, and which warns against collection fees if ICS knows that such fees are prohibited under state law. If the total amount of fees aside from the principal is more than fifty percent of the principal, or if it appears to ICS that the interest rate is higher than the maximum permitted under the creditor's state law, I C. will send an automated message to the creditor alerting the creditor that there may be a problem, and asking the creditor to investigate. ICS will not defer its collection efforts when a notice is sent out unless the creditor asks it to do so. It is the creditor's decision whether to do anything after receiving the automated notice from ICS.

II. ANALYSIS

Summary judgment is warranted where "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); Brengettcy v. Horton, 423 F.3d 674, 680 (7th Cir. 2005). All facts, and any inferences to be drawn from them, must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Wis. Cent., Ltd. v. ...


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