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Hale v. AFNI

January 26, 2010

BOUKE HALE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AFNI, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge David H. Coar

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Bouke Hale ("Plaintiff" or "Hale") filed this class action against Defendant AFNI, Inc. ("Defendant" or "AFNI") alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq. Plaintiffs' class was certified on October 23, 2009. Presently before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment on the issue of liability under the FDCPA. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiffs' motion is GRANTED, and Defendant's motion is DENIED.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Hale claims that he first learned of the alleged debt central to this case in January of 2008, when a credit monitoring company listed a $267 debt to Verizon on his credit report. (Plaintiff's Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts ("PSOF") ¶ 9.) When Hale obtained a full copy of his credit report, he discovered that AFNI was the company reporting the Verizon debt. (Id. ¶ 10.) Although AFNI claims to have sent Hale an initial collection letter on November 10, 2007, Hale denies ever having received such a letter. (Defendant's Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts ("DSOF") ¶ 42.) Unable to recognize the debt listed on his credit report, Hale sent AFNI a letter on March 28, 2008, requesting additional information about his alleged debt and stating, in relevant part:

I just pulled a copy of my credit report and noticed that your agency is reporting that I owe you a debt. I was not aware of this debt until now, and under my rights under the FDCPA, I request that you validate this debt. Be advised that this is not a refusal to pay . . . . . .

Please provide me with the following information: What the money you say I owe is for;

Explain and show me how you calculated what you say I owe;

Provide me with copies of any papers that show I agreed to pay what you say I owe; Provide a verification or copy of any judgment if applicable;

Identify the original creditor;

Prove the Statute of Limitations has not expired on this account Show me that you are licensed to collect in my state Provide me with our license numbers and Registered Agent . . .

I would also like to request, in writing, that no telephone contact be made by your offices to my home or to my place of employment (PSOF ¶¶ 11, 13 (emphasis in original).) In this letter, Hale accurately cited AFNI's account number for the Verizon debt and unambiguously identified the account he was disputing. (Id. ¶¶ 14-15). AFNI responded to Hale's letter on May 9, 2008 by sending a form letter that stated, in relevant part:

We have received your dispute but we are unable to investigate at this time. You have provided insufficient information to substantiate your claim. We will complete our investigation within 30 days of receipt of the following information:  The specific information you dispute  An explanation of the basis of your dispute  All supporting documentation to substantiate your claim. Examples may include but is [sic] not limited to, photocopy of your driver's license, the identification page of your passport, proof of residency at time of service, receipts, etc.  A valid phone number to contact you . . .

This communication is from a debt collector. Any information obtained will be used for that purpose. You have the right to inspect your credit.

(Id. ¶ 16.) AFNI sent this letter to Hale automatically 25 days after AFNI received Hale's March 28, 2008 letter. (Id. ¶ 17.)

On May 16, 2008, Hale wrote letters to three credit reporting agencies disputing the debt that AFNI reported. (Id. ¶ 19.) These reporting agencies, in turn, notified Hale that AFNI had verified his debt. (Id. ¶ 20.) Hale wrote to AFNI four more times-on May 12, June 4, and June 9, and June 11 of 2008-requesting that AFNI delete the Verizon debt from his credit reports. (Id. ¶¶ 21, 24, 32.) AFNI never responded to any of these requests. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 25, 33.)

Hale filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau on May 15, 2008 and the Illinois Attorney General's office on June 20, 2008. (Id. ¶ 23, 34.) In response to Hale's complaint with the Better Business Bureau, on June 5, 2008 AFNI disclosed that: (a) the debt it reported as a Verizon account was actually a GTE account; (b) the account had been opened on August 6, 1999 at 1406 Chesterfield Drive in Carrollton, Texas; and (c) the account had been opened for three years. (Id. ¶ 26.) As a result of his complaint with the Illinois Attorney General, Hale also learned the telephone number associated with the alleged debt. (Id. ¶ 35.) (The Attorney General forwarded Hale's complaint to Verizon, and Verizon sent Hale a letter listing the phone number on the account at issue. (Id. ¶¶ 34-35.)

Hale and his wife lived at 1406 Chesterfield Drive in Carrollton, Texas for one year from August 1998 to August 1999. (Id. ¶ 36.) When Hale and his wife moved from 1406 Chesterfield Drive in August 1999, they canceled their account for telephone service. (Id. ¶ 38.) The Verizon account associated with the debt AFNI reported was opened in August 1999, the same month that Hale and his wife moved and canceled their phone service. (Id. ¶ 39.) On July 3, 2009, after Hale filed his complaints with the Better Business Bureau and the Illinois Attorney General, and this information came to light, AFNI finally requested that the credit reporting agencies delete the Verizon debt from Hale's credit reports. (Id. ¶ 40.)

AFNI has sent the form letter Hale received in response to a wide range of consumer communications, including letters from:

(a) a writer offering partial payment and stating that the writer could not pay more because he or she was disabled and on state aid;

(b) an attorney stating that the debt at issue had been discharged in bankruptcy;

(c) persons stating that their respective debts had been discharged in bankruptcy;

(d) persons stating that the debtor was deceased;

(e) a writer stating that he or she was in prison and was prohibited by prison rules from paying the debt;

(f) a writer stating that he or she had been in prison during the time the debt had been incurred and who provided as proof his or her Illinois ...


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