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David Johnson v. Trans Union

March 22, 2012

DAVID JOHNSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TRANS UNION, LLC, EXPERIAN INFORMATION SOLUTIONS, INC., EQUIFAX INFORMATION SERVICES, LLC, AND UNKNOWN DEFENDANTS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Feinerman

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

David Johnson brings this action under the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., and Illinois law against three credit reporting agencies-Trans Union, LLC, Experian Information Solutions, Inc., Equifax Information Services, LLC-for including allegedly inaccurate information on his consumer reports and for failing to comply with his requests to correct the alleged inaccuracies. The court denied Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Doc. 70. Now before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Defendants' motions are granted and Johnson's motions are denied.

Background

Johnson's status as a pro se litigant does not excuse him from complying with Local Rule 56.1. See McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993) ("we have never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel"); Coleman v. Goodwill Indus. of Se. Wis., Inc., 423 F. App'x 642, 643 (7th Cir. 2011) ("Though courts are solicitous of pro se litigants, they may nonetheless require strict compliance with local rules."); Wilson v. Kautex, Inc., 371 F. App'x 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2010) ("strictly enforcing Local Rule 56.1 was well within the district court's discretion, even though Wilson is a pro se litigant") (citations omitted); Cady v. Sheahan, 467 F.3d 1057, 1061 (7th Cir. 2006) ("even pro se litigants must follow rules of civil procedure"). In fact, Local Rule 56.2 requires a party moving for summary judgment against a pro se litigant to serve and file a "Notice to Pro Se Litigants Opposing Summary Judgment," which explains in detail the demands of Local Rule 56.1. See N.D. Ill. L.R. 56.2. Defendants served Johnson with three separate copies of the Local Rule 56.2 Notice. Docs. 123, 135, 146.

Despite all this, Johnson has failed to comply with Local Rule 56.1. Defendants support their summary judgment motions (Docs. 119, 131, 144) with memoranda (Docs. 120, 138, 148) and Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statements (Docs. 121, 140, 147). Johnson has responded with numerous filings (Docs. 172, 173, 175, 179, 183-191), including three titled "Objections and Responses" to Defendants' statements of material facts (Docs. 183, 184, 191). The "Objections and Responses" appear to be Johnson's attempt at Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) responses, but they are noncompliant.

Johnson's noncompliance has serious consequences for his opposition to Defendants' summary judgment motions. Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) plainly states that if a party opposing summary judgment disagrees with any facts asserted in the movant's Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement, the opposing party must submit "a concise response to the movant's statement that shall contain . specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon" (emphasis added). Although Johnson disputes most of the facts asserted in Defendants' Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statements, he does not specifically reference any evidence to support his positions. That alone is reason enough to deem admitted the material facts set forth in Defendants' Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statements. See N.D. Ill. L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(C) ("All material facts set forth in the statement required of the moving party will be deemed to be admitted unless controverted by the statement of the opposing party."); Cracco v. Vitran Express, Inc., 559 F.3d 625, 632 (7th Cir. 2009); FTC v. Bay Area Bus. Council, Inc., 423 F.3d 627, 634 (7th Cir. 2005); Smith v. Lamz, 321 F.3d 680, 682-83 (7th Cir. 2003); Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 922 (7th Cir. 1994) (collecting cases).

Johnson also includes legal arguments to support his disputes with Defendants' asserted facts. "It is inappropriate to make legal arguments in a Rule 56.1 statement" or response. Judson Atkinson Candies, Inc. v. Latini-Hohberger Dhimantec, 529 F.3d 371, 382 n.2 (7th Cir. 2008); see also Farmer v. DirectSat USA, LLC, 2010 WL 3927640, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 4, 2010). Johnson's legal arguments therefore are disregarded. See Sys. Dev. Integration, LLC v. Computer Sci. Corp., 739 F. Supp. 2d 1063, 1068 (N.D. Ill. 2010) ("the purpose of Rule 56.1 statements is to identify the relevant evidence supporting the material facts, not to make factual or legal arguments, and thus the Court will not address the parties' arguments made in their Rule 56.1 statements and responses") (citation omitted). The court notes for good measure that the legal arguments in Johnson's Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) responses, even if considered, would not change the disposition of the summary judgment motions. And the court also disregards any legal arguments set forth in Defendants' Local Rule 56.1 statements and responses.

Johnson also failed to comply with Local Rule 56.1 in connection with his own summary judgment motions. Docs. 157, 163, 167. Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) requires parties moving for summary judgment to submit "[w]ith each motion . a statement of material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue" (emphasis added). The only Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement Johnson submitted with his motions was in conjunction with the motion against Trans Union. Doc. 159. Over two months later, Johnson filed three more Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statements. Docs. 206, 208, 210. All of Johnson's Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statements include legal arguments, which are disregarded. Moreover, Johnson's memoranda in support of his summary judgment motions do not cite to his Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statements, or to any evidence at all, which by itself warrants the denial of his motions. See Cichon v. Exelon Generating Co., 401 F.3d 803, 809 (7th Cir. 2005) ("[w]e have ... repeatedly held that a district court is entitled to expect strict compliance with [Local] Rule 56.1") (alterations in original and internal quotation marks omitted); Jorden v. United States, 2011 WL 4808165, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 11, 2011); Sledge v. Bellwood Sch. Dist. 88, 2011 WL 2457920, at *2 (N.D. Ill. June 17, 2011) (denying summary judgment motion due to movant's violation of Local Rule 56.1); Eva's Bridal Ltd. v. Halanick Enters., Inc., 2010 WL 2035720, at *5 (N.D. Ill. May 19, 2010) ("Failure to comply with Local Rule 56.1 is grounds for denial of a summary judgment motion."). Even putting aside that fatal flaw, the evidence that Johnson's Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) statements cites to support his asserted facts either (a) does not actually support the fact asserted or (b) is inadmissible. And regardless, the court notes that consideration of those facts would not affect the disposition of the summary judgment motions.

The following facts are set forth as favorably to Johnson as the record and Local Rule 56.1 permit. Johnson is a "consumer" as defined by the FCRA. See 15 U.S.C. § 1681a(c). Each defendant is a "consumer reporting agency" ("CRA") as defined by the FCRA. See id. § 1681a(f). CRAs collect credit information on consumers and make that information available in "consumer reports" provided to parties engaged in credit transactions. See id. § 1681a(d)(1)(A). CRAs receive credit information from various sources, known as "furnishers," such as banks, credit unions, automobile dealers, student loan providers, and state child support enforcement agencies. Credit information reported by a furnisher to a CRA is called a "tradeline," which usually includes a consumer's account number, account status, and payment and balance information. Defendants' furnishers are contractually required to provide accurate tradeline information. Defendants have procedures in place to ensure that furnishers provide accurate information.

In September 2009, Johnson mailed letters to Trans Union, Experian, and Equifax disputing an "Illinois Department of Children and Family Services" tradeline in his credit file. Johnson asserted that the item listed on his consumer reports as "overdue support" was erroneous because no judgment had ever been entered against him for overdue child support. Johnson's correspondence included a copy of a Uniform Order for Support entered by the Circuit Court of Cook County in Johnson's divorce case; the order required Johnson to make semimonthly child support payments of $444.00 commencing on May 15, 2004. Doc. 121-6 at 13. Defendants treated Johnson's correspondence as disputing a tradeline from the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services ("HFS"), which is Illinois' state child support enforcement agency, see 89 Ill. Admin. Code § 160.10(a).

All three defendants initiated investigations-called "reinvestigations" under the FCRA, see 15 U.S.C. § 1681i-of Johnson's claim. The reinvestigations focused on determining the accuracy of the tradeline information provided by HFS. Defendants contacted HFS and requested verification. HFS responded to all three defendants, indicating that the information on Johnson's HFS account tradeline, including a past due amount of $21,207, was reported accurately. HFS also told Trans Union and Experian that the balance due on Johnson's HFS account had increased from $21,207 to $21,611. Each defendant mailed Johnson the results of their respective reinvestigations, indicating that the HFS account tradeline remained in his file.

In January 2010, Johnson again contacted Defendants to dispute the HFS account tradeline. Johnson asserted that the tradeline was inaccurate and told at least Trans Union and Experian that $15,000 of child support payments had not been accounted for. Defendants again contacted HFS to verify the accuracy of Johnson's HFS account tradeline. HFS confirmed that the information was correct. HFS also reported to Trans Union and Experian that the balance due on Johnson's HFS account had increased from $18,120 to $18,524. Defendants notified Johnson of the results of their reinvestigations, and Experian recommended that Johnson contact HFS directly to resolve the dispute.

In early June 2010, Johnson sent letters to Trans Union and Experian to again dispute the HFS account tradeline. The letters asserted that HFS had not requested "a judicial order for 'Retroactive support' as required by [§ 160.60(e)(3)] of the Illinois Administrative Code." Doc. 121 at ¶ 47; Doc. 140 at ¶ 49; Doc. 121-8 at 11; Doc. 140-2 at 10. Johnson's letters did not contain any new factual information or identify any changed circumstances from his previous correspondence. Trans Union initiated a third reinvestigation, again contacting HFS. HFS verified that Johnson's HFS account tradeline was accurate through May 2010, and decreased the balance due from $15,524 to $15,516. Trans Union mailed Johnson the results of its reinvestigation. Experian mailed Johnson a letter explaining that, pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1681i(a)(3)(A), it would not reinvestigate his dispute at that time because it had already investigated the HFS account tradeline and verified its accuracy. Experian again recommended that Johnson contact HFS directly to resolve the dispute.

In late June 2010, Johnson contacted Trans Union and Experian for a fourth and final time to dispute the HFS account tradeline. In his letter to Experian, Johnson stated that the tradeline was inaccurate because "[t]he family court has not made a determination that David Johnson is in 'arrearage' with regard to payments of child support and . []HFS lacks the authority to enter any administrative order against David Johnson." Doc. 140-2 at 20. Both Experian and Trans Union reinvestigated the tradeline, again contacting HFS. In response, HFS verified Johnson's HFS account tradeline through June 2010 and increased his balance due from $15,520 to $15,958. Trans Union and Experian each mailed ...


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