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Gary Gould v. Claimassist

June 27, 2012

GARY GOULD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CLAIMASSIST, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stiehl, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

In this action, plaintiff Gary Gould alleges that defendant ClaimAssist, LLC violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by sending him a demand letter without a notice of debt, which the Act requires. See 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a). Now before the Court is defendant's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment (Docs. 17 & 18), and plain-tiff's response (Doc. 31).

On a motion to dismiss, if matters outside the pleadings are presented and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d). "All parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion." Id. Here, defendant's motion is labeled as an alternative motion for summary judgment, which gave plaintiff a reasonable opportunity to present material pertinent to it. See Miller v. Herman, 600 F.3d 726, 733 (7th Cir. 2010). And plaintiff did in fact treat it as an alternative motion for summary judgment by, among other things, including an affidavit (Doc. 31, Ex. 1). Thus the Court will treat defendant's motion as one for summary judgment and consider the matters outside the pleadings presented by the parties.

I.BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Gary Gould received medical treatment at Southern Illinois Hospital Services (the "Hospital") and incurred a debt of $3,453. He alleges the debt was transferred to defendant ClaimAssist, LLC for collection.

Defendant sent plaintiff a letter, which he attached to the original complaint. Toward the top, the letter says, "Balance Due: $3,453.00." The body of the letter says:

ClaimAssist has partnered with Southern Illinois Healthcare [sic] to process this medical bill.

As you may know, the paperwork associated with healthcare claims can be complex. ClaimAssist will work on your behalf in resolving this matter. Kindly complete the attached Accident Information Form and return in the envelope provided. You may also consider completing the form by using our website: http://www.ccsusa.com/claimassist/accidentform/

Once we receive this information, we will prepare your claim and submit the required paperwork to your insurance company.

If you have an attorney working on this claim, please send us their name, address, and telephone number. We will contact them to discuss the proper handling of this account.

If you have any questions, or need more information, please feel free to contact me at the telephone number listed below. Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter. (Doc. 2, Ex. A).*fn1 The letter is signed by an "Insurance Recovery Analyst." A box of text in the lower right says "IMPORTANT Questionnaire Attached." And a two-page questionnaire, the "Motor Vehicle Accident Information Form," is attached.

Plaintiff alleges that defendant violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by not sending certain notice requirements within five days of the letter above. See 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a); McKinney v. Cadleway Props., Inc., 548 F.3d 496, 502 (7th Cir. 2008). (For in-stance, § 1692g(a)(3) requires written notice that the debt collector will assume the debt is valid unless the consumer disputes the debt within 30 days.) Plaintiff seeks to recover damages for his anger, anxiety, emotional distress, and frustration. He also seeks statutory damages of $1,000 under § 1692k(a)(2)(A) for each violation of the Act.*fn2

Defendant includes with its motion for summary judgment an affidavit from the associate general counsel for the Hospital, John Daly (Doc. 18, Ex. A). Daly explains the Hospital's billing procedures as follows: When the Hospital completes medical procedures for a patient, it first bills any third-party payors, such as private insurance companies and government insurance programs. Defendant specifically helps the Hospital process the third-party-payor claims that arise from motor-vehicle and work-related accidents. Then, when all claims have been processed by third-party payors, if a balance is still owed, the Hospital will bill the patient through a medical billing company. And at that point, if the patient does not pay, the Hospital may send the account to a collection agency. The Hospital uses a different company for collections, not defendant.

Daly says the Hospital had treated plaintiff for injuries he may have sustained in a car accident. It therefore referred his account to defendant to process any third-party-payor claims. Daly notes that the debt for plaintiff's medical services, however, was still owed to the Hospital; it did not transfer or assign the debt to defendant. So, the Hospital was still processing third-party-payor claims and had not yet referred plaintiff's account to its medical billing company for ...


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