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Gordon Swearingen and Majolis Swearingen v. Portfolio Recovery Associates

September 24, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Edmond E. Chang


Plaintiffs Gordon and Majolis Swearingen*fn1 sued Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC (Portfolio), alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq., stemming from Portfolio's attempts to collect a debt from Majolis.*fn2 The Swearingens claim they are entitled to statutory damages under the FDCPA because Portfolio's pattern of phone calls amounted to harassment and because Portfolio's threats to sue on the outstanding debt were prohibited by the FDCPA in light of the age of the debt. Portfolio moves for summary judgment on all counts, and seeks attorneys' fees. R. 31. Although the Swearingens might not have the most factually persuasive case, they have presented enough to raise a genuine issue of material fact. Thus, for the following reasons, Portfolio's motion is denied.


In deciding this summary judgment motion, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to Gordon and Majolis Swearingen. Gordon and Majolis are husband and wife and have been married for ten years. R. 46, Pl.'s Stmt. of Additional Facts (PSOF) ¶ 1. Portfolio is in the business of, among other things, collecting on unpaid, outstanding account balances. R. 41, Def.'s Amended Stmt. of Facts (DSOF) ¶ 5.

Sometime in the 1980s, Majolis incurred two debts whose value currently totals around $10,700. DSOF ¶¶ 1, 2; PSOF ¶¶ 2, 3. Portfolio purchased these debts from the original creditors and, beginning on October 14, 2010, began placing phone calls in an attempt to collect on them. DSOF ¶¶ 3, 25. Portfolio placed its last call to the Swearingens on December 28, 2010. DSOF ¶ 25. Portfolio admits to placing 22 calls during the period between October 14, 2010 and December 28, 2010. DSOF ¶ 25. The Swearingens contend the number of calls placed by Portfolio was "far higher," and totaled at least 32.*fn3 PSOF ¶¶ 30, 50. The parties agree that Portfolio never placed more than two calls in a single day. DSOF ¶ 27.

Portfolio placed at least some of its calls to the phone number 319-393-4693, which is the home telephone number for Gordon and Majolis.*fn4 Each time Portfolio attempted to call for Majolis, Gordon spoke with the Portfolio representative and refused to give the phone to Majolis. DSOF ¶¶ 26, 32. The Swearingens allege that Portfolio also called Gordon repeatedly on his personal cell phone. PSOF ¶¶ 6, 17, 22, 26, 31.*fn5 Gordon also testified that each time he spoke with a Portfolio representative, he asked them to stop calling. PSOF ¶ 35.

Gordon admits that he, at times, made false statements to the Portfolio representative, including that he and Majolis had separated, in an effort to convince Portfolio to stop calling. DSOF ¶ 33; PSOF ¶¶ 48. In all the calls it placed, Portfolio was never able to speak with Majolis. DSOF ¶ 26. Gordon also testified to, and Portfolio denies, the following additional facts: Each time Portfolio called Gordon's cell phone, Gordon told the Portfolio representative that they would not be able to reach Majolis on that number, and requested that Portfolio stop calling his cell phone. PSOF ¶¶ 12, 24, 34, 35, 37. Gordon also requested, on numerous occasions, that Portfolio send a letter detailing Majolis's debts. PSOF ¶¶ 14, 20, 25, 38. On around four or five calls Portfolio used an "extremely loud buzzing sound" during the conversation. PSOF ¶ 42. Lastly, Gordon testified that the Portfolio representatives who called threatened to file a lawsuit to collect the debts owed. PSOF ¶¶ 5, 31, 39-41.

Gordon admitted that as the calls continued over the 10-week period, he began to raise his voice and use profanity, and even used a highly offensive racial slur on one occasion.*fn6 PSOF ¶¶ 45-47. These admissions are confirmed by a tape recording of a call between Portfolio and Gordon from December 28, 2010. DSOF ¶ 44; R. 46-4, Pl.'s Exh. C (audio file).


Summary judgment is proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).Rule 56 "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). 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. Shannon, 539 F.3d 751, 756 (7th Cir. 2008).

The evidence presented at the summary judgment stage must comport with the Federal Rules of Evidence and be admissible at trial, United States v. 5443 Suffield Terrance, Skokie, Ill., 607 F.3d 504, 510 (7th Cir. 2010), or must consist of affidavits or declarations "made on personal knowledge, set[ting] out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show[ing] that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(4). A non-movant's own deposition testimony may alone be sufficient to create genuine issues of material fact and defeat a motion for summary judgment if the party's testimony is based on personal knowledge or would otherwise be admissible at trial. See Marr v. Bank of America, N.A., 662 F.3d 963, 968 (7th Cir. 2011) ("[U]ncorroborated, self-serving testimony, if based on personal knowledge or firsthand experience, may prevent summary judgment against the non-moving party, as such testimony can be evidence of disputed material facts."). The Court does not assess the credibility of witnesses or weigh evidence, Abdullahi v. City of Madison, 423 F.3d 763, 773 (7th Cir. 2005), and will not grant summary judgment if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).


"Congress enacted the FDCPA in 1977, 91 Stat. 874, to eliminate abusive debt collection practices, to ensure that debt collectors who abstain from such practices are not competitively disadvantaged, and to promote consistent state action to protect consumers." Jerman v. Carlisle, McNellie, Rini, Kramer & Ulrich LPA, - U.S. -, 130 S. Ct. 1605, 1608 (2010). "The primary goal of the FDCPA is to protect consumers from abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices." Bass v. Stolper, Koritzinsky, Brewster & Neider, SC, 111 F.3d 1322, 1324 (7th Cir. 1997); see also Keele v. Wexler, 149 F.3d 589, 594 (7th Cir. 1998) ("the FDCPA is designed to protect consumers from the unscrupulous antics of debt collectors, irrespective of whether a valid debt actually exists").

The enforcement provision of the Act imposes liability on "any debt collector who fails to comply with any provision of this title with respect to any person."15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a) (emphasis added). By its plain language then, the FDCPA provides relief for debtors as well as non-debtors, provided no limitation in scope is stated within the specific provision on which the plaintiff's allegations are based.*fn7 See Dunham v. Portfolio Recovery Assoc., Inc., 663 F.3d 997, 1001 (8th Cir. 2011) (noting that while certain provisions of the FDCPA restrict the scope of its application by using the word "consumer," other provisions apply broadly to "any person"); Rawlinson v. Law Office of William M. Rodow, LLC, 460 Fed. Appx. 254, 258 (4th Cir. 2012) (holding that the FDCPA may provide relief for a debtor's aunt); Jeter v. Credit Bureau, Inc., 760 F.2d 1168, 1178 (11th Cir. 1985); see also Flowers v. Accelerated Bureau of Collections, Inc., 96 C 4003, 1997 WL 136313, at *7-8 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 19, 1997) (noting that "[m]any courts have held that 'person' includes non-debtors who have nonetheless been harmed by an improper debt collection practice"); Villareal v. Snow, 95 C 2484, 1996 WL 28254, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 19, 1996) ("The courts have confirmed that even ...

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