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Burnside v. Afni, Inc.

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

October 21, 2013

BRYSON BURNSIDE, Plaintiff,
v.
AFNI, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ROBERT W. GETTLEMAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Bryson Burnside filed a one-count complaint alleging that defendant, AFNI, Inc., violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. §1692 et seq. ("FDCPA"). Defendant has filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). For the reasons stated below, the court denies defendant's motion.

BACKGROUND[1]

Defendant is a debt collector seeking to collect an alleged debt for AT&T telephone services rendered to plaintiff. Defendant mailed a letter to plaintiff's parents' residence in an attempt to collect the alleged debt from plaintiff. The letter was addressed to plaintiff. Plaintiff had not lived at his parents' address for four years and that address is not where the service was provided. Plaintiff's parents opened the letter and discovered the debt collection, to plaintiff's embarrassment.

DISCUSSION

Standard of Review

A party may move for judgment on the pleadings after the pleadings are closed and early enough not to delay trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Courts "review the judgment for the defendants by employing the same standard... when reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)." Pisciotta v. Old Nat. Bancorp , 499 F.3d 629, 633 (7th Cir. 2007). All well-pleaded allegations in the complaint are accepted as true and all reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the plaintiff. Id . As with Rule 12(b) motions, courts grant a Rule 12(c) motion only if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff cannot prove any facts that would support his claim for relief." Thomason v. Nachtrieb , 888 F.2d 1202, 1204 (7th Cir. 1989). A plaintiff must always "allege enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Limestone Dev. Corp. v. Vill. of Lemont, Ill. , 520 F.3d 797, 803 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

Analysis

Plaintiff alleges that defendant, in attempting to collect a debt for AT&T services, communicated with a third party in violation of the FDCPA. The FDCPA was enacted to "eliminate abusive debt collection practices by debt collectors, to insure that those debt collectors who refrain from using abusive debt collection practices are not competitively disadvantaged..." 15 U.S.C. § 1692(e). Congress found "abundant evidence of the use of abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices by many debt collectors. Abusive debt collection practices contribute to the number of personal bankruptcies, to marital instability, to the loss of jobs, and to invasions of individual privacy." 15 U.S.C. § 1692(a). Plaintiff complains that defendant violated FDCPA section 1692c, which prohibits debt collectors from communicating with third parties regarding the collection of a consumer's debt:

Except as provided in section 1692b of this title, without the prior consent of the consumer given directly to the debt collector, or the express permission of a court of competent jurisdiction, or as reasonably necessary to effectuate a postjudgment judicial remedy, a debt collector may not communicate, in connection with the collection of any debt, with any person other than the consumer, his attorney, a consumer reporting agency if otherwise permitted by law, the creditor, the attorney of the creditor, or the attorney of the debt collector.

15 U.S.C. §1692c(b). The FDCPA defines "communication" as "the conveying of information regarding a debt directly or indirectly to any person through any medium." 15 U.S.C. §1692a(2).

Communication with a Third Party

Defendant moves for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that sending a letter to plaintiff's parents' home, but addressed to plaintiff, was not a communication with a third party under the FDCPA. Defendant's principal argument is that because the envelope was addressed with plaintiff's name only, it was not sent to and cannot be considered a communication to a third party. The issue turns on whether a letter bearing plaintiff's name but the street address of plaintiff's parents can be considered a communication under the meaning of the act.[2] More narrowly, did the mailing convey information about plaintiff's debt directly or indirectly to his parents through any medium?

Despite the name on the letter, the debt collection letter was received at plaintiff's parents' residence. The "factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the speculative level, assuming that all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint are true." See Felsenthal v. Travelers Property Cas. Ins. Co., No. 12-cv-7402, 2013 WL 469475 (N.D.Ill. Feb. 7, 2013), citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The letter was successfully delivered to its destination. That the letter bore plaintiff's name and not his parents' does not negate the fact that a third party learned of plaintiff's alleged debt; defendant, a debt collector, attempted to collect an alleged debt from the third party's address. The spirit of the FDCPA is to protect consumers from abusive debt collection practices. "Because it is designed to protect consumers, the FDCPA is, in general, liberally construed in favor of consumers to effect its purpose." Blair ...


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