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Rhone v. Medical Business Bureau, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

June 21, 2019

DIANE RHONE Plaintiff,
v.
MEDICAL BUSINESS BUREAU, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Virginia M. Kendall United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Diane Rhone moves under Rule 60(b) for relief from the Court's final judgment order on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Rhone's motion comes to the Court after the case was remanded from the Court of Appeals. Because Rhone failed to cross-appeal the judgment from which she now seeks relief, the issue was waived and is not within the scope of remand. For the reasons stated here, Rhone's motion [Dkt. 97] is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Summary Judgment

         Rhone sued Medical Business Bureau, LLC (“MBB”) for violating two provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”)-Section 1692e, which prohibits debt collectors from making “false representations” about “the character, amount, or legal status of any debt, ” and Section 1692f, which prohibits debt collectors from collecting or attempting to collect a debt using “unfair or unconscionable means.” 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692e(2)(A), 1692f; see also Rhone v. Med. Bus. Bureau, LLC, No. 16 C 2512, 2017 WL 4875297, at *2-3 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 25, 2017) (“Rhone I”), rev'd, 915 F.3d 438, 439 (7th Cir. 2019) (“Rhone II”).

         Both claims were based on the same conduct by MBB. Rhone received physical therapy from the Illinois Bone and Joint Institute (“IBJI”) in January and February 2013. IBJI billed Rhone $134 per session. Rhone's insurance covered a portion of the charge, leaving her with a $60 copay for each session. Rhone did not pay her portion of the bills and IBJI assigned the debt to defendant MBB for collection. MBB eventually reported to Equifax that Rhone owes nine debts of $60 each. See Rhone II, 915 F.3d at 439.

         Both parties moved for summary judgment on both claims. See Rhone I, 2017 WL 4875297, at *2-3. The parties did not dispute that Rhone received physical therapy on nine separate occasions or that she owed $540 total. Id. at *2. The nine debts appeared on nine separate tradelines on Rhone's Equifax credit report. Id. MBB argued that IBJI presented it with nine separate debts for $60 each and that it accurately reported those nine debts to Equifax. Rhone argued that presenting her $540 debt as nine separate $60 debts, resulting in nine separate trade-lines on her Equifax credit report, misstated the character of the debt in violation of Section 1692e. Id. Judge Der-Yeghiayan agreed with Rhone and ruled in her favor on the Section 1692e claim (granting Rhone's motion for summary judgment and denying MBB's), but ruled in MBB's favor on the Section 1692f claim (granting MBB's motion for summary judgment and denying Rhone's). Id. at *2-3. As to Section 1692f, Judge Der-Yeghiayan held that Rhone could not base her claims under both Sections on the same conduct, and that seeking relief for the same harm under both Sections would result in a double recovery. Id. at *3. Judge Der-Yeghiayan heard oral argument on the issue of statutory damages and in open court awarded Rhone $1, 000 for prevailing on the Section 1692e claim. See Dkt. 72. During oral argument, counsel for Rhone stated that she was not seeking to recover any actual damages resulting from MBB's violation. Id. Though Judge Der-Yeghiayan's order resolved all disputed matters between the parties (other than attorney's fees and costs) and the civil case was terminated, final judgment was not entered. See Dkt. 70.

         II. Appeal

         In November 2017, MBB appealed the Court's decision in Rhone's favor on the Section 1692e claim. Rhone II, 915 F.3d at 439. The Court of Appeals initially ordered the parties to submit memoranda regarding whether it had jurisdiction over the appeal. See Rhone II, No. 17-3408 (7th Cir. 2017), Dkt. 4-9. The Court of Appeals then ordered the parties to submit statements regarding whether they intended to file a request with the district court for “judgment . . . set out in a separate document” under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 58(d), presumably because final judgment had not been entered. Id. Dkt. 10, 13, 15. The parties filed such a request with the district court on February 9, 2018, nearly four months after Judge Der-Yeghiayan ruled on their summary-judgment motions. See Dkt. 90. By that time, Judge Der-Yeghiayan had retired from the bench and the Executive Committee had ordered the case reassigned to this Court. See Dkt. 89. After finding that Judge Der-Yeghiayan's summary-judgment order “disposed of all disputed matters material to th[e] case, ” the Court entered final judgment. Dkt. 94. MBB then advised the Court of Appeals that final judgment had been entered. Rhone II, No. 17-3408, Dkt. 16.

         The Court of Appeals then considered the merits of MBB's appeal and reversed the district court's judgment, holding that MBB did not misstate the character of Rhone's debt because the credit report was “factually correct, ” given that “Rhone incurred nine debts of $60 each.” Rhone II, 915 F.3d at 439. The Court of Appeals explained that reporting the debts separately did not misstate their character under Section 1692e because “character” refers to the kind of obligation (e.g., secured, unsecured, subordinate, etc.), and not to whether “amounts due for individual purchases from a single merchant are stated separately or as a total.” Id. at 439-440. (“[T]he number of transactions between a debtor and a single merchant does not affect the genesis, nature, or priority of the debt and so does not concern its character.”) Rhone did not cross-appeal the Court's grant of summary judgment in MBB's favor on the Section 1692f claim, and that issue was not raised on appeal in any way.

         III. Rhone's Present Motion

         Now that the case has been remanded back to this Court, Rhone moves under Rule 60(b) for relief from the Court's judgment in MBB's favor on the Section 1692f claim. Rhone argues that the Court ruled in MBB's favor on the 1692f claim solely because it had already ruled in her favor and granted her relief on the 1692e claim and wanted to avoid a double-recovery scenario- a decision that, according to Rhone, did not determine the merits of her 1692f claim. Now that the Court of Appeals has reversed the Court's 1692e ruling, Rhone argues that there is no longer a valid basis for the Court's 1692f ruling and equity demands that the Court reconsider the merits of Rhone's 1692f claim.

         DISCUSSION

         Rhone's motion presents a threshold question: what issues are open for this Court's consideration on remand? Under the “law of the case” doctrine, “[t]here are two major limitations on the scope of a remand. First, any issue that could have been but was not raised on appeal is waived and thus not remanded.” United States v. Husband, 312 F.3d 247, 250-51, n.3 (7th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted); see also United States v. Morris, 259 F.3d 894, 898 (7th Cir. 2001) (“[P]arties cannot use the accident of remand as an opportunity to reopen waived issues.”) The second limitation, less relevant to Rhone's motion, holds that “any issue conclusively decided by [the Court of Appeals] is not remanded.” Husband, 312 F.3d at 251. “The law of the case doctrine is a corollary to the mandate rule and prohibits a lower court from reconsidering on remand an ...


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