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Garcia v. MiraMed Revenue Group, LLC

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

August 16, 2019

Jorge Garcia, Plaintiff,
MiraMed Revenue Group, LLC and Does 1-10, Defendants.


          Manish S. Shah, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Jorge Garcia brings a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act claim against Miramed Revenue Group, asserting that Miramed continued contacting him after his lawyers sent an online message to stop, in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1692c(c). Miramed moves for summary judgment, arguing that Garcia failed to properly notify it to cease and desist collection efforts and that if a violation occurred, it was the result of a bona fide error, for which Miramed cannot be held liable. For the reasons discussed below, the motion is granted.

         I. Legal Standards

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute as to any material fact exists 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, 248 (1986). I construe all disputed facts in favor of the nonmoving party. Mollet v. City of Greenfield, 926 F.3d 894, 896 (7th Cir. 2019).

         II. Background

         When Plaintiff Jorge Garcia failed to pay a debt he owed to Franciscan Health Chicago Heights, it placed Garcia's account with Miramed[1] for collection. [43] at 1-2 ¶¶ 3-4.[2] To collect, Miramed sent Garcia three letters. Id. at 2 ¶ 5. Each prominently displayed phone numbers and a mailing address and stated, “Please Send All Correspondence, Including Bankruptcy Notices, To: MiraMed Revenue Group, 360 E. 22nd St., Lombard, IL 60148.” Id. at 2 ¶ 6. The only website referenced in the letters was a third-party website where Garcia could make online payments ( Id. at 2 ¶ 7. The letters did not provide an email address or otherwise invite email communications. Id. at 2 ¶ 8.

         On September 20, 2017, on behalf of Garcia, Lemberg Law composed a message on the website Id. at 9 ¶ 1.[3] The website belonged to Miramed Global Services, Inc., an affiliate and parent company of defendant Miramed, Id. at 3 ¶ 11, but it displayed Miramed's name and logo. Id. at 10 ¶ 4. Lemberg Law used Microsoft's snipping tool to screenshot the contents of the message and saved that screenshot to its servers. Id. at 9 ¶ 1. The message identified Garcia's name, asked Miramed to stop calling Garcia's cell phone, and listed Garcia's phone number and email address. Id. at 9-10 ¶ 2. Upon submission, the website said, “Thank you for your message!” Id. at 10 ¶ 3.[4] Miramed called Garcia to collect on his debt four times after September 20. Id. at 10 ¶ 9.

         If Miramed Global thought that a message submitted on its website was meant for Miramed, it would forward the message to Miramed, but there were no policies or procedures in place to ensure that it did so. See Id. at 8 ¶¶ 32-33; 10 ¶¶ 5-6; see also [38-2] at 46:6-16.[5] On average, Miramed Global forwarded a handful of messages to Miramed per month. [38-2] at 46:17-22. Miramed Global deleted records of messages submitted through the website within thirty days of their receipt. Id. at 10 ¶ 7. When Miramed and Miramed Global checked to see whether they had any record of Garcia's cease and desist message, they could not find it on their servers. Id. at 10 ¶¶ 7-8.

         If a debtor requested that Miramed stop contacting him, Miramed's policy required it to remove the debtor's phone number from his account. Id. at 6 ¶ 26.[6] An account representative also added a “do not call” or “DNC” code in the phone number field and entered another code to stop letters from being sent. Id. at 6-7 ¶ 27. Miramed then added a final XAZ code to close the account, and it trained its employees not to contact accounts with these codes. Id. at 7 ¶¶ 28-29. These policies were part of Miramed's standard operating procedures, which Miramed provided to all employees. Id. at 7 ¶ 30.

         On November 1, 2017, Garcia's attorney sent Miramed a letter regarding Garcia's claims. Id. at 8 ¶ 35. In response, Miramed followed its policies and procedures and coded Garcia's account to cease and desist communications. Id. at 9 ¶ 36. Miramed initiated no further communications after receiving the letter. Id. at 9 ¶ 37.

         III. Analysis

         The FDCPA requires that “[i]f a consumer notifies a debt collector in writing that the consumer refuses to pay a debt or that the consumer wishes the debt collector to cease further communication with the consumer, the debt collector shall not communicate further with the consumer with respect to such debt, ” except in certain specific circumstances. 15 U.S.C. § 1692c(c). Miramed argues both that Garcia did not properly notify it of his request that it cease communications and that any violation was the result of a bona fide error.

         A. Bona Fide Error Defense

         A debt collector is not liable for a potential violation of the FDCPA if it was the result of a bona fide error. See 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(c). The bona fide error defense requires that a defendant show: (1) the presumed FDCPA violation was unintentional, (2) the violation resulted from a bona fide error, and (3) it occurred despite procedures reasonably adapted to avoid such error. Id.; Paz v. Portfolio Recovery Assocs., LLC, 924 F.3d 949, 952 (7th Cir. 2019). Though Miramed has procedures in place to cease collection efforts once it receives a request ...

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