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Irvin v. Nationwide Credit And Collection, Inc.

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

September 17, 2019




         Plaintiffs Cynthia Irvin, Lawrence Cameron, Antonio Jimenez and Cherise Funches have brought a consolidated complaint against defendant Nationwide Credit and Collection, Inc., alleging that defendant has violated the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment is denied, and defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.


         Defendant is an Illinois corporation that is engaged in the business of collecting debts. It is registered as a collection agency with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, and as such is a “debt collector” as that term is defined by the FDCPA.

         Plaintiffs each had outstanding balances owed to Rush University Medical Group or Loyola University Hospital. Each failed to make timely payments on their accounts. None had ever contacted the creditor to dispute their accounts or the balance on their accounts. As a result, defendant began to make collection efforts, including reporting plaintiffs' accounts to a credit bureau and sending a total of eight collection notice letters over the course of several years. Each of those notices listed defendant's fax number as: “Fax: (800) 485-0207.”

         Plaintiffs each sought the assistance of lawyers Michael Jacob Wood and or Celetha Chatman of Community Lawyers Group, Ltd. (“CLG”). Attorney Wood or Chatman then sent several letters (dated March 11, 19, 24, and April 10, 2018) to defendant purporting to dispute the amounts owed. Each letter provided as follows:

Dear Sir or Madame:
The above referenced client is represented by our firm regarding all matters in connection with the above referenced debt. Please direct any future communication regarding this account to our office. This client regrets not being able to pay, however, at this time they are insolvent as their monthly expenses exceed the amount of income they receive, and the debt reported on the credit report is inaccurate. If their circumstances change we will be in touch.

         Despite knowing that defendant's fax number was listed on the collection notices, and despite having used that number at least 15 times, attorney Wood searched the internet to discover a different fax number to which to send the “dispute letters.” He found that number “(630) 528-5010, ” on the American Collectors Association's (“ACA”) website. The ACA is a group of debt collectors and collection agencies around the country that attends forums and discusses industry practices and trends. Wood, a member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, is not a member of ACA and has no ACA login.

         It is not entirely clear from the record why plaintiffs' attorneys used this number, but it is undisputed that defendant did not use the number for collection purposes. Defendant has submitted evidence that it believed the number was no longer in service and that it has no record of that number receiving any faxes. The fax machine, which was located in defendant's main office was, however, apparently still operable at the time the faxes were sent because Wood has fax confirmations.[1] In any event, there is no evidence that any employee of defendant actually saw any of the faxes sent by CLG. According to defendant, the first time anyone at defendant saw the “dispute letters” was after this lawsuit was filed.

         Additionally, there is no dispute that defendant maintains policies and procedures for processing and responding to correspondence it receives from a consumer or attorney disputing a debt. CLG knew this when it sent the “dispute letters” because it had previously sent letters to the fax number provided by defendant and those dispute letters were processed properly.


         The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate 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(s); Celotex v. Catrett 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A moving party can prevail on summary judgment by either pointing to undisputed facts supported by the record that demonstrate that it is entitled to judgment, or it can point to an absence of evidence of an essential element of the responding party's claim or affirmative defense. Id. Once a moving party has met its burden, the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Becker v. Tenenbaum-Hill Associates, Inc., 914 F.2d 107, 110 (1990). The court does not weigh conflicting evidence or make credibility determinations, but considers the evidence as a whole and draws all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Green v. Carlson, 826 F.2d 647, 651 (7th Cir. 1987).

         A genuine issue of material fact exists when “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 (186). The nonmoving party, must, however, do more than simply “show there is some metaphysical doubt about the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmoving party's] position will be insufficient, there must be some evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [nonmoving] party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; see Modrowski v. Pigatto, 712 F.3d 1166, 1167 (7th Cir. 2003) (The ...

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