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Miller v. Southwest Credit Systems, L.P.

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

October 16, 2019

CAROLYN MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
SOUTHWEST CREDIT SYSTEMS, L.P., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER AND OPINION

          REBECCA R. PALLMEYER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In March 2018, Plaintiff Carolyn Miller received a letter from Defendant debt collector, Southwest Credit Systems, L.P. (“SWC”), seeking to collect a $125.03 debt. In a section of the document titled “Account Summary, ” the letter identified the creditor as “MONI.” Ms. Miller alleges that “[t]here is no such entity as Moni, ” and that by listing MONI as the creditor, SWC failed to properly identify the creditor to whom Ms. Miller owed the debt, thus violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq. (Compl. [1] at ¶ 21.) Both parties move for summary judgment. Because the letter is not plainly confusing, and Miller has offered no evidence other than her own assertions to support her claim, the court grants summary judgment for Defendant SWC.

         BACKGROUND

         Defendant SWC is a debt collection agency based in Texas, licensed and doing business in Illinois. (Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. (“Pl.'s SOF”) [53] ¶¶ 2- 5; Am. Answer [13] at 3.) Plaintiff Carolyn Miller, née Carolyn Webber, is an Illinois resident who owes an unpaid balance on an account for a home security service provided by Platinum Protection, L.L.C. (“Platinum”). (Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 1, 11.) Miller's contract with Platinum, signed in July 2011, included a provision allowing Platinum to “assign or subcontract all or any of [the] [a]greement without notice to [the] [c]ustomer” to Monitronics Funding, L.P. or to Monitronics International, Inc. (Id. at ¶ 6; Platinum Contract ¶ 18, Ex. G to Pl.'s SOF [53-7].) At some time during the course of the contract, Platinum assigned the agreement to Monitronics International, Inc. (“Monitronics”). (See Pl.'s SOF ¶ 9.) In October 2014, Miller cancelled her security services with “Platinum Protection or Monitronics” in writing. (Cancellation Letter, Ex. D to Pl.'s SOF [53-4].)

         During September and October of 2016, Monitronics underwent a corporate rebranding and changed its name to MONI. (Pl.'s SOF ¶ 10; Def.'s Statement of Material Facts in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. (“Def.'s SOF”) [40] ¶ 9; Hazzard Aff. ¶ 6, Ex. A to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (“Def.'s MSJ”).) On November 30, 2017, MONI placed Miller's unpaid home security account with SWC for collection. (Hazzard Aff. ¶ 5.) Then, on March 29, 2018, SWC sent Miller a letter informing her that her “account ha[d] been assigned to this office for collection, ” and that she had a balance due of $125.03. (Collection Letter, Ex. E to Pl.'s SOF [53-5]; Ex. B to Def.'s MSJ [40-3].) In the top right-hand corner of the collection letter, there is a table in a box titled “Account Summary, ” summarizing information about the debt. (Id.) This table lists MONI under the heading “Creditor” and includes Miller's customer number with MONI[1] under the heading “Creditor Account No.” (Id.; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 14.) The Account Summary table also contains Miller's account reference number with SWC, [2] the principal amount of the debt, and the total amount due. (Collection Letter.) The body of the letter assures Miller that SWC would provide verification of the debt, if she disputed it, as well as the “name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor” upon request. (Id.) The letter contains no information explaining Monitronics' rebranding as MONI, and no other details about MONI. (Id.)

         Miller never made any payments on the debt, and there is no indication that Miller contacted SWC for additional information about the debt or the named creditor. She filed this lawsuit through counsel on June 12, 2018. Miller alleges that SWC's collection letter violates § 1692g of the FDCPA by failing to identify “the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a)(2). SWC and Miller both now move for summary judgment.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         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(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Cartrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). “An issue of material fact is ‘genuine' if ‘the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Bentrud v. Bowman, Heintz, Boscia & Vician, P.C., 794 F.3d 971, 974 (7th Cir. 2015) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). On cross-motions for summary judgment, the court “draw[s] inferences ‘in favor of the party against whom the motion under consideration was made.'” Bentrud, 794 F.3d at 874 (quoting McKinney v. Cadleway Props., Inc., 548 F.3d 496, 500 (7th Cir. 2008)).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Application of the FDCPA to this Dispute

         The FDCPA establishes certain requirements with which debt collectors must comply when writing and sending collection letters, also known as dunning letters, to consumers. See 15 U.S.C. § 1692g. For the FDCPA's requirements regarding the contents of dunning letters to apply, the party sending the letter must be a debt collector, the debtor must be a consumer, and the unpaid obligation that is the subject of the dunning letter must be a “debt” as that term is defined by the FDCPA. As a threshold matter, SWC challenges whether the FDCPA governs its activity in this case. The parties agree that SWC is a debt collector and that Miller is a consumer as defined by the FDCPA, see 15 U.S.C. § 1692a(3), (6), but SWC contests whether Miller has proven that the alleged debt at issue is a “debt” within the meaning of § 1692a(5). The FDCPA defines “debt” as “any obligation or alleged obligation of a consumer to pay money arising out of a transaction” in which “the subject of the transaction [is] primarily for personal, family, or household purposes.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692a(5). In her Rule 56.1 Statement of Undisputed Facts [53] accompanying her motion for summary judgment, Miller states that the security monitoring service that led to the unpaid balance with MONI was used in her home and “not for business purposes.” (Pl.'s SOF ¶ 8.) Rather than file the required response to Plaintiff's Statement of Fact, see Local Rule 56.1(b)(3), SWC filed a general response to Miller's motion for summary judgment. In that response, SWC concedes that “a contract for a home security system at her former residence” is “indicative of the debt being consumer in nature, ” but nevertheless contends that Miller has not met her burden of proving that she did not accrue the debt on behalf of a business. (Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (“Def.'s Resp.”) [62] ¶¶ 22-23.)

         The court finds Miller's submission sufficient on this score. Local Rule 56.1 provides that “[a]ll material facts set forth in the statement required of the moving party will be deemed to be admitted unless controverted by the statement of the opposing party.” N.D.Ill. L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(C); see Stevo v. Frasor, 662 F.3d 880, 887 (7th Cir. 2011) (“[D]istrict judges are entitled to insist on strict compliance with local rules designed to promote the clarity of summary judgment filings.”). By failing to properly dispute Plaintiff's statement of material facts in compliance with Local Rule 56.1(b), SWC, as the opposing party, is deemed to have admitted those facts. Accordingly, although in the end it is not dispositive, the court accepts that Miller's unpaid home security service account is a consumer debt, and that the FDCPA governs this dispute.

         II. FDCPA § 1692g

         To comply with the FDCPA, a debt collector must include certain information in either “the initial communication with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt, ” or in a notice sent within five days of the initial communication. 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a). In particular, the debt collector must clearly state the amount of the debt the consumer owes and the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed. 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a)(1)-(2). The debt collector must also provide the debtor with written notice that he or she may request information about the original creditor, if different from the current creditor, and that the consumer may dispute the validity of the debt. 15 U.S.C. § ...


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