Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Consumer Law
Markakos v. Medicredit, Inc.
Medicredit sent Markakos a letter seeking to collect $1,830.56 on behalf of a creditor identified as “Northwest Community 2NDS” for medical services. Markakos’s lawyer sent Medicredit a letter disputing the debt (because the medical services were allegedly inadequate). Medicredit then sent a response that listed a different amount owed: $407.00. Markakos sued Medicredit for allegedly violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692g(a)(1)–(2), by sending letters to her that stated inconsistent debt amounts and that unclearly identified her creditor as “Northwest Community 2NDS”—which is not the name of any legal entity in Illinois.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case without prejudice. Markakos lacks standing to sue Medicredit under the Act because she did not allege that the deficient information harmed her in any way. She admits that she properly disputed her debt and never overpaid. Markakos’s only other alleged injury is that she was confused and aggravated by Medicredit’s letter. Winning or losing this suit would not change Markakos’s prospects; if Markakos lost, she would continue disputing her debt based on the inadequacy of the services and if she won, she would do the same. Not a penny would change hands, and no word or deed would be rescinded. View "Markakos v. Medicredit, Inc." on Justia Law
Mesa Laboratories, Inc. v. Federal Insurance Co.
Mesa sent faxes promoting its services. Some recipients had not consented to receive such faxes, and the faxed materials did not include an opt‐out notice as required by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(C). Orrington filed a class‐action lawsuit under the TCPA and the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act and alleged that Mesa’s conduct constituted common‐law conversion, nuisance, and trespass to chattels for Mesa’s appropriation of the recipients’ fax equipment, paper, ink, and toner. Mesa notified its insurer, Federal, of the Orrington action. Federal declined to provide a defense. After Mesa and Orrington reached a settlement, Mesa sued Federal, alleging breach of contract, bad faith, and improper delay and denial of claims under Colorado statutes.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Federal. The policy’s “Information Laws Exclusion” provides that the policy “does not apply to any damages, loss, cost or expense arising out of any actual or alleged or threatened violation of “ TCPA “or any similar regulatory or statutory law in any other jurisdiction.” The exclusion barred all of the claims because the common-law claims arose out of the same conduct underlying the statutory claims. View "Mesa Laboratories, Inc. v. Federal Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Zurich American Insurance Co. v. Ocwen Financial Corp.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment declaring that Zurich had no duty to defend Ocwen in the underlying litigation brought by a consumer. In the underlying case, the consumer's complaint relied on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), as well as common law claims of defamation and invasion of privacy. Zurich insured Ocwen under a series of commercial general liability policies, but two provisions in the policies expressly excluded injuries resulting from conduct that violates certain laws.Setting aside the live-operator calls to the consumer's home and the manually dialed calls to her cell phone, and assuming that neither violated the TCPA, the court concluded that it remains true that if Ocwen caused "a telephone to ring … repeatedly or continuously with the intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at that called number," which the district court concluded Ocwen did, then it violated the FDCPA. Because the policy exclusion's catch-all clause swept in the FDCPA as an "other statute" that regulates the communication of information, Zurich had not duty to defend based on the factual allegations of the consumer's complaint. View "Zurich American Insurance Co. v. Ocwen Financial Corp." on Justia Law
Pennell v. Global Trust Management, LLC
Pennell defaulted on a loan, then sent MobiLoans a letter refusing to pay her debt and requesting that all future debt communications cease. MobiLoans sold Pennell’s debt to Global, which had no knowledge that Pennell refused to pay and that she was represented by counsel. Pennell received a dunning letter from Global. Through counsel, Pennell notified Global that she refused to pay the debt and requested all debt communications stop. Global complied. Pennell sued under 15 U.S.C. 1692c(a)(2), the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which prohibits a debt collector from directly communicating with a consumer who is represented by counsel with respect to the debt and proscribes a debt collector from directly communicating with a consumer who notifies a debt collector in writing that she refuses to pay or that she wishes the collector to stop communicating with her. Pennell claimed “stress and confusion” as her injuries. The district court granted Global summary judgment on the merits. The Seventh Circuit vacated and ordered dismissal for lack of Article III standing. A party invoking federal jurisdiction must demonstrate that he has suffered an injury in fact that is fairly traceable to the defendant’s conduct and redressable by a favorable judicial decision. The state of confusion is not itself a “concrete and particularized” injury. Nor does stress, without physical manifestations or a medical diagnosis, amount to concrete harm. Pennell failed to show that receiving the dunning letter led her to change her course of action or put her in harm’s way. View "Pennell v. Global Trust Management, LLC" on Justia Law
Smith v. GC Services Limited Partnership
Smith sued under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C.1692g(a)(3). GC’s debt-collection letter stated: If you dispute this balance or the validity of this debt, please let us know in writing. If you do not dispute this debt in writing within 30 days after you receive this letter, we will assume this debt is valid. The Act does not say how a consumer may dispute a debt’s validity. Smith argued that the consumer is entitled to choose how to dispute. In an earlier appeal, the Seventh Circuit held that GC had waived any entitlement to arbitrate the dispute. The district court then held that Smith had not established injury and dismissed the suit.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, without addressing whether a debt collector violates section 1692g(a)(3) by telling consumers to put disputes in writing. Smith did not allege injury, because she did not try to show how a dispute would have benefitted her. Smith does not contend that the letter’s supposed lack of clarity led her to take any detrimental step, such as paying money she did not owe. She is no worse off than if the letter had told her that she could dispute the debt orally. The requirement of injury-in-fact is an essential element of standing, regardless of whether the asserted violation is substantive or procedural. View "Smith v. GC Services Limited Partnership" on Justia Law
Nettles v. Midland Funding, LLC
Nettles defaulted on her credit card account. Midland acquired the debt. Midland sued Nettles. The parties entered a consent judgment requiring a monthly repayment plan with automatic draws from her bank account. The automatic draws ceased after three months when Midland’s law firm went out of business. Midland sent Nettles a collection letter that overstated her remaining balance by about $100. Nettles filed a proposed class action under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692, alleging that the letter is false, misleading, or otherwise unfair or unconscionable. The credit card agreement contains an arbitration provision giving either party the right to require arbitration of any dispute relating to the account, including collection matters. Midland moved to compel arbitration. The district judge denied the motion.The Seventh Circuit remanded for dismissal of the suit for lack of jurisdiction, without reaching the arbitration question. Nettles sued for violation of sections 1692e and 1692f but did not allege any injury from the alleged statutory violations. A plaintiff does not automatically satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement whenever a statute grants a person a statutory right and purports to authorize that person to sue to vindicate that right; Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation. View "Nettles v. Midland Funding, LLC" on Justia Law
Posted in: Consumer Law
Spuhler v. State Collection Service, Inc.
The Spuhlers incurred medical debts that State Collection sought to collect on behalf of the medical‐care provider. The collector sent the Spuhlers dunning letters that provided the debts’ sums but lacked a statement that interest would accrue on the debts. The Spuhlers, who sought to represent a class of consumers, filed a complaint under the Fair Debt Collection Practices (FDCPA), arguing that the omission of a statement that the debt amounts would increase from the accrual of interest made the letters’ account of the debts was misleading, 15 U.S.C. 1692e(2), 1692f. A magistrate granted the Spuhlers summary judgment and certified a class.The Seventh Circuit vacated. At the summary judgment stage of litigation, to demonstrate Article III standing to sue for an alleged violation of the FDCPA, the plaintiffs must “‘set forth’ by affidavit or other evidence ‘specific facts’” demonstrating that they have suffered a concrete and particularized injury that is both fairly traceable to the challenged conduct and likely redressable by a judicial decision. The plaintiffs here did not carry that burden. View "Spuhler v. State Collection Service, Inc." on Justia Law
Bazile v. Finance System of Green Bay, Inc.
Finance sent Bazile a letter seeking to collect medical debts. The dunning letter stated the date (September 19, 2017) and the total balance of the debt ($92.23), without indicating whether that amount may increase with the accrual of interest. Bazile filed suit, alleging that the letter’s exclusion of information concerning the accrual of interest was a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) because the letter was misleading and did not provide “the amount of the debt,” 15 U.S.C. 1692g(a)(1), 1692e. The district court concluded that Bazile had Article III standing.The Seventh Circuit remanded for findings of fact. The complaint may survive dismissal as a matter of pleading but that’s not enough for the district court to decide the merits of the action. While Bazile’s allegations support an inference that interest was accruing on the debt, the defendant asserted that interest was not accruing and questioned whether the letter’s omission of information about interest affected Bazile’s response to the correspondence or to the debt. Facts necessary for standing have been called into doubt, requiring further inquiry into whether the court has subject‐matter jurisdiction, requiring an evidentiary hearing on the defendant’s motion to dismiss. View "Bazile v. Finance System of Green Bay, Inc." on Justia Law
Gunn v. Thrasher, Buschmann & Voelkel, PC
When the Gunn's debt for homeowners' association assessments reached $2,000, the association hired a law firm, which sent the Gunns a letter demanding payment. The letter states: If Creditor has recorded a mechanic’s lien, covenants, mortgage, or security agreement, it may seek to foreclose such mechanic’s lien, covenants, mortgage, or security agreement. The Gunns did not pay. The law firm filed suit in state court, seeking damages for breach of contract rather than foreclosure. The Gunns filed suit under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which forbids false or misleading statements in dunning letters, 15 U.S.C. 1692e(2), (4), (5) & (10). The Gunns acknowledge that the statement is true but contend that it must be deemed false or misleading because the law firm would have found it too costly to pursue foreclosure to collect a $2,000 debt.The Seventh Circuit ordered the dismissal of the suit for lack of jurisdiction. The contested sentence did not injure the Gunns. They argued that they were annoyed or intimidated but did not contend that the letter was a forbidden invasion of privacy. The association and its law firm were entitled to communicate with them, If annoyance were enough, the very fact that a suit was filed would show the existence of standing. The asserted violation of a substantive FDCPA right does not guarantee standing. There must still be a concrete injury. View "Gunn v. Thrasher, Buschmann & Voelkel, PC" on Justia Law
Brunett v. Convergent Outsourcing Inc.
Convergent sent Brunett a letter demanding repayment of a debt that slightly exceeded $1,000, offering to accept 50% of the balance in satisfaction of the debt. The letter stated that, if the creditor ended up forgiving more than $600, it would be required to report the release of indebtedness to the IRS, because federal law treats as taxable income a loan that is not repaid. Brunett sued, arguing that the statement about the IRS violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692e(5), (10), because it threatens action that cannot legally be taken and amounts to a false representation.The Seventh Circuit ordered the dismissal of the suit for lack of jurisdiction after noting that the statement was not false. Brunett conceded that the letter had not injured her. She did not pay anything; the statement did not affect her credit rating or discourage anyone from doing business with her. A plaintiff who lacks a concrete injury cannot sue under the FDCPA. The state of confusion is not itself an injury. “If it were, then everyone would have standing to litigate about everything.” That Brunett’s confusion led her to hire a lawyer and that she felt "intimidated" do not change the evaluation. View "Brunett v. Convergent Outsourcing Inc." on Justia Law