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Valdez v. Arm Wyn, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

June 12, 2015

CATHERINE VALDEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
ARM WYN, LLC, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GLEN E. CONRAD, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Catherine Valdez has moved for default judgment against Defendant Arm Wyn, LLC ("Arm Wyn"). For the reasons below, the court will grant that motion.

Background

Valdez filed this action under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA" or the "Act"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. She filed an amended complaint on June 30, 2014, which was served on Arm Wyn's registered agent on July 14, 2014. To date, Arm Wyn has not entered a notice of appearance or filed a responsive pleading in this matter.

In the amended complaint, Valdez alleges that Arm Wyn violated the Act while attempting to collect an alleged debt from her. Specifically, the complaint alleges that, on or around January 24, 2014, an employee, agent, and/or representative of Arm Wyn, who identified herself as "Mary, " communicated with Valdez, purportedly to collect on an alleged debt. During that communication, Valdez informed Mary that she was represented by an attorney with respect to the alleged debt and provided her attorney's contact information. Compl. ¶ 9-10. Nonetheless, Mary contacted Valdez again. Id . ¶ 11. In addition to speaking directly with Valdez, Mary "left a very detailed, nasty message on [her] answering machine stating that [she] did not want to pay her debts..." Id . ¶ 13. Valdez's roommate listened to this message, hearing "the entire details of [Arm Wyn's] debt collection efforts." Id . ¶ 14. Approximately one week later, Mary called Valdez again and accused her of"lying... as to the status of [her] employment." Id . ¶ 16. According to the complaint, Valdez "has suffered and continues to suffer humiliation, embarrassment, stress, aggravation, emotional distress, and mental anguish" as a result of Arm Wyn's actions.

On October 3, 2014, Valdez filed a motion for default under Rule 55(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Clerk entered default against Arm Wyn on October 13, 2014. On May 5, 2015, Valdez filed this motion for default judgment under Rule 55(b). Valdez has indicated that she does not seek to be heard, so the motion is ripe for review on her written submissions alone.

Standard of Review

Under Rule 55 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, default judgment is a two-step process. See Jefferson v. Briner, Inc., 461 F.Supp.2d 430, 433 (E.D. Va. 2006). Prior to entry of default judgment, there must be an entry of default. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). After default is entered by the Clerk, a party may move the court for default judgment under Rule 55(b).

Upon default, all of the well-pleaded facts alleged in the complaint may be taken as true. See Ryan v. Homecomings Fin. Network, 253 F.3d 778, 780 (4th Cir. 2001) ("[T]he defendant, by his default, admits plaintiffs well-pleaded allegations of fact[.]") (internal citation omitted); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(b)(6). Accordingly, in the default judgment context, the "appropriate inquiry is whether or not the face of the pleadings supports the default judgment and the causes of action therein." Anderson v. Found. for Advancement, Educ. & Emp't of Am. Indians, No. 99-1508, 1999 U.S.App. LEXIS 18633, at *2 (4th Cir. Aug. 10, 1999).

Although the well-pleaded factual allegations in a complaint are accepted as true for purposes of default judgment, a party who defaults does not admit allegations as to damages. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(b)(6) (providing that "[a]n allegation - other than one relating to the amount of damages - is admitted if a responsive pleading is required and the allegation is not denied"). Consequently, if the court determines that the complaint establishes liability, it must then determine the appropriate amount of damages. Ryan, 253 F.3d at 780-81. In so doing, the court may conduct an evidentiary hearing under Rule 55(b)(2) or make a determination of damages without a hearing, so long as there is an adequate evidentiary basis in the record for the award. See Anderson, 155 F.3d at 507 (noting that "in some circumstances a district court entering a default judgment may award damages ascertainable from the pleadings without holding a hearing").

Discussion

I. Liability under the FDCPA

The FDCPA was enacted to protect consumers from abusive and deceptive practices by debt collectors and to protect non-abusive collectors from competitive disadvantage. United States v. Nat'l Fin. Servs., Inc., 98 F.3d 131, 135 (4th Cir. 1996). It is "a strict liability statute that prohibits false or deceptive representations in collecting a debt, as well as certain abusive debt collection practices." McLean v. Ray, 488 F.Appx. 677, 682 (4th Cir. 2012). To establish a violation of the FDCPA, the plaintiff must prove: (1) that the defendant is a "debt collector" as defined by the Act; (2) that the plaintiff has been the object of collection activity arising from a consumer debt; and (3) that the defendant has engaged in an act or omission prohibited by the Act. Ruggia v. Wash. Mut., 719 F.Supp. 2d, 642, 647 (E.D. Va. 2010). "Because the FDCPA is a strict liability statute, a consumer need only prove one violation to trigger liability." Grant-Fletcher v. McMullen & Drury, P.A., 964 F.Supp.2d 514, 521 (D. Md. 2013).

According to the complaint's allegations, Arm Wyn "held itself out to be a company collecting a consumer debt allegedly owed by [Valdez], " which makes it a "debt collector" for purposes of the FDCPA. See 15 U.S.C. § 1692a(6). Arm Wyn also repeatedly contacted Valdez in attempts to collect on an alleged consumer debt she owed. See Compl. ¶¶ 5, 7. In the process of doing so, Arm Wyn violated the FDCPA. Specifically, Arm Wyn violated 15 U.S.C. § 1692c(a)(2) by contacting Valdez directly after she informed Arm Wyn that she was represented by an attorney with respect to the debt at issue. See Compl. ¶¶ 10-16. By calling Valdez repeatedly over a short period of time, Arm Wyn also violated § 1692d(5) of the Act, which prohibits "[c]ausing a telephone to ring or engaging any person in telephone conversation repeatedly or continuously with intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number." See, e.g., Johnson v. BAC Home Loans Servicing, 867 F.Supp.2d 766, 780 (E.D. N.C. 2011) (finding debt collector harassed plaintiff "by making repeated phone calls with[in] a short time period"). Arm Wyn also violated § 1692c(b) by leaving a "nasty" voice ...


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