United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division
TERI CRAWFORD, GARRY BROWN, LYDIA GREEN, LORETTA PENNINGTON, and PATRICIA SAUNDERS, individually and on behalf of all similarly situated individuals, Plaintiffs,
SENEX LAW, P.C., Defendant.
Glen E. Conrad United States District Judge
action under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15
U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. (the "FDCPA"),
is currently before the court on defendant's motion for
judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons stated below, the
motion will be denied.
following facts are taken from the plaintiffs' amended
complaint and were previously set forth in the court's
memorandum opinion denying the defendant's motion to
dismiss. See Crawford v. Senex Law. P.C.. No.
3:16-CV-00073, 2017 WL 1743880, at *1 (W.D. Va. May 3, 2017).
Where appropriate, this summary of the facts also includes
allegations from the defendant's verified answer.
defendant, Senex Law, P.C. ("Senex"), is a law firm
in Hampton, Virginia, that assists landlords with collecting
overdue rent from tenants. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 10, 13.
Senex advertises itself to landlords as a "one stop
shop" that both prepares and sends Notices of
Noncompliance ("Notice" or "Notices") to
tenants who owe rent and late fees and represents the
landlords in lawsuits against tenants. Id. ¶
the named plaintiffs lived in a property managed by a
landlord who had retained Senex to issue Notices to tenants
who had failed to pay rent when due. Id. ¶ 9.
Each named plaintiff received a Notice printed on his or her
landlord's letterhead and affixed with the landlord's
electronic signature. Id. ¶ 19. The Notice
advised the tenant of the amount owed to the landlord,
including at least $27 in attorney's fees, and stated
that the landlord had "retained Senex Law, PC and they
have already drafted this notice and provided legal advice
due to your noncompliance." Id. ¶¶
18, 21; Am.'Compl. Ex. A. The Notice directed the tenant
to send payment to the landlord and provided the
landlord's address and telephone number at the top of the
Notice. Am. Compl. Ex. A. The Notice warned that, if the
tenant's landlord did not receive payment of the rent and
late fee within five days of the date the Notice was
received, "an Unlawful Detainer or other lawsuit may be
filed against you and you will be at risk of losing
possession of your property and/or having a judgment entered
against you . . . ." Id. The return address on
the envelope listed the landlord's name, but Senex's
address in Hampton, Virginia. See, e.g.. Am. Compl.
¶¶ 19, 39. Several of the tenants received their
Notices in envelopes stamped with a postal notation
indicating delivery from Hampton, Virginia. See id ¶ 19.
If the tenant did not pay the landlord within about one month
after receiving the Notice, then Senex would initiate an
unlawful detainer action against the tenant. See,
e.g., id. ¶ 76.
on the named plaintiffs' experiences, the complaint
alleges that Senex uses the following process to send
Notices: (1) a landlord sends Senex a list of accounts with
allegedly overdue rent; (2) Senex prepares Notices on the
landlord's letterhead; (3) Senex affixes the
landlord's electronic signature to each Notice; and (4)
Senex prints and sends the Notices directly to the tenants.
Id. ¶ 17. Plaintiffs contend that this process
establishes that Senex operates as a debt collector when it
sends the Notices, and therefore, that Senex must identify
itself as a debt collector and disclose in the Notices
certain information required by the FDCPA. Id.
¶¶ 18, 168. Plaintiffs assert that Senex
intentionally fails to include the required disclosures when
it sends the Notices. Id. ¶ 173.
verified answer, the defendant elaborates on the four-step
process identified in the amended complaint. The defendant
asserts that Senex collaborates with each landlord to prepare
a Notice template. Verified Answer ¶ 17. When a landlord
requests that Senex issue a Notice, Senex asserts that it
analyzes the lease and the relevant law to generate a
tenant-specific Notice. Id. Each letter includes a
charge for legal services Senex provides to the landlord.
Id.¶21. A landlord representative then
electronically signs the Notice, thereby swearing under
penalty of perjury that the Notice contains true and correct
facts and that the landlord possesses the necessary documents
to substantiate the facts in the Notice. Id. ¶
19. Finally, Senex prints and mails the Notices at the
direction of the landlords. Id. ¶ 17.
maintains that "the creation and approval of each
individual Notice of Noncompliance is a long, collaborative
process between Senex Law and landlords where landlords make
every decision and Senex Law's involvement consists
solely of providing legal advice regarding compliance with
applicable law and the ministerial tasks of printing,
folding, and mailing the Notices." IcL ¶ 20. The
defendant concedes that "long" usually means
"a few hours." Id. According to the
defendant, its advertising indicating Senex prepares the
Notices provides only "a general statement of available
services, " and each landlord signs a detailed
engagement letter that outlines the actual services to be
rendered. Id. ¶ 15.
October 5, 2016, plaintiffs filed a one-count complaint
against Senex, alleging that Senex operates as a debt
collector but fails to make certain statutorily-required
disclosures in violation of the following provisions of the
FDCPA: (1) § 1692d, prohibiting harassment or abuse in
the collection of debt; (2) § 1692e, prohibiting the use
of false or misleading representations; and (3) § 1692g,
requiring certain information about the validity of the debt
to be included in debt collection communications. The five
named plaintiffs also requested certification of a class of
present and former tenants of residential properties located
in Virginia whose landlords have engaged Senex to facilitate
the collection of overdue rent.
December 21, 2016, the defendant moved to dismiss the
original complaint for failure to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court denied the
motion, ruling that the plaintiffs had plausibly alleged that
Senex is a debt collector when issuing Notices, and
therefore, that the absence of certain disclosures in the
Notices violates the FDCPA.
8, 2017, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint, which is
identical to the original complaint with the exception of the
ad damnum clause. In response, on June 28, 2017,
defendant filed its verified answer.
27, 2017, the defendant moved for judgment on the pleadings
and for a stay of discovery. The plaintiffs then moved to
compel certain discovery. After a hearing on the discovery
motions, the court stayed discovery in part and granted the
motion to compel ...