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Drew v. Valley Credit Service, Inc.

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

March 14, 2018

KENA DREW, Plaintiff,
v.
VALLEY CREDIT SERVICE, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. GLEN E. CONRAD SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Kena Drew brings this action against defendant Valley Credit Service, Inc. ("VCS") under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (the "FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. The matter is currently before the court on defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons stated below, the motion will be denied.

         Background

         On April 26, 2017, VCS mailed a letter to Drew informing her that she owed $465.00 to a creditor for unpaid medical expenses. Compl. ¶¶ 21, 24, 27, Dkt. No. 1. The letter stated that "'[t]his debt may or may not already be in your file with credit reporting agencies. Regardless VCS, INC. is a data furnisher to credit reporting agencies and might report this debt to such agencies.'" Id¶38. Drew did not make any payments toward the debt at that time. Id. ¶ 32.

         On May 24, 2017, defendant mailed a second letter to Drew. Id. ¶ 30. This second letter stated that Drew owed $175.00 on the debt identified in the April 26 letter and contained a signed statement by "Natasha L, " who asserted that she had verified with the creditor that Drew owed $175.00. Id. ¶¶ 30-31. After receiving the May 24 letter, Drew called VCS, which informed her that she owed $465.00, not $175.00. Id. ¶¶ 35-36.

         On December 6, 2017, Drew filed a complaint against VCS alleging three violations of the FDCPA: (1) the use of false, deceptive, or misleading representations in connection with the collection of plaintiff s debt, in violation of 15 U.S.C. § l692e; (2) the false representation of the character, amount, or legal status of the plaintiffs debt, in violation of 15 U.S.C. § l692e(2)(A); and (3) the use of a false representation or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect the plaintiffs debt, in violation of 15 U.S.C. § l692e(l0). Drew alleges that the conflicting amounts of debt in the letters "left [her] unsure of the true amount of the Debt." Id. ¶ 37. Additionally, she claims that the "equivocal and ambiguous statement" concerning credit reporting agencies "would leave the least sophisticated consumer-or even a reasonable consumer--confused and left to guess at whether Defendant intended to report the Debt to the credit reporting agencies." Id. ¶38. The complaint states that "a failure to honor a consumer's right under the FDCPA constitutes an injury in fact for Article III standing." Id. ¶5.

         On January 12, 2017, defendant moved to dismiss this action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The parties have submitted the motion on the briefs, and the matter is now ripe for disposition.

         Standard of Review

         Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a party to move for dismissal of an action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The plaintiff bears the burden of proving that subject matter jurisdiction exists. Evans v. B. F..Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999). Dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is appropriate "if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Discussion

         Article III of the United States Constitution limits the jurisdiction of federal courts to actual cases or controversies. In ensuring that a matter presents an actual case or controversy, courts consider whether the plaintiff has standing to sue. Standing requires that the "plaintiff must have (1) suffered an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision." Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins. 136 S.Ct. 1540, 1547 (201.6).

         "To establish injury in fact, a plaintiff must show that he or she suffered an invasion of a legally protected interest that is concrete and particularized." Dreher v. Experian Info. Solutions, Inc., 856 F.3d 337, 343 (4th Cir. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted). An injury is concrete if it is de facto or real; however, it need not be tangible. Spokeo, 136 S.Ct. at 1548-49. In determining whether an intangible harm qualifies as an injury in fact, courts consider historical practice and congressional judgment. Id. at 1549. However, "Congress' role in identifying and elevating intangible harms does not mean that a plaintiff automatically satisfies 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." Id. Thus, a plaintiff who alleges "a bare procedural violation, divorced from any concrete harm" cannot establish injury in fact. Id.

         Rather, a plaintiff may allege that Congress has "elevate[d] to the status of legally cognizable injuries concrete, de facto injuries that were previously inadequate in law." Id. (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted). Procedural violations also satisfy the concreteness requirement when such violations create a "risk of real harm" to the substantive right that the procedural right is designed to protect. See id. In these cases, a plaintiff "need not allege any additional harm beyond the one Congress has identified." Id.

         Relying on Spokeo, the defendant argues that the plaintiff lacks Article III standing because she has alleged only bare procedural violations of the FDCPA. The plaintiff counters that she need not allege any harm beyond the harm Congress recognized in ยง l692e because a * ...


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