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Miller v. Medicredit, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

December 9, 2019

ROSS A. MILLER, Pro se Plaintiff,
v.
MEDICREDIT, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DAVID J. NOVAK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Ross A. Miller ("Miller") brings this action against Defendant Medicredit, Inc. ("Medicredit"), alleging violations of multiple provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. ("FDCPA") arising from the collection of a medical debt. Medicredit moved for summary judgment on all of Miller's claims, arguing that Miller's claims fail as a matter of law because its voicemails and letters to Miller complied with the FDCPA, and that it could rely on the address it obtained from the original creditor - the same address that Plaintiff provided the original creditor. Plaintiff also moved for summary judgment, arguing that Medicredit's contacts with him violated the FDCPA, especially because it had sent the initial letter to an address where Miller did not receive mail. Miller has failed to put forth admissible evidence that raises a genuine issue of material fact that would prevent a reasonable fact finder from returning a verdict in Medicredit's favor. Consequently, for the reasons set forth below, the Court hereby GRANTS Medicredit's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 36) and DENIES Miller's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 40). The parties have also filed several motions related to the summary judgment motions, which will be denied.

         I. Factual Background[1]

         On November 9, 2017, Miller sought medical treatment from Primary Health Group -Johnston Willis ("PHG"). (Def.'s Mem. at 2.) At that time, Miller completed a Patient Registration Form and listed his address as 3512 Chapel Drive, Richmond, Virginia, 23224 (the "Chapel Drive address"). (Id.) At that time, Miller did not receive mail at that address. (Id.) PHG submitted the bill and billed Plaintiff $32.81 for his co-insurance obligation. (Id.) Miller did not pay the co-insurance balance, so PHG placed the account with Medicredit for collection. (Id. at 3.) PHG provided the Chapel Drive address to Medicredit as Miller's address. (Id.)

         On March 26, 2018, Medicredit called Miller and left him a voicemail message.[2] (Id.) On March 27, 2018, Medicredit sent Miller a letter at the Chapel Drive address. (Id.) On March 29, 2018, and April 18, 2018, Medicredit again left Miller voicemails. (Id. at 4.)

         On April 19, 2018, PHG placed another account with Medicredit for collection, this account relating to medical services rendered on December 5, 2017. (Id.) On April 25, 2018, Medicredit mailed Miller a letter regarding this account to the Chapel Drive address. (Id.) On April 26, 2018, Miller sent a letter to Medicredit disputing the debt and requesting verification. (Id.) Upon receipt of the letter, Medicredit ceased calls to Miller's residential telephone, changed Miller's address to the P.O. Box listed on Miller's letter, and sent all correspondence thereafter to Miller's P.O. Box. (Id.) On May 7, 2018, in response to the request for validation, Medicredit mailed a letter to Miller containing itemized statements. (Id.) That same day, Medicredit put all collection efforts on hold. (Id.) On July 16, 2018, Miller sent a second dispute letter to Medicredit. (Id.)

         On August 6, 2018, PHG placed a third account with Medicredit. (Id. at 5.) On August 11, 2018, Medicredit sent Miller a letter purporting to acknowledge a dispute of this third account. (Id.)

         II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On August 31, 2018, Miller filed his original complaint. (ECF No. 1.) On October 3, 2018, with the Court's leave, Miller filed his Amended Complaint. (ECF Nos. 7, 8.) Miller's Amended Complaint alleges violations of 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692c(b), 1692d, 1692e, 1692f, and l692g(a).

         On October 23, 2018, Medicredit filed an Answer. (ECF No. 16.) On August 26, 2019, Medicredit filed its motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 36.) On September 10, 2019, Miller responded to Medicredit's motion and, on September 16, 2019, filed his own motion for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 39-40.) On September 16, 2019, Medicredit filed a reply in support of its motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 42.) The next day Medicredit also filed a Motion to Strike Miller's Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that it failed to comply with the Local Rules and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 43.) Miller moved to strike that Motion to Strike. (ECF No. 48.) On September 19, 2019, Miller filed a response to Medicredit's reply in support of summary judgment, which Medicredit also moved to strike that same day. (ECF Nos. 44-45.) On September 26, 2019, Medicredit responded to Miller's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 47.) Miller also filed discovery motions and requested an extension of discovery, but the Court denied those motions. (ECF Nos. 55, 57-58, 64.)

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When the parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgement, as here, "the court must review each motion separately on its own merits to determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of law." Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516, 523 (4th Cir. 2003) (quotations omitted). Pursuant to Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment should occur "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). The relevant inquiry in a summary judgment analysis focuses on "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a [factfinder] or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251- 52 (1986). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. at 255. Moreover, the Court cannot weigh the evidence to enter a judgment, but simply must determine whether a genuine issue for trial exists. Greater Bait. Or. for Pregnancy Concerns v. Mayor of Baltimore, 721 F.3d 264, 283 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249).

         Once the moving party properly submits and supports a motion for summary judgment, the opposing party has the burden of showing that a genuine dispute exists. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-86 (1986). The mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; instead, there must be no genuine issue of material fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. "Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson, 411 U.S. at 248.

         Indeed, the Court must grant summary judgment if the non-moving party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 411 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). To defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party "must rely on more than conclusory allegations, 'mere speculation,' the 'building of one inference upon another,' the 'mere existence of a scintilla of evidence,' or the appearance of some 'metaphysical doubt' concerning a material fact." Lewis v. City of Va. Beach Sheriffs Office, 409 F.Supp.2d 696, 704 (E.D. Va. 2006) (citations omitted). A "genuine" issue concerning a "material" fact only arises when the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, allows a reasonable factfinder to return a verdict in that party's favor. Anderson, 411 U.S. at 248.

         Finally, to deserve consideration on summary judgment, the evidence supporting the facts set forth by the parties must be such that it would be admissible in evidence. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Mitchell v. Data General Corp., 12 F.3d 1310, 1315-16 (4th Cir. 1993) ("The summary judgment inquiry thus scrutinizes the plaintiffs case to determine whether the plaintiff has proffered such sufficient proof in the form of admissible evidence that could carry the burden of proof in his claim at trial.").

         IV. DISCUSSION

         To prevail on a claim under the FDCPA, a plaintiff must prove that "(1) the plaintiff has been the object of collection activity arising from consumer debt; (2) the defendant is a debt collector as defined by the FDCPA; and (3) the defendant has engaged in an act or omission prohibited by the FDCPA." Ruggia v. Washington Mul., 719 F.Supp.2d 642, 647 (E.D. Va. 2010). Miller's claims arise out of nine total contacts Medicredit directed at Miller-six letters and three voicemails. According to Miller, each gives rise to various claims under the FDCPA. In analyzing these contacts, the Court notes that it must do so from the perspective of the "least sophisticated consumer." United States v. Nat'l Fin. Servs., Inc., 98 F.3d 131, 136 (4th Cir. 1996). However, this does not require the Court to entertain "bizarre or idiosyncratic interpretations of collection notices," but rather the Court maintains "a quotient of reasonableness and presumes a basic level of understanding and willingness to read with care." Id.

         A. The Letters from Medicredit to Miller

         First, the Court will analyze Miller's section 1692g claims, because these claims pervade the Amended Complaint and stem from Medicredit's letters sent to the address provided by Miller. Then, before conducting an analysis of whether any of the letters violate the FDCPA, the Court must first determine which letters the FDCPA covers. Finally, the Court will turn to specific letters and the allegations that they violated the FDCPA.

         i. The Initial Letters Fulfilled Medicredil's Obligations Under 1692g.

         Plaintiff claims throughout his Amended Complaint that Medicredit violated section 1692g by failing to include the proper notifications in its communications with him. (See, e.g., Am. Compl. ¶¶ 55, 57, 69.) Section 1692g requires a debt collector to send written "validation notices" to debtors informing them of their rights to require verification and to dispute a debt. Russell v. Absolute Collection Servs., 763 F.3d 385, 392 (4th Cir. 2014); 15 U.S.C. § 1692g. The validation notice must contain the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor, and a statement that the debt "will be assumed valid by the debt collector" unless the debtor disputes the validity within thirty days. 15 U.S.C. § l692g(a)(1)-(3). The notice must also inform the debtor that, upon written request within thirty days, the debt collector will provide verification of the debt and the information of the original creditor. 15 U.S.C. § l692g(a)(4)-(5). The debt collector must send these validation notices within five days after the initial communication with a consumer. 15 U.S.C. § 1692(a).

         The initial letters that Medicredit sent on March 27, 2018 and April 25, 2018 contained all of the required section 1692g disclosures. (ECF Nos. 37-6, 37-7.) Both list the amount of the debt ($32.81 and $21.50). Plaintiff claims that the letters do not contain the name of the creditor, but also claims that "[t]he true creditor is PHG Johnston Willis." (Pl.'s Opp. at 6, 7.) But, Medicredit identified PHG Johnston Willis in its letters. Likewise, the statements relating to Miller's dispute rights match nearly word for word the language of section 1692g.

         Moreover, the timing of these letters complies with the statute. Medicredit sent the first letter one day after the initial voicemail. The second letter, for the second account, constituted the first communication regarding that account. Therefore, Medicredit sent both letters within five days of the initial communication.[3]

         Miller claims that Medicredit did not satisfy its section 1692g requirements, because he never received these notices. (Pl.'s Opp. at 10.) Miller further claims that Medicredit needed to send him additional validation notices upon learning of his correct address. However, Medicredit mailed these letters to the address that PHG-Johnston Willis provided to Medicredit, and the letters were never returned. (ECF No. 37-15.) Debt collectors may rely on information obtained from the original creditors, especially when they have no reason to question that information. McLean v. Ray, 488 Fed.Appx. 677, 683 (4th Cir. 2012). Moreover, the statute requires the debt collector to "send the consumer a written notice..." but it does not require the debt collector to verify the consumer received the notice. 15 U.S.C. § 1692g. Miller cites to no particular evidence in the record that would demonstrate that he did not receive the letters. See Senftle v. Landau, 390 F.Supp.2d 463, 474 (D. Md. 2005) (finding no genuine dispute of fact that plaintiff received section l692g notices because the plaintiff had produced no evidence that he did not receive them); Mahon v. Credit Bureau, Inc., 171 F.3d 1197, 1201 (9th Cir. 1999) (finding no violation of section 1692g when plaintiffs offered no evidence to rebut presumption of delivery). Instead, the evidence shows that Medicredit sent the validation notices to the address that Plaintiff provided to PHG-Johnston Willis, and the letters were never returned. Therefore, no genuine material fact exists that Miller received the validation notices. Because no genuine dispute exists as to whether Miller received the validation notices, the Court need not address whether Medicredit had an obligation to re-send the notices.

         At bottom, Miller seeks to impose liability on Medicredit for sending letters to the address that Miller himself provided. But, the Court will not fault Medicredit for Miller's mistake.

         ii. Not All Letters Sent by Medicredit Fall ...


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