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ADAMS v. LAW OFFICES OF STUCKERT & YATES

May 8, 1996

DAVID ADAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
LAW OFFICES OF STUCKERT & YATES and STEPHEN L. NEEDLES, ESQUIRE, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOYNER

 Joyner, J.

 May 8, 1996

 We address today the cross-motions for summary judgment filed by the parties in this case arising under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692--1692o (1982 & Supp. 1996) (the "FDCPA") and Pennsylvania's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, 73 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 201-1--201-9.2 (1993) (the "CPL").

 BACKGROUND

 The defendants are the law firm of Stuckert & Yates and one of its attorneys, Stephen L. Needles, Esquire, who was retained by the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Center (the "Center") to collect delinquent accounts. The plaintiff, David Adams, received medical treatment at the Center on August 18, 1994. Based on Mr. Adams's representation that his medical insurance carrier would pay for the treatment, the Center provided services without insisting on pre-payment. For reasons unexplained by the parties, however, the bill remained unpaid as of February 1995. Thus, on February 10, 1995, Mr. Needles addressed a letter on the Center's behalf to Mr. Adams, mailing one copy to his home and one to his place of business, requesting payment in the amount of $ 85.00. The letter provides, in full, as follows:

 
I have been retained to collect this past due account and to file suit if necessary.
 
Please send a check in the above amount [$ 85.00] to this office, made payable to Stephen L. Needles, Attorney at Law. If I do not receive prompt payment I must take further action to collect this debt, and I do not have to give you any further notice. I may bring a lawsuit, which can result in garnishment or execution on your personal property. I may report you to credit agencies. If I do take legal action, I will ask the court to award costs, service fees, and attorney's fees.
 
To avoid trouble, please pay immediately. If you need to make arrangements, call or write to my office.
 
Unless you dispute the validity of this debt or any portion thereof within 30 days of the date of the letter, I will assume that the debt is valid. If you notify me of such a dispute, in writing, within this 30 day period, I will obtain verification of the debt and promptly send a copy to you.

 After receiving the letter, Mr. Adams contacted his insurance carrier, which promptly paid the amount due.

 Mr. Adams filed the instant complaint on July 10, 1995, alleging various violations of the FDCPA and the CPL. After a brief discovery period, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that they are entitled to judgment on the grounds that the account in question is not a "debt" and Mr. Adams is not a "consumer" as those terms are defined in the FDCPA. Mr. Adams has countered with his own motion for summary judgment, in which he argues that the undisputed facts lead to the conclusion that Defendants violated the FDCPA in a number of respects.

 DISCUSSION

 A. Summary Judgment Standard

 This Court is authorized to award summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Thus, the Court's responsibility is not to resolve disputed issues of fact, but to determine whether there exist any factual issues to be tried. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-49, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). The non-moving party must raise "more than a mere scintilla of evidence in its favor" in order to overcome a summary judgment motion. Williams v. Borough of W. Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249). Further, the non-moving party cannot survive a summary judgment motion by relying on unsupported assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere suspicions. Id. (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986)). Boiled to its essence, the summary judgment standard requires the non-moving party to create a "sufficient disagreement to require submission [of the evidence] to a jury." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 251-52. Of course, the mere fact that the parties have filed cross-motions under Rule 56(c) does not mean that the case will necessarily be resolved at the summary judgment stage. The court must consider the motions separately. Each side must still establish that no genuine issue of fact exists and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. United States v. Hall, 730 F. Supp. 646, 648 (M.D. Pa. 1990) (citing Home for Crippled Children v. Prudential Ins. Co., 590 F. Supp. 1490, 1495 (W.D. Pa. 1984).

 B. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

 The FDCPA allows consumers who have been subjected to abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices to recover damages, attorney's fees and costs. 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a). A threshold requirement for application of the FDCPA is that the prohibited practices were used in an attempt to collect a "debt." Zimmerman v. HBO Affiliate Group, 834 F.2d 1163, 1167 (3d Cir. 1987). The FDCPA defines the term "debt" as

 
any obligation or alleged obligation of a consumer to pay money arising out of a transaction in which the money, property, insurance, or services which are the subject of the transaction are primarily for personal, family, or household ...

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