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Tara anderson v. Afni

May 11, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dalzell, J.


Plaintiff Tara Anderson sues defendant AFNI, Inc. ("AFNI") for violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act ("TCPA"), 47 U.S.C. § 227, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692, et seq., and the Pennsylvania common law of privacy. On January 7, 2011, Anderson filed a motion for partial summary judgment and on the same day AFNI filed its motion for summary judgment. Anderson's motion claims that she is entitled to summary judgment on her TCPA claim, while AFNI's motion seeks summary judgment on all three of Anderson's claims. For the reasons set forth below, we will deny Anderson's motion for partial summary judgment, grant AFNI's motion for summary judgment as to the federal claims, and dismiss the remainder of the case.

I. Factual Background

Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a), "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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," where "[a] party asserting that there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact must support that assertion with specific citations to the record." Bello v. Romeo, 2011 WL 1519389, at *3 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Rule 56(c)). We will thus begin by reciting the undisputed facts in this matter, and then consider the disputed facts that the parties have supported with their specific citations to the record.

The parties do not dispute that Tara Anderson was the victim of identity theft at the hands of Tara Sampson, who pled guilty to that offense and served time in state prison for her actions. Pl.'s Partial Mot. Summ. J. ("Pl.'s MSJ") ¶¶ 4-5. Between 2007 and 2010, AFNI purchased six delinquent Verizon accounts in Tara Sampson's name; the account numbers for these accounts ended in 69, 56, 92, 14, 70, and 88. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. ("Def.'s MSJ") ¶ 1; Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Resp.") ¶ 1. Anderson was not responsible for the debts associated with those accounts, and never gave permission to AFNI to call her at her home telephone number -- a number with the area code "412" and ending in "2345" ("the 412 number") -- or at any other number. Pl.'s MSJ ¶¶ 2, 3, 6. AFNI acquired Account 69 on October 19, 2007 and Account 56 on May 23, 2009, and made no attempt thereafter to collect on either account. Def.'s MSJ ¶¶ 2-3; Pl.'s Resp. ¶¶ 2-3. AFNI did report Account 56 to credit reporting agencies, however, one of which placed the account tradeline on Anderson's credit profile. Def.'s MSJ ¶ 4; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 4. In 2009, Anderson discovered this account on her credit report, and disputed it through the credit reporting agency. Pl.'s MSJ ¶ 8-9. In August of 2009, AFNI received a Consumer Dispute Verification ("CDV") Form from the credit reporting agency which stated that Anderson "[c]laims true identity fraud, account fraudulently opened. Provide or confirm complete ID." Def.'s MSJ ¶ 5; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 5. AFNI requested that the credit reporting agency delete the tradeline from Anderson's credit profile, and on August 19, 2009, AFNI closed Account 56.*fn1 Def.'s MSJ ¶¶ 6-7; Pl.'s Resp. ¶¶ 6-7.

AFNI purchased Account 92 on July 22, 2009 and engaged skip tracing services to find contact information for Sampson, which yielded the 412 number. Def.'s MSJ ¶ 8; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 8.

A collection call placed to this number on January 20, 2010 reached Anderson, who informed an AFNI representative that the number did not belong to Sampson and should be removed from Account 92 -- a request with which AFNI immediately complied. Def.'s MSJ ¶¶ 9-10; Pl.'s Resp. ¶¶ 9-10.

On April 19, 2010, AFNI purchased Account 14 and then bought Accounts 70 and 88 on June 28, 2010. Def.'s MSJ ¶¶ 13, 15, 17; Pl.'s Resp. ¶¶ 13, 15, 17. With respect to each account, AFNI once again engaged skip tracing services to locate Sampson, and these services once again produced the 412 number. Id. AFNI attempted to contact Sampson to collect on these accounts between April and August of 2010, with some of its attempts made to the 412 number, and though Anderson answered some of these calls after January of 2010, she never informed AFNI that it was calling the wrong number in its efforts to reach Sampson. Def.'s MSJ ¶¶ 14, 16, 18, 19; Pl.'s Resp. ¶¶ 14, 16, 18, 19.

From January through August 2010, AFNI placed forty-five calls to the 412 number: twenty-five calls regarding Account 14, eleven calls for Account 70, five calls for Account 88, and four calls for Account 92. Def.'s MSJ ¶ 19; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 19. Anderson answered eighteen of these calls. Id. AFNI used a telephone vendor, SoundBite, to place collection calls to the 412 number, and this system was designed to play an automated message under certain circumstances. Def.'s MSJ ¶¶ 25-26; Pl.'s Resp. ¶¶ 25-26. This message identified the person whom AFNI was attempting to contact and listed a series of options that the call recipient could choose, including pressing a number if the telephone number called did not correspond to the person AFNI was attempting to reach. Def.'s MSJ ¶ 27; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 27.

At all times, AFNI attempted only to collect debts Sampson owed, and Anderson at no time believed that she owed the debts that AFNI sought to collect. Def.'s MSJ ¶¶ 23-24; Pl.'s Resp. ¶¶ 23-24. Moreover, though the 412 number is indeed Anderson's home phone number, Pl.'s MSJ ¶ 2, she is not the legal subscriber for the number; her husband, Philip Anderson, is.

Def.'s Suppl. in Supp. of Mot. Summ. J. ("Def.'s MSJ Suppl.");

Pl.'s Resp. at 21. AFNI made no calls to any cellular number associated with Anderson. Def.'s MSJ ¶ 30; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 30.

Finally, the parties agree that AFNI has in place policies regarding telephone numbers that AFNI learns are not associated with the entity it is attempting to contact: such policies direct account representatives to remove the numbers from each account in AFNI's possession in which they appear, and to make a notation to those accounts that the specified numbers are incorrect. Def.'s MSJ ¶¶ 33-35, 37-38; Pl.'s Resp. ¶¶ 33-35, 37-38. AFNI also maintains a "universal Do Not Call List" of telephone numbers to which calls are never placed. Def.'s MSJ ¶ 39; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 39. AFNI placed the 412 number on its "Do Not Call" list after Anderson brought this action. Pl.'s MSJ ¶ 29.

While these are the undisputed facts, the parties disagree on a number of other points, including (1) the number of calls AFNI initiated to Anderson; (2) whether all calls AFNI placed to Anderson had the potential to deliver an automated message; and (3) whether the debts of Sampson that AFNI sought to collect arose from personal, family, or household purposes.

Regarding the number of calls AFNI initiated to the 412 number, Anderson alleges that AFNI places debt collection calls through its agents Soundbite and Livevox, and that each day AFNI "initiates a 'daily file' request to one of its robo-dialer vendors that a set of accounts be collected." Pl.'s MSJ ¶¶ 17-18 (citing Dep. of Joe Wenslauskis, Ex. E to Pl.'s MSJ at 13-14, 16). Anderson asserts that between January 8, 2010 and August 15, 2010, AFNI "attempted" seventy-six such calls to the 412 number, id. ¶ 22 (citing AFNI's Records, Ex. F to Pl.'s MSJ), arguing that it "is undisputed that AFNI began the process of placing robo-calls to Plaintiff . . . 76 times." Id. at 9.

AFNI concedes that "[t]he SoundBite report indicates that there are 76 instances of that phone number showing up in the SoundBite data base," Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s MSJ ("Def.'s Resp.") at 6 (citing Dep. of Joe Wenslauskis, Ex. 12 to Def.'s MSJ at 64). However, AFNI avers that "[t]he record clearly shows that AFNI did not initiate a call with each one of the entries," and that "[o]f those 76 instances, only 45 calls were made." Id. (emphasis omitted) (citing Ex. 12 to Def.'s MSJ at 57, 65).

As for the capacity of AFNI's calls to deliver an automated message, Anderson claims that "[e]very call placed by SoundBite on AFNI's behalf has the potential to deliver an automated, prerecorded message, whether answered by a person or connected to a voicemail or answering service." Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 26 (citing Dep. of Joe Wenslauskis, Ex. L to Pl.'s Resp. at 27). AFNI responds that "[t]he SoundBite system, as configured by AFNI, is not designed to play an automated message for any received call other than a call answered by a live person."

Def.'s MSJ ¶ 26 (citing Ex. 12 to Def.'s MSJ at 68).

Regarding the nature of Sampson's debts, AFNI asserts that "[t]here is no evidence that the underlying credit transactions that created the obligations which became Accounts 14, 77 and 88 were for personal, family or household purposes."

Id. ¶ 21 (citing Dep. of Tara Anderson, Ex. 10 to Def.'s MSJ at 26-28). Anderson disagrees, arguing that: (1) AFNI sought to collect the debts in question from Tara Sampson, not any company or corporation, Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 21 (citing Dep. of Lisa Anderson, Ex. C to Pl.'s Resp. at 70); (2) the addresses found in AFNI's collection notes are residential addresses, id. (citing AFNI's Collection Notes, Ex. H to Pl.'s Resp at 3-4); (3) AFNI sent a debt collection letter to Anderson's residential address which was addressed to an individual, not a business, and included the verbatim warning the FDCPA requires for consumer debts, id. (citing AFNI's Collection Letter, Ex. J to Pl.'s Resp.); and (4) the debt associated with Account 56 was placed on Anderson's personal credit report, not any business credit report. Id. (citing Consumer Dispute Verification, Ex. A to Pl.'s Resp.).

II. Analysis

On a motion for summary judgment, "[t]he moving party bears the initial burden of showing that the non-movant has failed to establish one or more essential elements of its case." Connection Training Servs. v. City of Phila., 358 Fed. Appx. 315, 318 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)). If the moving party meets its burden, "the non-movant must go beyond the pleadings and come forward with specific facts indicating a genuine issue for trial," id. (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324). A factual dispute is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. . . . The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 252 (1986) (cited in Sheddy Family Trust ex rel. Sheddy v. Piatt Twp., 404 Fed. Appx. 629, 631 (3d Cir. 2010)). Of course, we "must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and [we] may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000) (cited in Eisenberry v. Shaw Bros., 2011 WL 1226881, at *1 (3d Cir. 2011)).

In evaluating Anderson's motion for partial summary judgment, then, the case law requires that we draw different inferences than we would in considering AFNI's motion for summary judgment. Because we can rule on both Anderson's motion -- which solely concerns her claim under the TCPA -- and AFNI's motion with respect to the TCPA on the basis of the undisputed facts, we will not draw any factual inferences in our TCPA analysis. In examining the remainder of AFNI's motion for summary judgment, we will draw all reasonable inferences in favor of Anderson as the nonmoving party.

A. Anderson's Claim under the TCPA

As our Court of Appeals has observed, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act was "[e]nacted in 1991 as part of the Federal Communications Act" to "deal with an increasingly common nuisance -- telemarketing." ErieNet, Inc. v. Velocity Net, Inc., 156 F.3d 513, 514 (3d Cir. 1998). The TCPA provides that

It shall be unlawful for any person within the United States, or any person outside the United States if the recipient is within the United States --(A) to make any call (other than a call made for emergency purposes or made with the prior express consent of the called party) using any automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice --. . .

(iii) to any telephone number assigned to a paging service, cellular telephone service, specialized mobile radio service, or other radio common carrier service, or any service for ...

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