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Jason Roberts v. Nra Group

August 10, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo


Presently before the Court are Defendant NRA Group, LLC's ("NRA") Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 11) and Plaintiff Jason Roberts's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 16.) The issue in this Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case is whether the debt owed by Plaintiff was in default at the time it was referred to Defendant for collection. Because Defendant obtained Plaintiff's account when it was not in default, Defendant's motion will be granted and Plaintiff's motion will be denied.

I. Background

In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that on October 18, 2010, Defendant sent him a letter in its efforts to recover on an account owed by Plaintiff to Moses Taylor Hospital ("the hospital"). According to the hospital's corporate designee, Tracy Zabrenski, the debt owed by Plaintiff to the hospital was due on August 27, 2010. (Zabrenski Dep., 54:4-6.) However, as of August 28, 2010, Plaintiff had not made a payment on the debt. (Id. at 54:7-10.) As such, on September 17, 2010, the hospital placed Plaintiff's account with NRA as an "early out." (Id. at 127:18-20.)

Ms. Zabrenski testified that an "early out agency" acts as an extension of the hospital's business office. (Id. at 18:2-8.) These agencies represent themselves as being affiliated with the hospital when attempting to collect unpaid debts. (Id. at 18:11-19.)

Typically, an "early out agency" will attempt to collect the debt for 120 to 150 days, and if payment is not received in that time period, then the account will be turned back over to the hospital's business office. (Id.) Once the account is returned to the hospital from the "early out agency," the account will go for "bad debt collections" and "the accounts are then written off the active accounts receivable, and they are moved to bad debt and are recorded in the cost report differently because they are considered no longer deemed collectible." (Id. at 19:3-6.) Thus, the hospital uses collection agencies in two capacities- for "early out" recovery and for bad debt collections. (Id. at 18:2-24.)

As to Plaintiff's account, Ms. Zabrenski testified that Defendant was unsuccessful in getting a response or payment from Plaintiff. (Id. at 132:5-7.) As a result, the account was returned to the hospital on or about December 17, 2010. (Id. at 132:1-19.) Thereafter, on March 31, 2011, Plaintiff's debt went into default, which Ms. Zabrenski referred to as bad debt. (Id. at 41:23-42:16.)

Based on these events, Plaintiff commenced this action on September 30, 2011 alleging Defendant's efforts to collect his debt violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692, et seq., ("FDCPA"). (Doc. 1, Ex. 2.) On November 1, 2011, Defendant removed the action from the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania to this Court. (Doc. 1.) On November 8, 2011, Defendant filed an Answer with Affirmative Defenses. (Doc. 4.) On March 28, 2012, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, (Doc. 11), and on May 11, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 16.) As identified in Plaintiff's cross-motion, the parties have stipulated that if the Court determines the debt to have been in default at the time it was referred to Defendant, then Plaintiff is entitled to statutory damages and a reasonable attorney's fee as determined by the Court. (Doc. 18, Ex. A.) Both motions have now been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment shall be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "Summary judgment is appropriate when 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions 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 a judgment as a matter of law.'" Wright v. Corning, 679 F.3d 101, 103 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Orsatti v. N.J. State Police, 71 F.3d 480, 482 (3d Cir. 1995)). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986).

Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2). Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. An issue of material fact is genuine if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. Where there is a material fact in dispute, the moving party has the initial burden of proving that: (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See 2D Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2727 (2d ed.1983). The moving party may present its own evidence or, where the nonmoving party has the burden of proof, simply point out to the court that "the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986).

"When considering whether there exist genuine issues of material fact, the court is required to examine the evidence of record in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, and resolve all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Wishkin v. Potter, 476 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007). Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to either present affirmative evidence supporting its version of the material facts or to refute the moving party's contention that the facts entitle it to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256--57. The Court need not accept mere conclusory allegations, whether they are made in the complaint or a sworn statement. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888, 110 S. Ct. 3177, 111 L. Ed. 2d 695 (1990). "To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must show specific facts such that a reasonable jury could find in that party's favor, thereby establishing a genuine issue of fact for trial." Galli v. New Jersey Meadowlands Comm'n, 490 F.3d 265, 270 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). "While the evidence that the non-moving party presents may be either direct or circumstantial, and need not be as great as a preponderance, the evidence must be more than a scintilla." Id. (quoting Hugh v. Butler County Family YMCA, 418 F.3d 265, 267 (3d Cir. 2005)). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

III. Discussion

The purpose of the FDCPA is "to eliminate abusive debt collection practices by debt collectors, to insure that those debt collectors who refrain from using abusive debt collection practices are not competitively disadvantaged, and to promote consistent State action to protect consumers against debt collection abuses." 15 U.S.C. ยง 1692(e). "The FDCPA's provisions generally apply only to 'debt collectors.'" Pollice v. Nat'l Tax Funding, L.P., 225 F.3d 379, 403 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Pettit v. Retrieval Masters Creditors Bureau, Inc., 211 F.3d 1057, 1059 (7th Cir. 2000)). And, "[c]reditors- ...

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