United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
For Thomas J. Greco, Plaintiff: Robert M. Cohen, LEAD ATTORNEY, Robert M. Cohen, Esq., Wilkes-Barre, PA USA; Megan P. Maguire, Kingston, PA USA.
For Northeast Revenue Services, Llc, Luzerne County, doing business as Luzerne County Tax Claim Office, Sean Shemany, John Rodgers, Defendants: John G. Dean, LEAD ATTORNEY, Elliott Greenleaf & Dean, Scranton, PA USA; Joseph J. Joyce, III, LEAD ATTORNEY, Elliott Greenleaf & Siedzikowski, PC, Scranton, PA USA; Matthew G. Boyd, LEAD ATTORNEY, Elliott, Greenleaf & Dean, Scranton, PA USA.
For Point And Pay, Llc, Defendant: Robert H. Nemeroff, Friedman Schuman Applebaum Nemeroff & McCafferty Pc, Jenkintown, PA USA.
MALACHY E. MANNION, United States District Judge.
Plaintiff Thomas Greco was listening to a local talk radio show when he was surprised to hear a story about himself. A local newspaper had reported that six electronic checks he had recently submitted for payment of back taxes on various properties he owned had been returned because there were not sufficient funds to pay them. Plaintiff was alarmed by this, as he had neither paid nor authorized the payment of the taxes by means of any electronic checks, and had already informed the collection agency that he had not authorized the online payments. Fearing that his identity or account information had been stolen, plaintiff alerted federal authorities that someone had been paying his back taxes in his name but without his permission. Angry that someone had apparently set him up by writing bad checks in his name, that the collection agency had seemingly divulged the bouncing of the checks to media outlets, and that he had been embarrassed and harmed by the fact that writing bad checks had been attributed to him, plaintiff brought the instant suit, claiming that the collection agency and its agents had violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and various provisions of state law.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff Thomas Greco's amended complaint, (Doc. 84), alleges that sometime before August 2, 2010, an employee of the Luzerne County Tax Claim Office notified plaintiff's bookkeeper, Mary Tencza, that plaintiff owed back taxes on several of his properties. On August 2, 2010, plaintiff sent Ms. Tencza to the Tax Claim Office to
pay the delinquent taxes, but when she arrived, an office employee told her that the amount due was less than originally stated, because the county had already received several online payments for plaintiff's taxes. Ms. Tencza called plaintiff, and while on the phone with him, informed the tax bureau employee that he had no knowledge of such online payments, had not authorized them, and wanted information about who had paid them, including bank account information. The tax office employee declined to provide that information. Plaintiff asked the clerk if he could pay the total original amount of taxes due, including the taxes allegedly already paid, but the clerk said the computer would not allow him to pay more than he owed. Ms. Tencza then made full payment of the remaining amount and received a receipt for the payment.
Ten days later, on August 12, plaintiff was listening to a local radio station when the radio host began " ridiculing [him] and questioning his financial stature as a result of a newspaper article on August 12, 2010, in the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader." (Doc. 84, at 6). Plaintiff read the paper and discovered that it contained an article about him, saying that he had bounced six electronic checks totaling $41,911 as payment for real estate taxes. Plaintiff instructed Ms. Tencza to call the Claims Office to inquire why plaintiff was being blamed for the bad checks, especially after he had already told the clerk that the checks were not his. He also double-checked with his own bank to ensure that any checks he had written had not bounced, and confirmed that his account had not had any bounced checks.
Outraged by the Times Leader article and puzzled by the anonymous checks in his name, plaintiff contacted the U.S. Secret Service to request an investigation into the incident. Plaintiff reviewed records  supplied by the tax office and Northeast Revenue Services, LLC, (" NRS" ), the collection agent and independent contractor for the county tax claim office. The next day, plaintiff met with defendant Sean Shamany, an NRS manager responsible for Luzerne County tax collection, to explain that he had not authorized the bad checks and to ask why no investigation was undertaken when he had previously denied writing or authorizing the checks. Plaintiff also asked why the county had not contacted him or investigated the matter before releasing information about him to the Times Leader, and informed Shamany that the U.S. Secret Service was conducting an investigation into the incident. Plaintiff also inquired whether any other payments from other parties had bounced. Shamany assured plaintiff that there were safeguards to verify all checks, that any mistake would be the fault of defendant Point and Pay, LLC, which ran the online tax collection system, and that the problem was being investigated. He also told plaintiff that approximately 5 or 6 other people had bounced electronic checks as property tax payments.
A few days later, plaintiff received a letter, dated August 11, 2010, from defendant John Rodgers, president of NRS, advising plaintiff that the checks had bounced and threatening criminal charges if he did not pay $41, 911 within ten days of the date of the letter. Plaintiff met thereafter with Secret Service agents, who agreed to freeze the county tax office records and NRS' records. The Secret Service spoke with NRS officials. The Secret Service determined that defendant Michael Senchak had submitted the bounced
checks on plaintiff's behalf, without his knowledge or authorization. The U.S. Attorney's office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania confirmed via letter that plaintiff was not responsible for the bounced checks. Plaintiff advised the Times-Leader of the U.S. Attorney's letter in April 2011.
After plaintiff was made aware of and paid his back taxes, NRS continued to post incorrect tax ...