United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
For Monica Styer, Plaintiff: Carlo Sabatini, LEAD ATTORNEY, Brett M. Freeman, Sabatini Law Firm, LLC, Dunmore, PA.
For Professional Medical Management, Inc., doing business as Financial Recoveries, Defendant: Richard J. Perr, LEAD ATTORNEY, Jennifer T. Root, Fineman, Krekstein & Harris, P.C., Philadelphia, PA; Jessica E. Loesing, Gordon & Rees LLP, Philadelphia, PA.
William J. Nealon, United States District Judge.
On November 5, 2014, Plaintiff, Monica Styer, filed a complaint against Defendant, Professional Medical Management, Inc., alleging a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. (" FDCPA" ). (Doc. 1). On March 15, 2015, Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment and supporting documents. (Docs. 10-12). On March 16, 2015, Defendant filed a cross motion for summary judgment and supporting documents. (Docs. 13-15). The parties seek judgment on Plaintiff's sole claim raised, specifically whether the Defendant's disclosure of a quick response code (" QR code" ) that, when electronically scanned, reveals Plaintiff's name, address, and account number, constitutes a violation of section 1692f(8) of the FDCPA. On March 23, 2015, Plaintiff filed her brief in opposition. (Doc. 17). On March 26, 2015, Defendant filed its brief in opposition. (Doc. 18). On April 13, 2015, Plaintiff filed her reply to Defendant's brief in opposition. (Doc. 19). Defendant has not filed a reply to Plaintiff's brief in opposition, and the deadline for such a filing has passed. See M.D. Pa. L.R. 7.7. The motions are now ripe for disposition, and for the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion will be granted and Defendant's motion will be denied.
I. STATEMENT OF FACTS
The parties filed joint factual and procedural stipulations, which establish that the facts relevant to this case are undisputed. (Docs. 6, 11, 15). The parties have stipulated to the following: Plaintiff is a " consumer" as defined by 15 U.S.C. § 1692a(3). (Id. at p. 1). Defendant is a " debt collector" as defined by 15 U.S.C. § 1692a(6). (Id.). " Within the past year [Defendant] was attempting to collect from Plaintiff an account that [Defendant] identified by number ending in 4408." (Id.). The account is a " debt" as defined by 15 U.S.C. § 1692a(5). (Docs. 6, 11, 15, p. 1). At all times relevant to this action, Defendant was acting as a debt collector attempting to collect a debt from Plaintiff. (Id. at p. 3).
On June 12, 2014, Defendant mailed a letter to Plaintiff in an attempt to collect the aforementioned debt. (Id. at p. 1). The letter was mailed in an envelope with a glassine window. (Id. at pp. 1-2). Defendant's return address was visible through the window. (Id. at p. 2). Also
visible through the window was the QR code, which is a specific type of barcode. (Id.). The QR code contains encoded information, and can be scanned by certain devices, such as a smartphone, to decode the information and reveal its contents. (Id.). Many consumers have these scanner applications installed on their smartphones. (Id.). The QR code, if scanned by such a device, would reveal the following information: ONFIRI10,#K#02-12402280-[redacted]4408-2-NCOA, Monica Styer, 12 Tuttle St., Simpson, PA, 184071322129,45,0. (Id. ). The redacted portion is the account number used by Defendant to identify the Plaintiff's account, and was associated solely with Plaintiff's account. (Id.).
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment " should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Turner v. Schering-Plough Corp., 901 F.2d 335, 340 (3d Cir. 1990). The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue as to any material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Once this showing has been made, the nonmoving party must offer specific facts contradicting those averred by the movant to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 111 L.Ed.2d 695 (1990). All inferences " should be drawn in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and where the nonmoving party's evidence contradicts the movant's, then the non-movant's must be taken as true." Pastore v. Bell Tel. Co., 24 F.3d 508, 512 (3d Cir. 1994) (quoting Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of North Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 912, 113 S.Ct. 1262, 122 L.Ed.2d 659 (1993)).
" The rule is no different where," as in this case, " there are cross-motions for summary judgment." Lawrence v. City of Philadelphia, 527 F.3d 299, 310 (3d Cir. 2008). According to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit:
[c]ross-motions are no more than a claim by each side that it alone is entitled to summary judgment, and the making of such inherently contradictory claims does not constitute an agreement that if one is rejected the other is necessarily justified or that the losing party waives judicial consideration and determination whether genuine issues of material fact exist.
Lawrence, 527 F.3d at 310 (quoting Rains v. Cascade Indus., Inc., 402 F.2d 241, 245 (3d Cir. 1968)); Holton v. Huff, at *5 (M.D. Pa. 2012) (Mariani, J.). On cross motions for summary judgment, " [e]ach movant must show that no genuine issue of material fact exists; if both parties fail to carry their respective burdens, the court must deny the motions."
Holton, at *5 (citing Facenda v. N.F.L. Films, Inc., 542 F.3d 1007, 1023 (3d Cir. 2008)). " When reviewing each motion, the court is bound to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant." Id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56;
United States v. Hall, 730 F.Supp. 646, 648 (M.D. Pa. 1980) (Nealon, J.)). " 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." Schwab v. Reamstown Mut. Ins. Co., at *3 (M.D. Pa. 2006) (Caputo, J.).
In the case at bar, the parties submitted identical factual and procedural stipulations. (Docs. 11, 15). Accordingly, for the
purposes of deciding these motions, the only issue is whether Plaintiff or Defendant is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.
A. Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment
Plaintiff moves for summary judgment on the sole count in her complaint and seeks: (1) an award of one thousand dollars ($1,000.00), which represents the maximum statutory damages available under 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(2)(A); and (2) costs of the action, together with a reasonable attorney's fee as agreed to between counsel for the parties, or, if they are unable to agree, as determined by the court upon application by Plaintiff's counsel, subject to objection and response by Defendant's counsel as to the reasonableness of the attorney's fees and costs claimed by Plaintiff. (Doc. 1, p. 9); (Docs. 6, 11, 15, p. 3).
The main thrust of Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is her argument that Douglass v. Convergent Outsourcing, 765 F.3d 299 (3d Cir. 2014), is controlling. (Doc. 12, p. 10); (Doc. 19, p. 1-2). Plaintiff states that the " only factual distinction between the present matter and Douglass is that here the account number is embedded in a QR code, whereas in Douglass the account number itself was printed on the letter." (Doc. 12, p. 10). Plaintiff asserts that this is a distinction without a difference, and urges this Court, as the Third Circuit did in Douglass, to " follow the plain language of the statute, which, in relevant part, prohibits the debt collector from '[u]sing any language or symbol, other than the debt collector's address, on any envelope when communicating with a consumer by use of the mails . . . .'" (Id. at p. 11) (quoting 15 U.S.C. § 1692f(8)). Following the plain language, Plaintiff argues, " there is no doubt that the QR Code is not permitted by the plain language of the statute." (Doc. 12, p. 10). Plaintiff contends that " because the [QR code] is visible through the glassine window, it therefore violates the FDCPA." (Id. at pp. 11-12). Furthermore, Plaintiff argues that " [t]he simple fact that a QR code first must be scanned is not relevant." (Id. at p. 7).
Plaintiff also contends that this Court should " refuse to adopt a benign language exception," because " there is no need for a [such an] exception." (Id. at p. 12). Even if it is determined that such an exception exists, Plaintiff argues that the QR code ...