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Wright v. Lincoln Property Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 27, 2017



          GENE E.K. PRATTER, United States District Judge

         Lemuel Wright initiated this action against Lincoln Property Company following Lincoln's revocation of an offer of employment. After extending a conditional offer of employment to Mr. Wright, Lincoln discovered through a background check that Mr. Wright's criminal history included two felony convictions and revoked its offer. Mr. Wright filed suit under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1681(x) (“FCRA”), which requires employers using background checks to adhere to a specific set of procedures aimed at protecting applicants. Mr. Wright alleges that Lincoln violated the FCRA by failing to notify him of the first or second background checks upon which Lincoln relied to revoke its offer. Mr. Wright also alleges that Lincoln violated Pennsylvania's Criminal History Record Information Act, 18 Pa. C.S. § 9101 et seq. (“CHRIA”) by using his criminal history in an improper manner.

         Before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. Lincoln moved for summary judgment as to all of Mr. Wright's claims, as well as punitive damages, and Mr. Wright moved for summary judgment as to his FCRA claim. The Court will grant summary judgment for Lincoln with respect to Mr. Wright's CHRIA claim. It will deny summary judgment for both parties with respect to Mr. Wright's FCRA claim, and any punitive damages associated with the FCRA claim.

         I. Background

         Mr. Wright applied for a position as a maintenance technician at Mt. Laurel Crossing Apartments-one of Lincoln's residential communities in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey-on May 28, 2013. Nancy Mossman, Lincoln's Business Manager at Mt. Laurel Crossing Apartments, and William Bennet, Lincoln's Lead Service Technician at the complex, interviewed him for the position. Ms. Mossman and Mr. Bennet testified that the job for which Mr. Wright was interviewed was for upgrading apartments and providing other service technician roles, including being “on-call” during nights and weekends and assisting in after-hours emergencies.

         When Mr. Wright signed the application, he acknowledged that “any subsequent offer will be contingent upon the satisfactory completion of a more extensive background check occurring post offer, ” and authorized Lincoln to conduct further investigation including a post-offer drug screen, criminal background check, and credit check. Lincoln gave Mr. Wright a conditional offer of employment shortly after his interview, contingent on the results of a criminal background report and drug screen.

         Jennifer Clatterbuck, Lincoln's Regional Payroll Coordinator, ordered a criminal background check concerning Mr. Wright on June 5, 2013. Lincoln enlisted First Advantage (f/k/a LexisNexis Screening Solutions, Inc.)[1] to provide a background check on Mr. Wright. Records from First Advantage show that on July 6, 2013 (“the June 6th report”), it sent (1) a cover letter, (2) an in-progress or partial copy of the June 5, 2013 report, and (3) a summary of rights under the FCRA to Mr. Wright. The June 6th report showed that Mr. Wright had been found guilty of a misdemeanor for driving under the influence in October 2008, and that he had been found guilty of two drug-related felonies in February 2001. Mr. Wright testified that he was convicted of selling crack cocaine, and he pled guilty to possession and conspiracy.

         The record includes another background report on Mr. Wright, which was issued by First Advantage on June 13, 2013 (“the June 13th report”). That report shows that while it was ordered on June 5, 2013, it was most recently updated on June 13th. The June 13th report is more comprehensive than the June 6th report, but it included the same substantive criminal information.

         Ms. Clatterbuck typically receives only one criminal background report for each applicant and testified that if an applicant's report contains criminal history, she sends an email with an attachment of the problematic sections of the report and types into the email the same information from the report. On June 14, 2013, Ms. Clatterbuck emailed a copy of Mr. Wright's criminal background report to Ms. Mossman and William Biles, Lincoln's Regional Property Manager. Mr. Biles testified that he was the one who made the decision not to hire Mr. Wright. Ms. Mossman notified Mr. Wright that he would not have a position at Lincoln on or about June 19, 2013.

         II. Standard of Review[2]

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if 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.” Fed R. Civ. P. 56(c). An issue of fact is “genuine . . . if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is “material” if it might affect the outcome of the case under governing law. Id.

         In evaluating a summary judgment motion, the court “must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party” and make every reasonable inference in that party's favor. Hugh v. Butler Cty. Family YMCA, 418 F.3d 265, 267 (3d Cir. 2005). A party seeking summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for the motion and identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Where the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on a particular issue at trial, the moving party's initial burden may be met by “pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case.” Id. at 325. Once the moving party has met its initial burden, “the adverse party's response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). Specifically, the non-moving party must raise more than “some metaphysical doubt” as to a material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Summary judgment is proper if the non-moving party fails to rebut by making a factual showing “sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

         III. Discussion

         A. FCRA

         Both parties move for summary judgment as to Mr. Wright's FCRA claim. Mr. Wright alleges that Lincoln violated the FCRA “by taking adverse employment action against [him] based on a consumer report, without first providing [him] with a copy of the pertinent consumer report and a written description of his rights under the FCRA” and by failing to provide Mr. Wright with pre-adverse action notice before taking adverse action against him. Compl. ¶ 22- 23.

         The FCRA is “undeniably a remedial statute that must be read in a liberal manner in order to effectuate the congressional intent underlying it.” Cortez v. Trans Union, LLC, 617 F.3d 688, 722 (3d Cir. 2010). It is assumed, and Lincoln does not dispute, that Lincoln is a person under the Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681a(b), and Mr. Wright is a consumer, § 1681a(c). First Advantage is a consumer reporting agency under § 1681a(f), and a criminal background report is considered a “consumer report, ” § 1681a(d). There is also no dispute over whether Mr. Wright authorized Lincoln to run the report. Kelchner v. Sycamore Manor Health Ctr., 135 F. App'x ...

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