United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
MICHELLE W. VULLINGS, individually and on behalf of others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
ARCADIA RECOVERY BUREAU, LLC, Defendant.
G. SMITH, JUDGE
plaintiff alleges that the defendant violated the Fair Debt
Collection Practices Act when it sent her a letter seeking to
collect a debt owed by her deceased mother's estate. The
defendant now moves for summary judgment on all of the
the motion was filed prior to the close of discovery, the
plaintiff contends that the court should decline to address
it. The plaintiff's concerns are misplaced because the
record presented is sufficient to resolve the legal issues
presented in the motion. Turning then to the substance of the
motion, four of the five claims asserted in the
plaintiff's amended complaint lack a sufficient basis to
proceed. Consequently, the court will grant the motion for
summary judgment as to those four claims, but deny the motion
as to the remaining claim.
September 29, 2017, the plaintiff, Michelle Vullings
(“Vullings”) filed a complaint individually and
on behalf of others similarly situated against the defendant,
Arcadia Recovery Bureau, LLC (“Arcadia”).
See Compl. at 1, Doc. No. 1. The purported class
action complaint sought relief due to various alleged
violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
(“FDCPA”). See Id. at 6. Shortly
thereafter, Arcadia filed a motion to dismiss the complaint.
See Mot. to Dismiss for Lack of J. or Alternatively
Failure to State a Claim, Doc. No. 3. The motion asserted
that Vullings lacked standing to sue on her own behalf
because the alleged debt was in the name of an estate for
which she was a personal representative and that even if she
did have standing, her complaint failed to state a claim upon
which relief could be granted. See Def.'s Br. in
Supp. of its Mot. to Dismiss Class Action Compl. at 3-4, Doc.
No. 3-1. On December 1, 2017, the court granted the motion to
dismiss on both grounds, but granted Vullings leave to file
an amended complaint. See Dec. 1, 2017 Order, Doc.
parties then filed cross-motions for reconsideration.
See Def.'s Mot. for Recons. and Relief from
Order Granting Pl. Leave to Amend Compl. (“Def.'s
Mot. for Recons.”), Doc. No. 8; Pl.'s Mot. for
Recons. and Relief from Order Granting Def.'s Mot. to
Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction Under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and Failure to State a Claim Under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) (“Pl.'s Mot. for
Recons.”), Doc. No. 11. In general terms, Arcadia
believed that the court should not have granted Vullings
leave to file an amended complaint, and Vullings believed the
court should not have granted the motion to dismiss in the
first instance. See generally Def.'s Mot. for
Recons.; Pl.'s Mot. for Recons. The court discussed the
motions for reconsideration with counsel in the Rule 16
scheduling conference on January 10, 2018.
the Rule 16 conference, the court was able to resolve the
issues raised in the motions. One of these issues was whether
Vullings needed to pursue the lawsuit in her individual
capacity and/or in her capacity as the administrator of
Gertrude Birtwistle's estate.She filed her original
complaint solely in her individual capacity.
See Compl. at 1. At the Rule 16 conference, the
court informed Vullings of the need to also sue in her
capacity as administrator to have any chance of recovery on
two of her five claims. After hearing the court's views
on the matter, Vullings agreed to file an amended complaint
and pursue relief both in her individual capacity and in her
capacity as administrator of the Birtwistle's Estate.
the court entered a scheduling order on January 10, 2018,
which, inter alia, ordered Vullings to file an
amended complaint by January 17, 2018. See
Scheduling Order, Doc. No. 19. Vullings timely filed an
amended complaint on January 16, 2018. Doc. No. 21. In the
amended complaint, Vullings claimed violations of the FDCPA
in her individual capacity and as administrator of the
estate. See generally Am. Compl. Arcadia then filed
a motion to dismiss the amended complaint insofar as Vullings
was asserting claims against it as the administrator of
Birtwistle's Estate. See Def.'s Mot. to
Dismiss Michelle W. Vullings, as Adm'r of the Estate of
Gertrude E. Birtwistle, Am. Class Action Compl. at 1, Doc.
No. 24. Shortly thereafter, the court held a telephone
conference with counsel for the parties during which
Vullings's counsel informed the court that Vullings
agreed to dismiss herself as a named plaintiff insofar as she
was the administrator of Birtwistle's Estate. As such,
the court entered an order on February 21, 2018, which (1)
dismissed by agreement “Michelle W. Vullings as
administrator of the estate of Gertrude Elizabeth
B[i]rtwistle . . ., ” and (2) denied the motion to
dismiss as moot. See Feb. 21, 2018 Order, Doc. No.
Vullings did not agree to dismiss the claims that the court
believed she could only pursue in her capacity as
administrator of Birtwistle's Estate. Cf. Id.
(dismissing, by agreement, Michelle W. Vullings as
administrator of the estate, but not dismissing any related
claims). Those claims are still in the case.
7, 2018, Arcadia filed the instant motion for summary
judgment. Doc. No. 39. Arcadia raises numerous arguments in
the motion, but one of them is that Vullings does not have
standing to pursue two of the five claims in her individual
capacity (i.e., she could only have succeeded on
those claims if she was suing in her capacity as
administrator of the estate). See Def.'s Br. in
Supp. of its Mot. for Summ. J. (“Def.'s Br.”)
at 5-6, Doc. No. 39-1. Vullings filed a response in
opposition to the motion for summary judgment on May 21,
2018. Doc. No. 42. Arcadia filed a reply in support of the
motion for summary judgment on May 29, 2018. Doc. No. 46. The
motion is now ripe for adjudication.
undisputed material facts are as follows: Vullings received a
letter sent by Arcadia through its vendor, Forte, Inc., d/b/a
Probate Finder. See Def.'s Br. at 4; Pl.'s
Br. in Opp. to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 8
(“Pl.'s Br.”), Doc. No. 42-1. The letter
indicated that Arcadia was attempting to collect a debt owed
by Birtwistle's Estate. See Am. Compl., Ex. B at
ECF pp. 12- 13 (“Letter”). Vullings and her
brother, Michael Wynn, are “Co-Personal
Representatives” of Birtwistle's Estate.
See Def.'s Br. at 4; Pl.'s Br. at 7. The
letter identifies Birtwistle's Estate as the debtor.
Def.'s Br. at 4; Pl.'s Br. at 7. The letter also
provides the total unpaid balance of the debt, the “PF
Reference No[.], ” the “Probate Case No[.],
” and the “Date of Death.” Def.'s Br.
at 4; Pl.'s Br. at 7.
listing this information regarding the underlying debt, the
letter states as follows:
Dear Sir or Madam:
Enclosed herewith is a copy of the Creditor's Claim for
the above referenced estate.
If you have any questions or if this is a duplicate claim,
please call our company at: 1-(800) 220-1622 [sic]
Cordially, Arcadia Recovery Bureau, ...