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Gardner v. Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co., LPA

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 24, 2019

DAYNE GARDNER, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
WELTMAN, WEINBERG & REIS CO., LPA, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          CHAD F. KENNEY, JUDGE.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, Dayne Gardner, defaulted on a loan from Synchrony Bank. See ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 15, 23. Synchrony eventually charged off the debt and it was no longer accruing interest. Id. ¶ 27. After the charge-off, Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC purchased Plaintiffs debt and referred it to Defendant for collection purposes. Id. ¶¶ 22, 24.

         Defendant, Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co., LPA, then sent Plaintiff a collection letter that contained the balance due. Id. ¶¶ 32, 33. The top of the letter stated, "Balance Due as of 02/12/19: $3, 250.13." Id. The letter's detachable payment slip stated, "Balance Due as of February 12, 2019: $3, 250.13." Id.

         Plaintiff filed a Complaint individually and on behalf of others similarly situated alleging that Defendant violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (the "FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692(e), by misrepresenting "that the balance would increase after the date of the letter." Id. ¶ 54. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant's letter "falsely stated or implied that the balance was subject to increase" because it contained the phrase "balance due as of and listed the balance twice. ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 36, 55; ECF No. 16 at 1-2. In addition, Plaintiff alleges the letter violates the FDCPA because it can be reasonably read to have two meanings. See ECF No. 16 at 7.

         Defendant moved for Judgment on the Pleadings under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ECF No. 13. Defendant argues that the letter's "as of language and listing of the balance twice do not misrepresent Plaintiffs debt because neither implies that the debt would increase. Id. Further, Defendant argues that Plaintiffs interpretation that the debt would increase is "bizarre and idiosyncratic." Id. at 6. For the following reasons, the Court will grant Defendant's Motion.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate when "the movant clearly establishes that no material issue of fact remains . . . and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Rosenau v. Unifund Corp., 539 F.3d 218, 221 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Jablonski v. Pan Am. World Airways, Inc., 863 F.2d 289, 290 (3d Cir. 1988). Further, the Court must view the facts and draw inferences "in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Id.

         A motion for judgment on the pleadings uses the same legal standard as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). See Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 223 n.2 (3d Cir. 2004). Accordingly, a complaint must include more than "labels and conclusions;" it must state "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007).

         A claim is plausible when the pleading provides enough facts to "allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ethypharm S.A. France v. Abbott Labs., 101 F.3d 223, 231 n.14 (3d Cir. 2013).

         B. The FDCPA

         The FDCPA seeks to "eliminate abusive debt collection practices." Wilson v. Quadramed Corp., 225 F.3d 350, 354 (3d Cir. 2000), as amended (Sept. 7, 2000). Specifically, § 1692(e) prohibits a debt collector from using "any false, deceptive, or misleading representation" to collect a debt. 15 U.S.C. § 1692e.

         Claims under the FDCPA are evaluated using the "least sophisticated debtor" standard. McLaughlin v. Phelan Hallinan & Schmieg, LLP,756 F.3d 240, 246 (3d Cir. 2014). The least sophisticated debtor standard is lower than the reasonable debtor standard in order to protect all consumers, even the "gullible as ...


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