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Carter v. Credit Bureau of Carbon County

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 20, 2015




This matter is before the Court after a one day bench trial. For the following reasons, the Court finds in favor of the Plaintiff.

Procedural History

On March 25, 2014, Plaintiff Deborah Carter initiated this action by filing her Complaint. Plaintiff’s Complaint states one claim for violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. On April 21, 2014, the Defendant Credit Bureau of Carbon County d/b/a CollectionCenter, Inc. (“CCI” or “Defendant”) filed its Answer to Plaintiff’s Complaint. On May 1, 2015, this case was set for a bench trial on July 13, 2015. On July 13, 2015, a one day bench trial was held.

Findings of Fact

During 2012, Plaintiff was a patient of Douglas Family Medicine in Castle Rock, Colorado. During that time, Plaintiff allegedly incurred a debt in the amount of $365 to Douglas Family Medicine, which was assigned to defendant CCI for collection in February of 2013.

On September 30, 2013, after several unsuccessful attempts to contact Plaintiff regarding the debt, CCI sued Plaintiff in the County Court for Adams County in case number 2013C046214. The county court complaint states in paragraph 4 “that the amount claimed from defendant is $365.00 principal, accrued interest in the amount of $16.08, other costs in the amount of $0.00, and future accruing interest at the rate prescribed by statute or by contract; for a total demanded of $381.09.” Attached to the complaint is an “Exhibit A” that lists Douglas Family Practice as the assignor of the debt, September 10, 2012 as the “DOS” (Date of Service), and $365.00 as the principal amount of the debt. See Ex. 1. Plaintiff was not aware of the debt prior to being served with the complaint in the county court action.

On October 7, 2013, shortly after being served with the county court complaint, Plaintiff contacted CCI regarding the Debt. A recording of this first phone call was admitted into evidence at trial. During this first phone call, Plaintiff explained that she did not believe she owed the debt because any obligation to Douglas Family Medicine should have been paid by her insurance. Plaintiff also indicated during this call that she intended to call her insurance company to determine why it had not paid the debt. CCI’s representative stated that whether or not Plaintiff’s insurance would pay the debt was a matter between her and the insurance company, and that CCI could not dismiss the case against Plaintiff unless the balance was paid in full. CCI’s notes of this call indicate that “[Plaintiff] said that [s]he had insurance and they should [have] cover[ed the account].” Ex. 25.

On October 10, 2013, Plaintiff called CCI again. A recording of this second call was admitted into evidence. During this second call, Plaintiff indicated that she had spoken to Douglas Family Medicine and been told that Douglas Family had transposed numbers in Plaintiff’s insurance policy, which is why her insurance had not paid the debt at the time it was incurred. Plaintiff also stated that she had called her insurance company and been told that because the claim was over a year old, her insurance company would not pay the claim. Plaintiff then spoke to Douglas Family again, and was told that they could not do anything to correct the mistake because the debt was over a year old. CCI’s representative indicated that CCI had been attempting to contact Plaintiff regarding the debt since February 22, 2013, and Plaintiff responded that she had moved “a couple times” since then and had not received any communications from CCI regarding the debt. Plaintiff concluded the call by noting again that she “had insurance, ” and indicating she would appear in court on the return date and “plead her case to the judge.” CCI’s notes from this call indicate that Plaintiff “doesn’t agree because [the debt] should have been paid.” Ex. 25.

On October 30, 2013, Plaintiff called CCI a third time. A recording of this third call has been admitted into evidence. During the third call, Plaintiff again explained that her insurance should have paid the debt, but for Douglas Family’s transposition of the numbers in her policy. She also stated that she had a work-related conflict with the November 13, 2013 court date. CCI told Plaintiff that billing her insurance is a “courtesy, ” and that if she was not able to pay the balance in full a default judgment might issue against her. Plaintiff and CCI’s representative then discussed a possible payment plan, but CCI explained that notwithstanding any payment arrangement, unless the balance was paid in full by November 13, 2013, a default judgment might still be entered against her.

After the October 30 phone call, Plaintiff hired counsel to represent her in the county court case. On or about November 7, 2013, counsel for Plaintiff filed an answer in that case. In response to the allegations in the complaint that Plaintiff owed a debt to Douglas Family Medicine in the principal amount of $365.00, the answer stated that Plaintiff “lacks information and knowledge sufficient to form a belief as to the truth [of those allegations], and . . . accordingly denies the same.”

During the period in which CCI was attempting to collect the debt, it reported credit information to one or more credit reporting bureaus without ever reporting that the debt was disputed. On March 19, 2014, CCI filed a motion to dismiss the county court case with prejudice because it was unable to obtain an witness from its client Douglas Family Medicine. On March 24, 2014, the County Court for Adams County dismissed CCI’s case with prejudice. Shortly thereafter, CCI had the debt removed from Plaintiff’s credit report.

Conclusions of Law

At trial, Plaintiff alleged that CCI violated the FDCPA in two ways. First, Plaintiff alleged that CCI violated Section 1692e(8) by reporting the debt to credit reporting agencies without indicating that Plaintiff disputed the debt. Second, Plaintiff alleged that CCI violated Section 1692e(2)(A) by making false representations as to the character or status of the debt ...

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