UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
December 10, 2010
CHARLENE JACKSON, PLAINTIFF,
MIDLAND FUNDING, LLC, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Joseph E. Irenas
IRENAS, Senior District Judge:
Plaintiff Charlene Jackson brings this Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692-1692p, suit against Midland Funding, LLC ("Midland"), the debt collector who sought to collect a debt Jackson incurred when she purchased a personal computer. *fn1
Jackson asserts that Midland violated the FDCPA when it filed an allegedly time-barred lawsuit to collect the debt. Two issues are presented by the instant Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment: (1) is this suit barred by New Jersey's entire controversy doctrine?; and (2) does New Jersey's or Pennsylvania's statute of limitations apply to the underlying debt collection suit? The Court holds that this suit is not barred by the entire controversy doctrine and Pennsylvania's statute of limitations applies. Therefore, Jackson's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted and Midland's Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied.
The relevant facts are undisputed. In 2001, while Jackson was living in Pennsylvania, she opened a Gateway-branded Citibank credit account in order to finance the purchase of a Gateway computer for her daughter. In April, 2003, Jackson defaulted on the debt. At that time she was still living in Pennsylvania.
In 2008, Midland purchased Jackson's delinquent debt obligation and began collection efforts. *fn2 Those efforts culminated in Midland filing a lawsuit against Jackson in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, on January 5, 2009. The complaint sought a judgment of $753.21 plus accruing interest to the date of judgment. By the time the lawsuit was filed, Jackson was living in Sicklerville, New Jersey and was properly served with process there.
On August 17, 2009, Midland apparently withdrew its complaint and the case was dismissed with prejudice.
This suit followed. The single-count Complaint alleges that Midland violated the FDCPA by filing a time-barred lawsuit to collect the debt. Midland moves for summary judgment. Jackson cross-moves for summary judgment as to liability only.
"Under Rule 56(c), summary judgment is proper '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.'" Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)).
In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must construe the facts and inferences in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Pollock v. Am. Tel. & Tel. Long Lines , 794 F.2d 860, 864 (3d Cir. 1986). "'With respect to an issue on which the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof, the burden on the moving party may be discharged by 'showing'- that is, pointing out to the district court- that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.'" Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas , 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Celotex , 477 U.S. at 325). The role of the Court is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).
The summary judgment standard is not affected when the parties
file cross-motions for summary judgment. See Appelmans v.
Phila. , 826 F.2d 214, 216 (3d Cir. 1987). Such 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.'" Transportes Ferreos de Venez. II CA
v. NKK Corp. , 239
F.3d 555, 560 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting Rains v. Cascade
Indus., Inc. , 402 F.2d 241, 245 (3d Cir. 1968)). If after
review of cross-motions for summary judgment the record reveals no
genuine issues of material fact, then judgment will be entered in
favor of the deserving party in light of the law and undisputed facts.
Iberia Foods Corp. v. Romeo , 150 F.3d 298, 302 (3d
Midland argues that this Court should not even reach the merits of Jackson's FDCPA claim because it is barred by New Jersey's entire controversy doctrine. *fn3 The Court disagrees.
"[T]he entire controversy doctrine requires whenever possible all phases of a legal dispute to be adjudicated in one action. At a minimum, all parties to a suit should assert all claims and defenses arising out of the underlying controversy." Prevratil v. George Mohr ans Rich Hill Transportation, 145 N.J. 180, 187 (1996). "In essence, it is the factual circumstances giving rise to the controversy itself, rather than a commonality of claims, issues or parties, that triggers the requirement of joinder to create a cohesive and complete litigation." Id. at 190 (internal quotation and citation omitted). *fn4
Different operative facts underlie this suit and the state court action. The state court action sought to collect a debt and thus the realm of potential factual issues included whether Jackson incurred the debt and defaulted on her obligation to pay. Those facts do not give rise to Jackson's FDCPA claim because her claim is not premised on an allegation that she does not owe the debt. This FDCPA suit involves Midland's efforts to collect that debt, and more specifically, whether it filed a time-barred lawsuit. The issue in this case is not whether Midland can try to collect the debt, but rather whether it could legally seek a court judgment for the debt. The two suits are related, insofar as the state court suit forms the factual basis for the instant suit, but they do not arise out of a common nucleus of operative facts. Therefore, the entire controversy doctrine does not bar Jackson's FDCPA claim.
With respect to the actions of debt collectors *fn5
, the FDCPA prohibits the "use [of] unfair or
unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect any debt." 15
U.S.C. § 1692f. *fn6 Several district courts
have held that pursuing a lawsuit which the debt collector knows or
should know is time-barred violates the FDCPA *fn7
, and Midland
does not challenge those holdings here. *fn8
Its sole argument is that the state court suit was not
time-barred because New Jersey's six-year statute of limitations,
N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1, applies. In opposition, Jackson asserts that
Pennsylvania's four-year statute of limitations, 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 5525,
Because the issue is whether the New Jersey state court suit was
time-barred, the Court looks to New Jersey choice-of-law rules. In
Heavner v. Uniroyal, Inc. , 63 N.J. 130 (1973), the
New Jersey Supreme Court established "a limited and special exception
to the general rule that the [law] of the forum determines the
applicable statute of limitations." O'Keeffe v. Snyder
, 83 N.J. 478, 490 (1980). New Jersey courts and the Third Circuit
applying New Jersey law, have held that after Heavner
, New Jersey courts should analyze statute of limitations choice
of law questions as if the issue were a choice of substantive law.
See O'Boyle v. Braverman, 337 F. App'x 162, 166
(3d Cir. 2009) *fn10 ; Warriner v. Stanton,
475 F.3d 497, 500 n.2 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing
Heavner for the principle that "New Jersey
the statute of limitations of the state whose substantive law
applies to the case."); Washington v. Sys. Maint. Corp.,
260 N.J. Super. 505, 509 (Law Div. 1992); Pine v.
Eli Lilly & Co. , 201 N.J. Super. 186, 191-92 (App. Div.
"In making a choice-of-law determination *fn11
in a breach-of-contract case, New Jersey courts ask which
forum has the most significant relationship with the parties and the
contract." Forestal Guarani S.A. v. Daros Int'l, Inc.
, 613 F.3d 395, 401 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing State Farm
Mut. Auto Ins. Co. v. Estate of Simmons , 84 N.J. 28 (1980);
Keil v. Nat'l Westminster Bank, 311 N.J. Super.
473 (App. Div. 1998)). *fn12
Applying this test to Midland's suit to collect the debt, it is clear that Pennsylvania has the most significant relationship to the claim, and that New Jersey's relationship is merely attenuated. Jackson was living in Pennsylvania at the time she opened the Gateway account and she was still living in Pennsylvania when she defaulted on the account. *fn13 The collection suit's filing in New Jersey appears only to be the result of Jackson moving to New Jersey after the relevant events had occurred in Pennsylvania-- i.e., Midland sued Jackson in New Jersey because that is where personal jurisdiction over her could be most easily obtained.
Thus, New Jersey's interest in this case is very limited, whereas Pennsylvania has a more significant relationship to the claim, and therefore has a greater interest in its law applying.
Because this Court holds that the four-year Pennsylvania statute of limitations applies to the underlying suit, the suit was time-barred. Midland's Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied. Jackson's Motion for Summary Judgment as to liability will be granted.
For the foregoing reasons Midland's Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied and Jackson's Motion for Summary Judgment as to liability will be granted. An appropriate Order accompanies this Opinion.
Joseph E. Irenas, S.U.S.D.J.