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Anthony Panto, On Behalf of Himself and All Others Similarly v. Professional Bureau of Collections A/K/A

March 7, 2011

ANTHONY PANTO, ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF(S),
v.
PROFESSIONAL BUREAU OF COLLECTIONS A/K/A PROFESSIONAL BUREAU OF COLLECTIONS OF MARYLAND, INC. AND JOHN DOES 1-25, DEFENDANT(S).



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Garrett E. Brown, Jr.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

BROWN, Chief Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the Court upon the motion for judgment on the pleadings (Doc. No. 9) filed by Defendant Professional Bureau of Collections a/k/a Professional Bureau of Collections of Maryland, Inc. (hereinafter "PBC") pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). The Court has considered the parties' submissions and decided the matter without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the following reasons, the Court will grant in part and deny in part the Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Anthony Panto brings this action on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated seeking damages, declaratory, and injunctive relief arising against PBC for unfair debt collection practices in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq.. (Compl. ¶ 1.) The following version of events assumes Plaintiff's allegations in the Complaint to be true because Defendant moves pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), which is treated like a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See, e.g., Borough of Sayreville v. Union Carbide Corp., 923 F. Supp. 671, 676 (D.N.J. 1996) (citing Turbe v. Virgin Islands, 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991)).

According to the Complaint, on August 4, 2010, PBC mailed a letter to Plaintiff in an attempt to collect a debt Plaintiff allegedly owed to Household Finance Corporation. (See Compl. Ex. A.) On August 18, 2010, Plaintiff, through his attorney, sent a written notice, via facsimile, certified mail, and first class mail, to PBC disputing the alleged debt. (See Compl. Ex. B.) In this letter, Plaintiff, through his attorney, demanded verification of the alleged debt and instructed Defendant to "cease and desist" all collection efforts and communications with Plaintiff. On that same day, Plaintiff asserts that a PBC representative contacted his attorney in an attempt to collect the alleged debt. (Compl. ¶¶ 13-16.)

Plaintiff claims that PBC violated § 1692g(a)(3), (4), and (5) of the FDCPA because additional language included in the debt collection letter "overshadow[ed] and [stood] in sharp contrast to" the language required under such provisions, which also appears in the debt collection letter. (Compl. ¶ 24.) Plaintiff contends that "the least sophisticated consumer would be confused" with respect to his rights to dispute the alleged debt. (Compl. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff further claims that Defendant violated § 1692g(b) by contacting Plaintiff's attorney after Plaintiff disputed the alleged debt in writing. (Compl. ¶ 30.) As a result, Plaintiff filed this putative class action suit on August 23, 2010.

II. DISCUSSION

"A Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings is treated like a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)." Borough of Sayreville, 923 F. Supp. at 676 (citing Turbe, 938 F.2d at 428). A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) may be granted only if, accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a court finds that plaintiff has failed to set forth fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A complaint will survive a motion to dismiss if it contains sufficient factual matter to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570) (internal quotations omitted). The plausibility standard requires that "the plaintiff plead[] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged" and demands "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Although a court must accept as true all factual allegations in a complaint, that tenet is "inapplicable to legal conclusions," and "[a] pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555); see also Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008). In evaluating a motion to dismiss, a court may consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon those documents. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993).

Because this case requires the Court to construe a congressional statute, the basic principles of statutory construction apply. "The role of the courts in interpreting a statute is to give effect to Congress's intent." In re Lord Abbett Mut. Funds Fee Litig., 553 F.3d 248, 254 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Rosenberg v. XM Ventures, 274 F.3d 137, 141 (3d Cir. 2001)). To discern Congress's intent, we must first consider the plain language of the statute. In re Lord Abbett Mut. Funds Fee Litig., 553 F.3d at 254 (citing United States v. Gregg, 226 F.3d 253, 257 (3d Cir. 2000)). If the statute's plain language is unambiguous, the Court need not look further. Id. However, "if the plain language fails to express Congress' intent unequivocally . . . we will examine the surrounding words and provisions in their context." Id. (citing Tavarez v. Klingensmith, 372 F.3d 188, 190 (3d Cir. 2004)). "[W]hen interpreting a statute, courts should endeavor to give meaning to every word which Congress used and therefore should avoid an interpretation which renders an element of the language superfluous." Rosenberg v. XM Ventures, 274 F.3d 137, 141 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing United States v. State of Alaska, 521 U.S. 1 (1997)). This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, because the matter presents a federal question.

A. Violation of § 1692g(a)

Section 1692g(a) sets forth the information that must be contained in a written notice to the debtor. See 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a). Pursuant to this section, a debt collection notice must include the following information:

(1) the amount of the debt; (2) the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed; (3) a statement that unless the consumer, within thirty days after receipt of the notice, disputes the validity of the debt, or any portion thereof, the debt will be assumed to be valid by the debt collector; (4) a statement that if the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within the thirty-day period that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed, the debt collector will obtain verification of the debt or a copy of a judgment against the consumer and a copy of such verification or judgment will be mailed to the consumer by the debt collector; and (5) a statement that, upon the consumer's ...


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