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Marcella Crenshaw v. Computex Information Services

April 29, 2011

MARCELLA CRENSHAW, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMPUTEX INFORMATION SERVICES, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shipp, Michael A., United States Magistrate Judge

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

On March 23, 2010, Plaintiff Marcella Crenshaw ("Plaintiff") filed a Complaint on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, seeking a broad range of damages and relief, alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq. (See generally Docket Entry Number ("Doc. No.") 1 ("Compl.").) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges Defendants Computex Information Services, Inc. ("Computex"), Levy, Ehrlich & Petrillo, PC ("LEP") (collectively, "Defendants") and Evergreen Apartment Management, LLC ("Evergreen") violated five provisions of the FDCPA, which comprise the following five Counts:

Count I -- Defendants violated Section 1692j(a) by collaborating "to design, furnish and deliver a collection form letter to Plaintiff which they knew or should have known would create the false belief that the alleged debt had already been turned over to [LEP];"

Count II -- Evergreen violated Section 1692j(b) by collaborating with Computex and LEP, who allegedly violated Section 1692j(a);*fn1

Count III -- Defendants violated Sections 1692g(a)(3),(4),(5) by sending a "joint collection letter," which would cause the least sophisticated consumer to be unsure of her rights;

Count IV -- Defendants violated Section 1692e(10) by using deceptive and false representations to collect or attempt to collect a debt; and

Count V -- Defendants violated Section 1692c(c) by sending Plaintiff an additional validation notice ("collection letter") after Plaintiff‟s counsel notified Defendants to "Cease and Desist direct communication with Plaintiff." (Compl. ¶¶ 24-46 (emphasis in original).)

This matter now comes before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment submitted by Plaintiff and Computex and LEP, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a). (Doc. No. 26 ("Pl.‟s Moving Br."); Doc. No. 27 ("Defs.‟ Moving Br."), respectively.) Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78(b), the cross-motions for summary judgment shall be decided on the papers submitted.

Having carefully reviewed and considered the relevant papers, and for the following reasons, Plaintiff‟s motion for summary judgment is DENIED on all counts and Defendants‟ motion for summary judgment is GRANTED on all counts.

I.BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was a tenant at a property owned by Evergreen, pursuant to a one year lease agreement. (Doc. No. 34 ("Pl.‟s Reply Br.") 6.) After failing to timely pay her December rent, on December 15, 2009, Defendants sent Plaintiff one validation notice attempting to collect the outstanding rent and associated fees on behalf of its client Evergreen. (Compl. ¶¶ 16-21; Defs.‟ Moving Br. 5-6; Doc. No. 30 ("Defs.‟ Opp‟n Br.") 2-3.) This letter attempted to collect $1,184.00 in back rent, plus any fees that accrued between the time the letter was sent and payment of the debt, for rent owed to Evergreen. (Defs.‟ Joint St. of Uncontested Mat. Facts ("DUMF") ¶¶ 5-6; Pl.‟s Opp‟n to DUMF ¶ 5.) The letter was written on the letterhead of both Computex and LEP (Pl.‟s St. of Uncontested Mat. Facts ("PUMF") ¶ 2) and states, in pertinent part:

According to the records of EVERGREEN APT. MGMT., LLC [identified earlier in the letter as the creditor/landlord], the total amount you owe them is $1,184.00. Additional sums may become due at the time you choose to pay. You may contact the creditor/landlord or Computex to obtain the amount due at that time. Federal law requires our offices to inform you that unless you notify in writing either office within thirty (30) days after receiving this Notice that you dispute the validity of this debt or any portion thereof, our offices will assume this debt is valid. If you notify either office in writing within thirty (30) days from receiving this Notice that the debt or any portion thereof is disputed, the office contacted by you in writing will obtain a verification of the debt or obtain a copy of a judgment and mail you a copy of such judgment or verification.

The office contacted by you will provide the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor, if requested by you in writing within 30 days from receiving this Notice.

This disclosure pertains to your dealings with our offices. It does not affect your dealings with the Court. In particular, it does not change the time or date at which you must appear in Court in response a [sic] Summons and Complaint. A Summons is a command from the Court, not our offices, and you must follow its instructions even if you dispute the validity or amount of the debt.

This communication is from debt collectors. This is an attempt to collect a debt and any information obtained will be used for that purpose. (Compl. Ex. A.) Defendants simultaneously filed a Summons and Complaint for the eviction of Plaintiff based on her delinquent rent obligation. (Defs.‟ Moving Br. 6.)

In a letter dated January 6, 2010, Plaintiff‟s counsel responded by notifying Defendants "that [Plaintiff] disputed the validity of the alleged debt and requested a full accounting" (PUMF ¶ 10; DUMF ¶ 8; Defs.‟ Opp‟n Br. 4) and instructed Defendants to "Cease and Desist all collection efforts and communications with Ms. Crenshaw." (Compl. Ex. B, emphasis in original; Defs.‟ Moving Br. 7.) Defendants responded to Plaintiff‟s counsel on January 10, 2010 with a full accounting and explanation of the outstanding debt owed to Evergreen. (DUMF ¶ 9;

Defs.‟ Moving Br. 7.) The accounting included an amount for the outstanding December rent and the associated late fee, a legal fee and the January rent and late fee, since the January rent payment was not received on the fifth day of the month, as otherwise required by the lease agreement. (Compl. Ex. C; DUMF ¶¶ 5-6; Pl.‟s Opp‟n to DUMF 1, ¶ 5.) On or about January 25, 2010, Plaintiff paid her outstanding December rent, the attendant late fees and interest, her January rent plus fees and interest. (DUMF ¶¶ 10; Pl.‟s Opp‟n to DUMF ¶ 10; Decl. of Marc Sampson ("Sampson Decl.") ¶¶ 9.)

On February 11, 2010, Defendants sent a nearly-identical validation letter to Plaintiff, based on her unpaid, outstanding February rent. (DUMF ¶¶ 13; Pl.‟s Opp‟n to DUMF ¶ 13.) In response, on February 22, 2010, Plaintiff‟s counsel sent Defendants another letter advising that Plaintiff was represented by counsel with respect to this debt and instructing Defendants to cease and desist all direct communications. (Compl. Ex. E; Defs.‟ Moving Br. 7-8; Defs.‟ Opp‟n Br. 4.)

II. LEGAL DISCUSSION

As discussed above, both Plaintiff and Defendants move for summary judgment on all remaining Counts, which allege that Defendants violated 15 U.S.C. Sections 1692j(a), 1692g(a),(3),(4),(5), 1692e(10) and 1692c(c). After reviewing Plaintiff‟s and Defendants‟ motion papers and supporting materials, it is clear that neither party disagrees on the content of the December 15, 2009, January 6, 2010 and February 11, 2010 letters, the number of validation letters sent, nor whether the February 11, 2010 letter was sent after Plaintiff‟s counsel requested Defendants to cease and desist all collection efforts and/or communications with Plaintiff. Thus, the Court finds that there are no issues of genuine material fact in dispute that bear relevance to the remaining disputes and, as such, this matter is ripe for summary judgment consideration. Having ...


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