December 2, 2013
EMMANUEL ODI, Plaintiff-Appellant,
ASSET ACCEPTANCE LLC, Defendant-Respondent.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 20, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Essex County, Docket No. 0096-12.
Emmanuel Odi, appellant pro se.
Fulton, Friedman & Guillace, LLP, attorneys for respondent (Leonard H. Franco, on the brief).
Before Judges Fuentes and Fasciale.
Plaintiff appeals from a January 31, 2012 order entered after a small-claims bench trial dismissing his complaint against defendant alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C.A. §§ 1692 to -1692p, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C.A. §§ 1681 to -1681x,  and defamation. We affirm.
Defendant notified plaintiff of a debt, which plaintiff disputed. Thereafter, plaintiff requested validation of the debt from defendant. Plaintiff then unsuccessfully applied for credit and obtained a credit report which listed the debt to defendant. Plaintiff requested that defendant remove the debt from his credit report if defendant did not provide verification of the debt within thirty days.
Defendant provided to plaintiff a First USA Data Entry Application, an Avon account summary, and a Chase account summary. Defendant indicated to plaintiff that "we are presently unable to determine the nature of your dispute." Defendant notified plaintiff that it would report the account as disputed, requested an explanation of why plaintiff believed the information was inaccurate, and enclosed a one-page "debt validation" sheet. The "debt validation" sheet listed the account number, prior creditor, prior account number, balance, principal, interest, fees, plaintiff's address, the last four digits of plaintiff's social security number, and a contact number for defendant.
Judge Ned Rosenberg conducted the bench trial and found that (1) plaintiff placed defendant on notice of his dispute as required by the FDCPA; (2) defendant had no pending lawsuits against plaintiff for collection of the debt; (3) the "debt validation" sheet constituted validation of the debt; and (4) plaintiff did not sustain damages. The judge entered a judgment for defendant and dismissed the complaint.
On appeal, plaintiff argues primarily that the judge erred by finding defendant validated the debt and plaintiff failed to show damages. Plaintiff contends that the judge should have found that the debt was invalid, and he contends that the judge was biased. After a thorough review of the record and consideration of the controlling legal principles, we conclude that plaintiff's arguments are without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). We add the following comments.
A trial court's factual findings "are considered binding on appeal when supported by adequate, substantial and credible evidence." Rova Farms Resort, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Co., 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974). We have no reason to disturb Judge Rosenberg's findings of fact.
The FCRA provides for validation of debts, 15 U.S.C.A. § 1692g, including notice of debt and verification of a disputed debt. Regarding disputed debts, the FCRA provides:
If the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within [thirty days of receiving notice of the debt] that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed, or that the consumer requests the name and address of the original creditor, the debt collector shall cease collection of the debt, or any disputed portion thereof, until the debt collector obtains verification of the debt or a copy of a judgment, or the name and address of the original creditor, and a copy of such verification or judgment, or name and address of the original creditor, is mailed to the consumer by the debt collector.
[15 U.S.C.A. § 1692g(b).]
A computer printout that informs the consumer of the amount of the debt, the "services provided, and the dates on which the debts were incurred, " satisfies the verification requirement. Graziano v. Harrison, 950 F.2d 107, 112-13 (3d Cir. 1991).
Here, assuming that plaintiff timely notified defendant of his dispute, defendant had an obligation to verify the debt. The judge found defendant supplied the verification to plaintiff based on credible evidence in the record including the validation sheet, the First USA Data Entry Application, and a Chase account summary. This information was sufficient to inform plaintiff of the amount of the debt, the breakdown of principal and interest owed, and the nature of the debt owed. The data entry application printout was a suitable substitute for a signed credit application because plaintiff submitted the application online, and therefore there was no signed application. See id. at 112-13.
Plaintiff failed to prove damages. A plaintiff has the burden of proving damages and must do so "with such certainty as the nature of the case may permit, laying a foundation which will enable the trier of the facts to make a fair and reasonable estimate." Totaro, Duffy, Cannova & Co., L.L.C. v. Lane, Middleton & Co., L.L.C., 191 N.J. 1, 14 (2007) (quoting Lane v. Oil Delivery Inc., 216 N.J.Super. 413, 420 (App. Div. 1987)). Here, plaintiff provided insufficient evidence to establish how the alleged denial of credit, or the decrease in his credit score, caused him any actual and quantifiable financial harm. Finally, defendant never instituted a collection action against plaintiff.