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MaCelus v. Capital Collection Service

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 7, 2017

Vilbrun MACELUS, Plaintiff,


          ROBERT B. KUGLER United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the Court upon Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 5) and Motion for Sanctions (Doc. No. 7), and Plaintiff's Opposition (Doc. No. 8) and Defendant's Reply (Doc. No. 9) thereto.

         This case concerns a collection letter sent by Capital Collection Service to Mr. Vilbrun Macelus for recovery of $351.00, and the entirety of this dispute appears to hinge on the purported ambiguity of the language “Account for: Advanced Endoscopy & Surgical Ctr., LLC.” Plaintiff argues that “the least sophisticated consumer, ” as interpreted under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692-1692p, would not understand to whom this debt belongs. See Brown v. Card Serv. Ctr., 464 F.3d 450, 454 (3d Cir. 2006). We disagree, and accordingly dismiss this suit for the reasons stated below. However, because Plaintiff has some basis, however flimsy, to bring this suit, we deny the motion for sanctions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Advanced Endoscopy & Surgical Center, LLC, apparently hired Defendant Capital Collection Service to recover a debt of $351.00 allegedly incurred by Plaintiff. (Am. Compl.) Capital Collection Service is a company that attempts to collect debts due to its clients, and contacts debtors by various means including, as here, letters. What brings Mr. Macelus to court today is a letter notifying Plaintiff of a claim for collection and requesting that Plaintiff “pay or dispute this account directly with this office.” (Am. Compl. Ex. A.) The letter states in the top right corner what it is about: “Account for: Advanced Endoscopy & Surgical Ctr, LLC.” Below that, it states “Service Dated: 08/24/15” and “Balance Due: $351.00.” It states “This claim has been sent to us for collection. We request that you pay or dispute this debt directly with this office.” In case there was any doubt about what these words and numbers refer to, the header of the letter is “Capital Collection Service, ” whose name ought to be a dead giveaway as to the purpose of the letter. The letter also states “[t]his is an attempt to collect a debt by a debt collector.”

         Plaintiff, though, discerned injustice in this language, and filed a class action complaint. Plaintiff has since amended as of right, and the operative complaint argues that “[a]lthough the Letter identifies the name of the facility the alleged debt was incurred to, the Letter fails to explicitly or implicitly identify Plaintiff's current creditor.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 33.) Plaintiff also argues that as a “least sophisticated consumer, ” he “was left unsure as to what creditor Defendant was attempting to collect for.” (Id. at ¶ 34.) He argues that “[m]erely naming the creditor as the ‘account, ' does not explicitly convey that the ‘account' is the current creditor to whom the debt is owed.” (Id. at 38.) Plaintiff argues this is part of some pernicious pattern and practice used to collect consumer debts.

         Defendant received the original complaint and promptly responded by moving for dismissal and also notifying Plaintiff, consistent with Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c)(2), that if he did not drop the case, Defendant would move for sanctions. Plaintiff, undeterred, filed an amended complaint, which he now argues moots the motion to dismiss, and opposed the sanctions motion. The amended complaint has only one claim: that this conduct violates the FDCPA, specifically 15 U.S.C. § 1692g.

         This Court addresses three issues today. First, does the amended complaint moot the motion to dismiss? Second, if not, should the Court grant the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim? And, finally, should the Court impose sanctions on Plaintiff for filing a frivolous lawsuit?

         II. THE 12(b)(6) STANDARD

         When considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim, Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. A motion to dismiss may be granted only if the plaintiff has failed to set forth fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests that make such a claim plausible on its face. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). Although Rule 8 does not require “detailed factual allegations, ” it requires “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, the Court must “tak[e] note of the elements [the] plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, it should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, [w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, [the] court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016) (alterations in original) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).


         A. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Is Not Moot

         Plaintiff argues that Defendant's motion to dismiss is moot because Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, which “supersedes the original version in providing the blueprint for the future course of a lawsuit.” Snyder v. Pascack Valley Hospital,303 F.3d 271, 276 (3d Cir. 2002). Plaintiff is right insofar as the amended complaint becomes the operative complaint. But that alone does not the make the motion to dismiss moot. Plaintiffs amended complaint merely removed two counts, leaving only a claim under 15 U.S.C. § 1692g, under which a debt collector must identify the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed. Defendant's motion to dismiss is responsive to this, and there are no material changes to the claim in the amended complaint. “If some of the defects raised in the original motion remain in the new pleading, the court simply may consider the motion as being addressed to the amended pleading. To hold otherwise would be to exalt form over ...

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