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Strohmeyer v. Chase Bank USA, N.A.

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville Division

August 5, 2019

KAMALA SHARDUL STROHMEYER, Plaintiff,
v.
CHASE BANK USA, N.A., EQUIFAX, INC., a/k/a EQUIFAX INFORMATINOSERVICES, LLC, and DOES 1-10, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THOMAS W. PHILLIPS SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This civil action is before the court for consideration of Defendant Equifax's motion for summary judgment. [Doc. 18]. Plaintiff has filed a response, and Defendant has submitted a reply. [Docs. 19, 21]. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted and this case will be dismissed.

         I. Background

         In her complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Equifax is a consumer reporting agency (“CRA”). [Doc. 1 at 8]. She alleges that, on June 16, 2017, she sent Equifax a notice of dispute demanding validation of an alleged account with Chase Bank (“Chase”). [Id. at 10]. On August 2, 2017, she sent Equifax a follow-up notice of dispute, again demanding validation of an alleged account with Chase. However, Plaintiff alleges that Equifax failed to note the dispute and continued to report the inaccurate information. [Id.]. She contends that Equifax did not respond to her letters of dispute, and refused to amend its reports to reflect the dispute, in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”). [Id. at 11]. Plaintiff alleges that, not only did Equifax fail to respond to her written request, it failed to delete information found to be inaccurate, reinserted the information without following the requirements of the FCRA, and failed to properly investigate her disputes. [Id. at 13]. Moreover, Plaintiff alleges that Equifax failed to maintain and follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of her credit reports. Plaintiff alleges that Equifax's actions were malicious and willful. [Id.]. Plaintiff also alleges state law claims against Equifax for: (1) invasion of privacy; (2) negligent, wanton and/or intentional hiring and supervision of incompetent employees or agents; and (3) unspecified state law claims. [Id. at 13-17].

         Plaintiff attaches to her complaint a letter sent to Chase, and copied to Equifax, dated July 23, 2016. [Doc. 1-1 at 1-6]. In this letter, Plaintiff stated that she was disputing Chase's claim for payment, and had concluded that Chase was in breach of the alleged credit card agreement. [Id.]. A second letter to Chase, and copied to Equifax, dated August 17, 2016, repeated the same information as the July 23 letter, but noted that Chase had responded to her prior letter, although not to her satisfaction. [Id. at 7-12]. A third letter to Chase, and copied to Equifax, dated June 16, 2017, indicates that Plaintiff disputed an inaccuracy on her credit reports, namely, a report regarding a Chase Account which stated in Equifax's report: “Charge Off, Charged off account 05/2016, Charge Off Amount $13, 284.00.” [Id. at 13-15]. Plaintiff contended that this item was “entirely inaccurate and incomplete.” [Id.]. An August 2, 2017 letter to Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion stated that it was a follow-up to the June 16 letter, and no changes had been made to her credit reports referencing her dispute with Chase. [Id. at 19-20]. Finally, Plaintiff attaches a copy of a letter she received from Equifax on July 10, 2017, which stated that Equifax had reviewed her dispute and had verified that the disputed account belonged to Plaintiff. [Id. at 24-27].

         In support of the instant motion for summary judgment, Equifax submitted a sworn declaration from Shetonjela Barber, a legal support associate at Equifax, detailing the following facts, with supporting documentation. [Doc. 18-2 at 2-3]. Equifax is a CRA as defined by the FCRA. [Id. at 3]. Equifax maintains detailed procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information it reports, and corrects errors that are brought to its attention. [Id. at 4]. Specifically, Equifax only accepts credit information from those sources that it has deemed reasonably reliable based on Equifax's own investigation, the source's reputation in the community, and/or Equifax's longstanding business relationships with it. Equifax conducts an extensive investigation to ensure that a company is reliable. [Id.]. Once Equifax receives data from an approved source, Equifax conducts a series of computerized quality checks before adding the data to its consumer database, to determine whether the date is in the proper format and whether the data, as a whole, deviates from the expected norms. [Id. at 4-5].

         Equifax also maintains detailed policies and procedures for conducting reasonable reinvestigations of information disputed by consumers. [Id. at 5]. Specifically, upon receipt of a dispute, Equifax locates the consumer's credit file and then opens an Automated Consumer Interview Systems (“ACIS”) case, which tracks the process of the reinvestigation. Equifax then reviews and considers all relevant information, including any documentation provided by the consumer. [Id.]. If further investigation is required, Equifax notifies the source of the account information of the dispute, identifies the nature of the dispute, and includes the consumer's account information as then appears in Equifax's credit file. [Id. at 5-6]. Generally, Equifax transmits this through a form on an Automated Consumer Dispute Verifications (“ACDV”) system. [Id. at 6]. The ACDV electronic mail process allows CRAs to communicate with data furnishers through the use of an array of pre-defined codes and narrative phrases, and the standardized process enhances consistently and reduces misunderstandings. Once the data furnisher receives the dispute from Equifax, it is generally required, both by its contract with Equifax and the FCRA, to conduct its own investigation and report the results to Equifax. If the data furnisher advises Equifax to delete or update the account information, Equifax takes the necessary action and notifies the consumer. Once the reinvestigation is complete, Equifax sends the consumer the results along with a summary of the consumer's rights under the FCRA, additional steps the consumer may take, and a description of the procedures used to reinvestigate the dispute. [Id.].

         Equifax has determined that Chase is a reliable source of information based on the history of their relationship and Chase's agreement to the terms of a subscriber agreement. [Id. at 6]. Chase reported to Equifax a credit card account ending in 4733 (“Account”) belonging to Plaintiff. [Id. at 7]. On July 28, 2016, Equifax received a letter dated July 23, 2016, from Plaintiff, in which Plaintiff contended that the Account was not delinquent, because there was not a “legal and legitimate loan.” [Doc. 18-2 at 7; Doc. 18-3 at 2]. Plaintiff requested that Equifax “enter this account as being suspended[.]” [Doc. 18-3 at 2]. Plaintiff also attached to this letter a copy of her July 23, 2016, letter to Chase, which she attached to the instant complaint. [Id. at 3-8]. In response to this dispute, Equifax followed its normal reinvestigation procedures, and, on August 1, 2016, Equifax sent an ACDV to Chase to request verification of the Account. [Doc. 18-2 at 7; Doc. 18-4 at 1]. Chase's employee, Stephan Boddie, prepared Chase's response to the ACDV. [Id.]. On August 9, 2016, Equifax received Chase's response to the ACDV, confirming that the Account belonged to Plaintiff, and confirming the account information, but modifying some payment history. [Doc. 18-2 at 8; Doc. 18-4]. On or about August 9, 2016, Equifax provided the results of the reinvestigation to Plaintiff. [Doc. 18-2 at 8].

         On July 29, 2016, Equifax received another letter dated July 23, 2016, from Plaintiff, which contained the same language as the letter received on July 28, 2016. [Doc. 18-2 at 8; Doc. 18-5 at 1]. This letter to Equifax also attached Plaintiff's July 23, 2016, letter to Chase, which Plaintiff attached to the instant complaint. [Doc. 18-5 at 3-8]. On July 29, 2016, as part of its reinvestigation, Equifax sent an ACDV to Chase to request verification of the Account. [Doc. 18-2 at 8; Doc. 18-6 at 2]. Chase's employee Stephan Boddie prepared Chase's response to the ACDV. [Id.]. On August 9, 2016, Equifax received Chase's response to the ACDV, confirming that the Account belonged to Plaintiff and confirming all account information, but modifying some payment history. [Doc. 18-2 at 8; Doc. 18-6]. On or about August 10, 2016, Equifax provided Plaintiff with its reinvestigation results. [Doc. 18-2 at 8].

         On August 20, 2016, Equifax received a letter, dated August 17, 2016, from Plaintiff, which again contained the same language as Plaintiff's prior two letters to Equifax. [Doc. 18-2 at 9; Doc. 18-8 at 2]. Plaintiff attached a copy of her August 17, 2016, letter to Chase, which she also attached to the instant complaint. [Doc. 18-8 at 3-8]. On August 21, 2016, Equifax again received the exact same letter, dated August 17, 2016. [Doc. 18-2 at 9; Doc. 18-9]. On August 23, 2016, Equifax sent an ACDV to Chase as part of its reinvestigation response to these two letters. [Doc. 18-2 at 9; Doc. 18-10 at 2]. Chase's employee, Nivedha Nadar prepared Chase's response to the ACDV. [Id.]. On September 1, 2016, Equifax received Chase's response to the ACDV, which confirmed that the Account belonged to Plaintiff, but modified some account information and payment history. [Doc. 18-2 at 9; Doc. 18-10]. On September 2, 2016, Equifax provided Plaintiff with its reinvestigation results. [Doc. 18-2 at 9].

         On June 20, 2017, Equifax received a letter dated June 16, 2017, from Plaintiff, which was addressed to Chase, and disputed the Account. [Doc. 18-2 at 10; Doc. 18-11]. Plaintiff contested the information Equifax's report contained about the Account, specifically, that the account was a “Charge Off, Charged off account 05/2016, Charge Off Amount $13, 284.00.” [Doc. 18-11 at 2]. On June 29, 2017, Equifax sent an ACDV to Chase to request verification of the Account. [Doc. 18-2 at 10; Doc. 18-12 at 2]. Chase's employee, Meenaz Ibrahim prepared Chase's response. [Id.]. On July 7, 2017, Equifax received Chase's response to the ACDV, confirming that the Account belonged to Plaintiff, but modifying some account information and payment history. [Doc. 18-2 at 10; Doc. 18-12]. On or about July 10, 2017, Equifax provided Plaintiff with its reinvestigation results. [Doc. 18-2 at 10].

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party shows that the record- the admissions, affidavits, answers to interrogatories, declarations, depositions, or other materials-is without a genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), (c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). The moving party has the initial burden of identifying the basis for summary judgment and the portions of the record that lack genuine issues of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving party discharges that burden by showing “an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, ” at which point the non-moving party, to withstand summary judgment, must identify facts in the record that create a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 324-25.

         Not just any factual dispute will defeat a motion for summary judgment-the requirement is “that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original). A fact is “material” if it may affect the outcome of the case under the applicable substantive law, and an issue is “genuine” if the evidence is “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. at 248. In short, the inquiry is whether the record contains evidence that “presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at 251-52. When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Scott ...


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