United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville
S. MATTICE, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court are motions for summary judgment by all remaining
parties: Greeneville Collection Service, Inc. (Doc. 69),
Chesnut Law Office, LLP, and Alex Chesnut (Doc. 73), and
Plaintiffs Michael Brooks and Kasey Brooks (Doc. 75). Also
before the Court are two substantially identical Motions for
Judgment on the Pleadings by Chesnut Law Office, LLP, and
Alex Chesnut (Docs. 65 & 71). For the reasons set forth
herein, Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment
(Doc. 75) will be GRANTED IN PART and
DENIED IN PART; Greeneville Collection
Service, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 69)
will be DENIED, and Chesnut Law Office, LLP,
and Alex Chesnut's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 73)
will be DENIED. The Motions for Judgment on
the Pleadings (Docs. 65 & 71) will likewise be
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
about December 10, 2014, Michael Brooks received medical care
from Laughlin Memorial Hospital, Inc.
(“Laughlin”). (Doc. 76-1 at ¶¶ 4, 6-7).
He was married to Kasey Brooks at the time. (Doc. 70-5 at
12). Apparently, he did not pay the bill for the services he
received. Laughlin referred the account to Greenville
Collection Service, Inc. (“Greenville”) for
collection. (Doc. 70-2 at 7). Greeneville in turn referred
the account to Chesnut Law Office, LLP and attorney Alex
Chesnut (the “Chesnut Defendants”) to file a
collection action. (Id. at 14). On August 28, 2017,
Alex Chesnut filed a Civil Summons and Affidavit of Sworn
Account in Greene County General Sessions Court against
Michael Brooks and Kasey Brooks, identifying Laughlin as the
plaintiff. (Doc. 11-1). This lawsuit arises out of that
is a company that works to collect past-due consumer accounts
for various clients, including Laughlin. (Doc. 70-2 at 5).
The number of accounts Laughlin refers to Greeneville varies,
but the average is around two hundred accounts per month.
(Id. at 7). Greeneville receives account information
from Laughlin via email, which is automatically uploaded or
transferred to Greeneville's system. (Id.). Once
an account is referred, Greeneville sends out an initial
collection letter. (Doc. 70-2 at 7). Pursuant to an agreement
between Laughlin and Greeneville, if a lawsuit is not filed
in connection with an account, 30% of any amount collected
goes to Greeneville. (Id. at 17). If a lawsuit is
filed, 40% of any amount collected goes to Greeneville.
(Id.). If funds are collected through a lawsuit,
they are first applied to the filing and service fees paid by
Greeneville. (Id.). If Greeneville does not collect
anything from the lawsuit, it is not reimbursed for these
refers accounts to Chesnut Law for litigation by sending
information sheets it calls Debtor Master Files. (Doc. 70-1
at 6; Doc. 70-2 at 15). Each Debtor Master File is a
screenshot of a Greeneville computer. (Doc. 70-2 at 15). A
Greeneville program is open on the screen, displaying a
summary of the account information generated from information
received from Laughlin. (Id.). The Debtor Master
file for Plaintiffs lists Michael Brooks as the Debtor and
Michael Brooks and Kasey Brooks as Guarantor. (Doc. 70-1 at
64; Doc. 70-2 at 15). The sheet includes the date of service,
date the account was placed, balance due, and agency number
for Greeneville. (Id.). It identifies the client as
Laughlin Memorial Hospital. (Id.). The boxes for
transaction amount, total amount paid, accrued interest,
legal expenses, and interest rate are all blank.
(Id.). Below the screenshot image are three lines of
text: the names Michael Gene Brooks and Kasey Brooks, Michael
Brooks' social security number, and Michael Brooks'
to Greeneville, the Debtor Master File was the only document
sent to Chesnut Law prior to the preparation of the Civil
Summons and Affidavit. (Doc. 70-2 at 15; Doc. 70-1 at 6).
Attorney Chesnut testified his office would have reviewed the
Debtor Master File, but could not recall if they reviewed
anything else. (Doc. 70-1 at 6, 7). He testified he relies on
the address of the patient/spouse at the time the patient
received medical service, which he receives from Greeneville.
(Id. at 8). Chesnut further testified the Debtor
Master File does not indicate Michael Brooks and Kasey Brooks
were married, but that it “does list Michael Gene and
Kasey Brooks which indicates a marriage as guarantor.”
(Id. at 9). Similarly, Greeneville's
representative testified Chesnut Law would know the debtors
were a married couple because there were two names on the
Debtor Master File. (Doc. 70-2 at 16). She testified that
Greeneville verifies whether the debtor is married, single,
or divorced on the date of medical service. (Id.).
Kilday, a secretary at Chesnut Law, prepared the Civil
Summons and Affidavit of Sworn Account. (Doc. 70-2 at 7; Doc.
70-1 at 4). Elizabeth Gosnell of Greeneville Collection then
took the Affidavit of Sworn Account to Charles Whitfield, the
CEO of Laughlin Memorial Hospital. (Doc. 70-1 at 4; Doc. 70-2
at 5, 7). Mr. Whitfield signed the affidavit and Gosnell
notarized his signature. (Id.). The Affidavit
identifies the patient as Michael Brooks and the
“Debtor(s)” as Michael Brooks and Kasey Brooks.
(Id.). The Civil Summons identifies Alex A. Chesnut
as attorney for plaintiff Laughlin Memorial Hospital, Inc.
(Doc. 11-1). The Summons indicates $2, 631.44 is the amount
past due and owing on the account, plus court costs of $150
and service of process fees of $52. (Id.).
August 28, 2017, the collection action was filed in Greene
County General Sessions Court. (Id.). As with all
lawsuits they file from Greeneville, the Chesnut Defendants
paid the filing fee and service fee, but Greeneville
reimbursed them for both the same day. (Doc. 70-2 at 8, 17).
Greeneville also paid Chesnut's legal fee for the
collection action. (Doc. 70-1 at 7, 10). Chesnut testified
that at some point, either he or Chesnut Law had a signed
representation agreement with Laughlin Memorial; he could not
recall if he had an agreement with Greeneville. (Doc. 70-1 at
November 16, 2017, default judgment was entered against
Plaintiffs in the collection action in the amount of $2,
631.44 plus interest. (Doc. 11-1 at 1).
August 28, 2018, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint (Doc. 1),
and on October 11, 2018, they filed an Amended Complaint
(Doc. 11) (as amended, the “Complaint”). The
Complaint asserts claims for marital status discrimination in
violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act
(“ECOA”), invasion of privacy under Tennessee
state law and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
(“FDCPA”), and the following FDCPA claims:
1. Failure to send Plaintiffs a notice that contains the
disclosures required by 15 U.S.C.A. § 1692g; 2. False
representation of the legal status of the debt in violation
of §§ 1692e(2)(A), 1692e(8), 1692e, and 1692e(10);
3. Attempting to collect a debt from Mrs. Brooks that she
did not owe, in violation of §§ 1692e(2)(A),
1692e(5), 1692e(8), 1692e, 1692e(10), 1692f, 1692f(1), 1692d,
4. Claiming interest and collection fees from Mrs. Brooks
without a signed contract, in violation of §§
1692e, 1692e(2)(A), 1692e(2)(B), 1692e(5), 1692e(10), 1692f
5. Filing the collection lawsuit against Mrs. Brooks in an
improper venue, in violation of §§ 1692e,
1692e(10), 1692f, and 1692i(a)(2); and
6. Falsely representing or implying that a communication is
from an attorney, in violation of §§ 1692e(3) and
26, 2019, the Court granted in part a Motion for Judgment on
the Pleadings (Doc. 26) filed jointly by Laughlin and
Greeneville. (Doc. 56). The Court dismissed the third and
fourth FDCPA claims, italicized above, for lack of subject
matter jurisdiction. (Doc. 56 at 19-21). The Court found
consideration of these claims barred by the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, because both sought review
and rejection of the state court's default judgment.
(Id.). The Court also dismissed Plaintiffs' ECOA
claim, state law invasion of privacy claim, and FDCPA
invasion of privacy claim. (Id. at 26).
Chesnut Law and Alex Chesnut filed two identical Motions for
Judgment on the Pleadings (Docs. 65 & 71). Greeneville
Collection filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 69), as
did the Chesnut Defendants (Doc. 73). Finally, Plaintiffs
filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, asking the Court
to rule on all claims but reserve the issue of damages (Doc.
STANDARDS OF REVIEW
reviewing a motion for judgment on the pleadings under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), the Court “must
construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff, accept all of the complaint's factual
allegations as true, and determine whether the plaintiff
undoubtedly can prove no set of facts in support of his claim
that would entitle him to relief.” Engler v.
Arnold, 862 F.3d 571, 574-75 (6th Cir. 2017) (internal
quotations omitted). The Court reviews a Rule 12(c) motion
for judgment on the pleadings using the same standards it
applies to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. See
Heinrich v. Waiting Angels Adoption Servs., Inc., 668
F.3d 393, 403 (6th Cir. 2012) (“The manner of review
under Rule 12(c) is the same as a review under Rule
12(b)(6).” (internal quotation omitted)). “The
[plaintiff's] factual allegations, assumed to be true,
must do more than create speculation or suspicion of a
legally cognizable cause of action; they must show
entitlement to relief.” League of United Latin Am.
Citizens v. Bredesen, 500 F.3d 523, 527 (6th Cir. 2007).
“Mere labels and conclusions are not enough; the
allegations must contain ‘factual content that allows
the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant
is liable for the misconduct alleged.'”
Id. at 575 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).
the summary judgment motions, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
56 instructs the Court to grant summary judgment “if
the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any
material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A party asserting
the presence or absence of genuine issues of material fact
must support its position either by “citing to
particular parts of materials in the record, ”
including depositions, documents, affidavits or declarations,
stipulations, or other materials, or by “showing that
the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence
of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce
admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56 (c)(1). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the
Court must view the facts contained in the record and all
inferences that can be drawn from those facts in the light
most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,
587 (1986); Nat'l Satellite Sports, Inc. v. Eliadis
Inc., 253 F.3d 900, 907 (6th Cir. 2001). The Court
cannot weigh the evidence, judge the credibility of
witnesses, or determine the truth of any matter in dispute.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249
moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating that
no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp.
v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the movant
has satisfied this burden, the nonmoving party cannot
“rest upon its . . . pleadings, but rather must set
forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue
for trial.” Moldowan v. City of Warren, 578
F.3d 351, 374 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Matsushita,
475 U.S. at 586; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56).
passed the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to eliminate
the use of abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection
practices. Harvey v. Great Seneca Fin. Corp., 453
F.3d 324, 329 (6th Cir. 2006). “The statute is very
broad, and was intended to remedy ‘what it considered
to be a widespread problem.'” Id.
(quoting Frey v. Gangwish, 970 F.2d 1516, 1521 (6th
Cir. 1992)). Whether particular conduct violates the FDCPA is
an objective test based on the least sophisticated consumer.
prevail on an FDCPA claim, a plaintiff must establish that
(1) he or she is a “consumer” within the meaning
of the FDCPA, (2) the “debt” arises out of
transactions entered primarily for personal, family, or
household purposes, (3) the defendant is a “debt
collector” as defined by the FDCPA, and (4) the debt
collector violated a provision of the FDCPA in attempting to
collect a debt. White v. Univ. Fidelity, LP, __
Fed.Appx. __, 2019 WL 5856433, *2 (6th Cir. Nov. 8, 2019);
Clark v. Lender Processing Servs., 562 Fed.Appx.
460, 465-66 (6th Cir. 2014) (“To state a claim under
the FDCPA, a plaintiff must show that a defendant violated
one of the substantive provisions of the FDCPA while engaging
in debt collection activity.”). “Debt collectors
who fail to comply with … provisions of the Act are
subject to civil liability under 15 U.S.C. §
1692k.” Wadlington v. Credit Acceptance Corp.,
76 F.3d 103, 106 (6th Cir. 1996).
case, there is no dispute as to the first three elements:
Defendants are “debt collectors, ” Plaintiffs are
“consumers, ” and the account was a “debt,
” all within the meaning of the FDCPA. (See
Doc. 70 at 6). Michael and Kasey Brooks are natural people
who were obligated or alleged obligated to pay money arising
out of a transaction for personal medical services.
See 15 U.S.C.A. § 1692a(3), (5). Defendants are
likewise debt collectors within the meaning of the FDCPA.
Greeneville concedes it is a debt collector for the purpose
of its own summary judgment motion, and its representative
testified the company's business is to collect debts owed
to its clients. (Doc. 70 at 6; Doc. 70-2 at 5). In their
answer, the Chesnut Defendants state they are debt
collectors. (Doc. 21 at ¶¶ 18-19). Thus, only the
violation element of each FDCPA claim is at issue.
there appears to be some confusion as to the remaining FDCPA
claims in this action. Each party seeks judgment as to at
least one claim that is not before the Court, either because
it was previously dismissed or never asserted in the
Complaint. This confusion persists despite the
Court's June 26, 2019 Order, which explicitly set forth
the remaining claims before the Court: (1) failure to send
notice required by 15 U.S.C. § 1692g, asserted against
the Chesnut Defendants, (2) false representation of the legal
status of the debt, asserted against all Defendants, (3)
filing a collection action in an improper venue, asserted
against all Defendants, and finally, (4) false representation
that a communication is from an attorney, against all
Defendants. (Doc. 56 at 27).
Motions for ...