United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division
OPINION AND ORDER
S. VAN BOKKELEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Peterson sued W. Christian Meyer for violations of the Fair
Debt Collection Practices Act. Both parties moved for summary
and Penny Peterson were married at all relevant times. In
early September 2014, a medical provider treated Penny. She
signed agreements to pay the medical provider for these
services. But, for a period of time, she did not pay the
balance due after insurance payments. The medical provider
eventually referred the unpaid amount to attorney Meyer for
collection. Carl asserts he is not liable for the debt.
(Pl.'s Reply, DE 23 at 1.)
March 3, 2015, Meyer sent a dunning letter to Penny
attempting to collect the alleged debt in the amount of $2,
136.08, plus $52.37 in interest, plus $875.78 in
attorney's fees. Meyer addressed this letter to Penny
only. The letter does not mention Carl.
showed the letter to Carl, who called Meyer's office on
March 9, 2015, and spoke with Meyer's assistant.
According to the assistant, Carl mentioned that he and his
wife hoped to refinance their home. (Def.'s Br., DE 18 at
4.) Carl and the assistant discussed a payment plan.
Carl's understanding was that the payment plan was
exclusively for his wife, and did not obligate him. Regarding
the first phone call, Carl testified “I understood that
I had helped my wife set up a payment agreement . . .
.” (Dep. Carl Peterson, DE 17-1 at 26:6-7.)
then spoke with Meyer or his assistant on March 11, 2015.
They discussed payment arrangements. Counsel for Meyer asked
Carl at his deposition about this phone call:
Q: As you sit here eight months later, what do you remember
about that first phone call where you talked with Attorney
A: I just remember talking about possible payment
Q: Do you remember the parameters of those discussions?
A: I think we were just talking about what we could possibly
handle or what my wife could handle, because there have been
quite a few other medical bills the last year or so and I was
trying to help her get it as low as possible just so she
could continue to pay hers and I could continue to pay mine,
because this was not the only one we had.
Q: Do you recall any discussion in either of those first two
phone calls where there was any discussion about who was
going to be responsible for making the payments?
A: I guess my thought was that it was my wife.
Q: And I appreciate that. What I'm asking is, was there
ever a statement made that this will only be your wife or was
it something that was left unstated?
A: I think it was unstated. If there was something specific,
I don't remember.
(Id. at 27:9-28:2.)
acknowledges that the result of these telephonic
communications was an agreement to a payment arrangement
(Pl.'s Br., DE 13 at 1) but the parties disagree about
whether the arrangement would bind Carl. Carl claims he never
agreed to be legally obligated for the debt. (Id. at
same day, on March 11, 2015,  Meyer's assistant sent the
Petersons a proposed Payment Agreement. This document
identifies Carl and Penny collectively as “Obligor,
” and sets out a payment plan by which Carl and Penny
would agree to pay various sums per month, with the final
payment due in March 2016. This proposed agreement contains
separate signature blocks for Carl and Penny. But the
Petersons did not sign this proposed agreement.
claims the proposed Payment Agreement was an attempt to
collect the medical debt from him. Indeed, the document
identifies itself as an attempt to collect a debt:
“THIS COMMUNICATION IS AN ATTEMPT TO COLLECT A DEBT AND
ANY INFORMATION OBTAINED WILL BE USED FOR THAT
PURPOSE.” (Payment Agreement, DE 13-1 at
filed a lawsuit regarding the debt against only Penny in
Tippecanoe Superior Court on March 23, 2015: Cause Number
March 30, 2015, Carl called Meyer's office and said he
did not agree with the proposed Payment Agreement because it
called for his signature and he didn't think he had an
obligation to sign for his wife's debt. Carl claims the
office told him he was responsible for the debt because it
was medical debt incurred by his wife. (Aff. Carl Peterson,
DE 13-1, ¶ 11.) Carl argues that the office's claim
notes tend to confirm that the office made this statement.
(Pl.'s Br., DE 13 at 2, citing Exhibit C, DE 13-3.) But
Meyer and his staff deny ever telling Carl he was legally
obligated to pay his wife's debt. (Def.'s Br., DE 18
at 2.) During this call, Meyer's assistant told Carl
about the lawsuit. This was his first notice of the lawsuit
because Penny had not yet been served.
personally called Carl back the same day. The parties also
dispute the contents of this conversation. Carl claims Meyer
told him that he was responsible for his wife's medical
debt because of the doctrine of necessities, and that Meyer
asked Carl to sign an Agreed Judgment in exchange for the
medical provider's agreement to accept payments on the
debt. (Aff. Carl Peterson, DE 13-1, ¶ 13.) Carl
testified that Meyer said Indiana law holds the husband
responsible for all his wife's bills, and that Carl
concluded based on this conversation that Meyer would file a
lawsuit against Carl based on the debt. (Dep. Carl Peterson,
DE 17-1 at 33:22-35:1.)
Meyer says he merely explained the doctrine of necessities
and explained that he lacked sufficient information to
determine whether or not Carl was liable for the debt. (Aff.
Meyer, DE 17-3, ¶ 14.) Meyer says he explained that he
was asking Carl to sign the Payment Agreement in exchange for
the ability to make payments and avoid further legal action
against Penny. (Def.'s Br., DE 18 at 6, quoting Aff.
Meyer, DE 17-3, ¶ 14.) Meyer claims Carl agreed that he
and his wife would sign Agreed Judgments. Id. Meyer
and his assistant claim they never told Carl he was legally
obligated for his wife's debt. (Aff. Meyer, DE 17-3,
¶ 15; Aff. DeLion, DE, 17-4, ¶ 9.)
April 1, 2015, Meyer sent a letter and two proposed Agreed
Judgments to Carl and Penny. This letter purports to concern
the then-pending small-claims lawsuit and lists Carl's
name in the reference to that lawsuit: “Re: GLHS
Unity Surgical Center v. Carl E. & Penny S. Peterson
Cause No. 79D04-1503-SC-01137.” (Letter, April 1, 2015,
DE 1-3 at 1.) But Carl was not a party to that lawsuit. And
Carl claims he was not liable for the debt.
letter, Meyer references his telephone conversation with Carl
on March 30, 2015, and says the enclosed Agreed Judgment
“outlines the terms of your agreement for payment of
the medical account . . . .” (Id.) Meyer says
in the letter that once the Petersons sign and return the
Agreed Judgments, he will file Penny's with the
Tippecanoe Superior Court, and he will hold Carl's
pending receipt of timely payments. (Id.)
enclosed proposed Agreed Judgment bears a caption listing
Penny S. Peterson as the Defendant in the case filed in
Tippecanoe Superior Court, and calls for her signature. The
other enclosed proposed Agreed Judgment bears a caption
listing Carl E. Peterson as the Defendant in the same case,
and calls for his signature. Again, Carl was not actually a
party to that lawsuit. The Petersons did not sign the
proposed Agreed Judgments.
called Meyer's office again on April 3, 2015, and
indicated he still did not think he should have to sign for
was served with the small-claims lawsuit on April 7, 2015.
Carl understood at all times that he was not a party to that
appeared with Penny at a hearing in the small-claims lawsuit
on May 20, 2015, and discussed the debt with Meyer in person,
on the record. They discussed a payment plan. Carl mentioned
efforts to refinance their home, and their desire to avoid a
judgment. Meyer and Penny executed a Withheld Judgment the
same day. Carl did not sign this document.
Claims and ...