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Smith v. GC Services Limited Partnership

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

June 19, 2017

FRANCINA SMITH, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
GC SERVICES LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, a Delaware limited partnership, and OWNERS RESOURCE GROUP GC GP BUYER, LLC, a Delaware limited liability company, Defendants.


          RICHARDX. YOUNG, United States District Court Judge

         Plaintiff, Francina Smith, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, claims the Defendants, GC Services Limited Partnership and Owner Resource Group GC GP Buyer, LLC, sent her and the putative class a debt collection letter that violated various provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. Defendants move to dismiss this action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) and for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). For the reasons that follow, the court DENIES Defendants' motion.

         I. Background

         Defendants sent Plaintiff a form collection letter, dated March 17, 2016, which reads, in relevant part:

As of the date of this letter, our records show you owe a balance of $3, 095.00 to Synchrony Bank. If you dispute this balance or the validity of this debt, please let us know in writing. If you do not dispute this debt in writing within 30 days after you receive this letter, we will assume this debt is valid.

(Filing No. 25-3, Collection Letter). The text of Section 1692g(a)(3) of the FDCPA, however, simply says that a consumer need only “dispute[] the validity of the debt.” Plaintiff's Amended Complaint - Class Action, filed on October 18, 2016, alleges that Defendants violated Section 1692g by wrongfully informing Plaintiff that disputes must be in writing when, in fact, an oral dispute is valid. (Filing No. 25, Amended Compl. ¶¶ 12-15). She alleges Defendants' letter also violated Sections 1692e and 1692f because the statement-that any dispute of the debt must be in writing-was false, deceptive, and misleading, (id. ¶¶ 16-19), and unfair and unconscionable, (id. ¶¶ 20-23).

         II. Discussion

         A. Rule 12(b)(1) Motion

         A motion to dismiss for lack of standing is a challenge to the court's subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1). See Scanlon v. Eisenberg, 669 F.3d 838, 841-42 (7th Cir. 2012). In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id. (citation omitted). In addition, the court may look beyond the complaint and review any other evidence to resolve the jurisdictional issue. Apex Digital, Inc. v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 572 F.3d 440, 444 (7th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).

         The burden is on the plaintiff to allege facts demonstrating the required elements of standing. Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 1547 (2016). Those elements are: (1) an injury in fact suffered by the plaintiff, (2) that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. Id.

         Defendants' motion focuses on whether Plaintiff sufficiently alleged an injury in fact. “To establish injury in fact, a plaintiff must show that he or she suffered ‘an invasion of a legally protected interest' that is ‘concrete and particularized' and ‘actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.'” Id. at 1548 (citation and quotation marks omitted). An injury is “particularized” if it “affect[s] the plaintiff in a personal and individual way.” Id. An injury is “concrete” if it “actually exists.” Id.

         In Spokeo, the Supreme Court held that a “bare procedural violation [of a federal statute], divorced from any concrete harm, ” cannot satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement of Article III. Id. at 1549. “This does not mean, however that the risk of real harm cannot satisfy the requirement of concreteness.” Id. In some circumstances, the violation of a statutory procedural right will be enough to confer standing. Id. “In other words, a plaintiff in such a case need not allege any additional harm beyond the one Congress has identified.” Id.

         Although the Seventh Circuit has not had occasion to consider Article III standing for FDCPA violations after Spokeo, several district courts within the Seventh Circuit and other circuit courts have addressed this issue and have held that violations of the FDCPA constitute concrete injuries in fact, sufficient to find Article III standing. See Church v. Accretive Health, Inc., 654 Fed.Appx. 990, 994 (11th Cir. 2016); Long v. Fenton & McGarvey Law Firm P.S.C., No. 1:15-cv-1924-LJM-DKL, 2016 WL 7179367, at *3 (S.D. Ind. Dec. 9, 2016); George v. Wright, Lerch & Litow, LLP Attorneys at Law, No. 1:15-cv-00811-JMS-DML, 2016 WL 6963990, at *2-3 (S.D. Ind. Nov. 29, 2016); Everett v. Fin. Recovery Servs., Inc., No. 1:16-cv-01806-JMS-MPB, at *4 (S.D. Ind. Nov. 28, 2016); Saenz v. Buckeye Check Cashing of Ill., No. 16 CV 6052, 2016 WL 5080747, at * 2 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 20, 2016) (“Congress gave consumers a legally protected interest in certain information about debts, and made the deprivation of information about one's debt . . . a cognizable injury . . . . Saenz was harmed by receiving a deficient and allegedly misleading communication from Buckeye-a harm defined and made cognizable by the statute, but a concrete harm nonetheless.”); Quinn v. Specialized Loan Servicing, LLC, No. 16-cv-2021, 2016 WL 4264967, at * 5 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 11, 2016) (“I conclude that SLS's alleged failure to provide the Quinns with information required under the FDCPA constitutes sufficient concrete harm for purposes of Article III standing.”) (listing cases).

         In accordance with the above cases, the court finds Plaintiff was harmed by receiving an allegedly deficient and misleading communication from Defendants. Unlike the FCRA, a violation of the FDCPA for including inaccurate information is not a “bare procedural violation.” Such omissions present a material risk of harm. See Rasa Hayes v. Convergent Healthcare Recoveries, Inc., No. 14-1467, 2016 WL 5867818, at *4 (C.D. Ill. Oct. 7, 2016) (“Unlike Spokeo, where a ‘violation of one of the FCRA's procedural requirements may result in no harm, ' a violation of the right under [the FDCPA] to be free from false or misleading representations from debt collectors creates a harm, or a risk of harm, sufficient to meet the requirement ...

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