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Matuszczak v. Miramed Revenue Group LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

November 13, 2017

MICHAEL PAUL MATUSZCZAK, Plaintiff,
v.
MIRAMED REVENUE GROUP LLC, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Philip P. Simon, Judge United States District Court

         This is a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case concerning two telephonic statements made by a debt collector concerning a medical debt owed by the plaintiff, Michael Matuszczak. A representative of the debt collector, Miramed Revenue Group, offered Matuszczak a discount on the debt he owed, but misstated the amount of the discount by 45 cents. When Matuszczak indicated that he couldn't pay the debt even with the discount, Matuszczak was told that the matter could be turned over to an attorney. Matuszczak claims that the 45 cent error and the mention of a lawyer were violations of the FDCPA. I think otherwise, and will grant Miramed's motion for summary judgment.

         Background

         Let's start with the facts which are entirely undisputed. Miramed Revenue Group collects medical debt on behalf of clients like St. Margaret Mercy Hospital. Plaintiff Michael Matuszczak owed St. Margaret money. This case doesn't begin where most FDCPA cases begin - a harassing phone call from a debt collector. The script was flipped here: the debtor, Matuszczak, called the debt collector, Miramed. According to Matuszczak, his call to Miramed was prompted by an entry he had noticed on his credit report. So he called the company to inquire and spoke with a customer service representative named “Dineta.” Dineta confirmed with Matuszczak that he did indeed have an outstanding balance of $3, 494.44 owed to St. Margaret Mercy Hospital. [DE 21-3 at 2.] It is entirely unclear from the record how Matuszczak knew to call Miramed when the debt was with St. Margaret. But in any event, Matuszczak does not dispute that he owes this amount of money or that Miramed was authorized by St. Margaret to collect it.

         The conversation between Dineta and Matuszczak did not end with confirmation of the debt. Dineta told him that Miramed would settle his debt at ¶ 20% discount and Matuszczak would have to pay only $2, 796.00. [DE 21-3 at 3.] Of course, 20% off of $3, 494.44 is not precisely $2, 796.00 - the amount Dineta told him Miramed would accept. It's $2, 795.55. So Dineta was off by 45 cents. It is obvious that Dineta simply rounded up from $2, 795.55 to $2796.00.

         Even with the discount, Matuszczak evidently couldn't afford to pay the debt. He told Dineta that he was trying to get disability. She responded that it “is it a way that you can take advantage of the settlement because they have been looking to forward the account over for legal activity as well.” Id. After some discussion, Dineta again asked Matuszczak if he could make a payment today. Id. at 4. After saying no, Dineta responded, “Okay well like I informed you it is a possibility that the account can be turned over to our attorneys as well ... ok no problem.” Id.

         The call ended, but Matuszczak was apparently confused about Dineta's answers because he called right back. [DE 21-4 at 2.] He asked Dineta what it meant that the debt will go through collections. Id. She explained, “it looks like it is already reported to your credit report and then we are going to review it and see if it can go over to our attorneys and let our attorneys handle the file. This is one of our clients that do pursue legal activities on that account.” Id. Matuszczak asked for more clarification. Dineta said, “we will have to send it to the attorneys if it's ... suitable if the account can be forwarded to the attorneys and let them ... collect on that balance.” When Matuszczak asked “what's the attorneys going to do to me, ” Dineta answered, “Well I don't know, once it goes to the attorney it's no longer in our hand.” Id. Matuszczak says that Dineta's statements are violations of the FDCPA. Discovery has closed, and Miramed now seeks summary judgment.

         Discussion

         Summary judgment is proper if “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute about a material fact exists only “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In making this determination, the Court construes “all facts and reasonable inferences from the record in the light most favorable to [ ] the non-moving party.” Moser v. Ind. Dep't of Corr., 406 F.3d 895, 900 (7th Cir. 2005).

         Matuszczak has two remaining claims against Miramed under the FDCPA.[1] First, he claims that Miramed's rounding of the settlement offer violates §§ 1692e and 1692f because it's a false and misleading or deceptive statement and, second, he argues that Miramed threatened legal action that it wasn't authorized or didn't intend to take in violation of §§ 1692e(5) and 1692d.

         By enacting the FDCPA, Congress sought to eliminate abusive debt collection practices by debt collectors. 15 U.S.C. § 1692(e). Section 1692e of the FDCPA prohibits a debt collector from using “any false, deceptive, or misleading representations or means in connection with the collection of any debt.” Id. § 1692e. The prohibition is phrased in general terms, but § 1692e also lists specific conduct that violates the law, including falsely representing “the character, amount, or legal status of any debt.” Id. § 1692e(2)(A). Also prohibited is the “use of any false representation or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect any debt, ” id. § 1692e(10), and making a “threat to take any action that cannot legally be taken or that is not intended to be taken, ” id. § 1692(e)(5).

         Several other provisions of the FDCPA proscribe certain actions debt collectors may take, two of which are relevant here. Under § 1692d, debt collectors “may not engage in any conduct the natural consequence of which is to harass, oppress, or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt.” Id. § 1692d. Debt collectors additionally may not use unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect a debt. Id. § 1692f.

         I'll start with the 45 cent misstatement. Matuszczak admits that Miramed gave him the correct number when it provided the amount of money he owed - $3, 494.44. He claims, however, that Miramed made a false and deceptive representation when it told him that it would accept 20% off the amount due but then told him the new amount owed would be $2, 796.00. No one can argue with the math. As I explained earlier, the reduced offer was technically off by 45 cents, which in all likelihood was the result of rounding up, since a 20% reduction comes out to $2, 795.55. According to Matuszczak, this alleged misstatement is false, deceptive, or misleading and constitutes an unfair or unconscionable means to collect a debt. In reality, the difference is a trifle.

         A debt collector's conduct is not false, deceptive, or misleading, nor is it unfair or unconscionable, simply because there is something technically false in the communication. In determining whether a debt collector's conduct violates the FDCPA, I have to view the representation through the eyes of the “unsophisticated consumer.” Wahl v. Midland Credit Mgmt., Inc., 556 F.3d 643, 645 (7th Cir. 2009). “If a statement would not mislead the unsophisticated consumer, it does not violate the FDCPA - even if it false in some ...


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