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Jones v. Constar Financial Services, LLC

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

June 7, 2019

PENNY M. JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
CONSTAR FINANCIAL SERVICES, LLC, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

          James Patrick Hanlon United States District Judge

         Penny Jones believes that Constar Financial Services, LLC engaged in unlawful collection practices when it sent her a debt-collection letter informing her, among other things, that her account was past due and had to be paid in full. Constar claims that it is entitled to judgment on the pleadings because the language of the collection letter would not confuse an objective “unsophisticated consumer.” Dkt. [22]. Finding that Constar's letter would not confuse a significant fraction of the population, the Court now GRANTS Constar's motion for judgment on the pleadings.

         I. Facts and Background

          Because Constar has moved for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c), the Court accepts and recites “the well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true.” See McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 616 (7th Cir. 2011).

         After Ms. Jones fell behind on loan payments owed to Kia Motors Finance Company, Constar began collection attempts. Dkt. 1 at 2. About February 5, 2018, Constar sent a letter saying: “Your account is past due and must be paid in full. Please remit the entire balance due to our office using the return envelope provided.” Dkt. 1 at 3; dkt. 1-1. The letter included a return envelope and detachable payment coupon. Dkt. 1 at 3; dkt. 1-2.

         Ms. Jones filed a complaint against Constar alleging that the letter violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) and the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act (“IDCSA”) by misleadingly or deceptively demanding the debt's immediate payment. Dkt. 1 at 4-6. Constar moved for judgment on the pleadings. Dkt. 22.[1]

         II. Applicable Law

         Constar has moved for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). “A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) . . . is governed by the same standards as a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6).” Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 727-28 (7th Cir. 2014). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A facially plausible claim is one that allows “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.

         When ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion, the Court will “accept the well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true, ” but will not defer to “legal conclusions and conclusory allegations merely reciting the elements of the claim.” McCauley, 671 F.3d at 616.

         III. Analysis

         Congress passed the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act “to curb abusive methods of debt collection.” Wahl v. Midland Credit Mgmt., Inc., 556 F.3d 643, 643-44 (7th Cir. 2009). The statute requires a “written notice” either sent “[w]ithin five days after the initial communication with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt” or “contained in the initial communication” itself. 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a). That written notice must include, among other things, “the amount of the debt, ” “the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed, ” and a notice that the debtor has thirty days to contest the debt's validity. Id.During that thirty-day period, “[a]ny collection activities and communication . . . may not overshadow or be inconsistent with the disclosure of the consumer's right to dispute the debt or request the name and address of the original creditor.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(b).

         “Although the word ‘confusing' does not appear” in section 1692g, “[o]vershadowing” means “obscuring or confusing”-and the Seventh Circuit has “interpreted the FDCPA to prohibit confusing presentations.” O'Boyle v. Real Time Resolutions, Inc., 910 F.3d 338, 343 (7th Cir. 2018) (citations and quotations omitted). So the question is whether the letter was confusing-and thus overshadowed the required disclosure.

         Constar argues that the letter's debt-collection language did not overshadow its consumer-rights disclosure because it did not demand immediate payment or set time limits on when Ms. Jones must pay the debt. Dkt. 22 at 2, 4. Ms. Jones responds that the letter confusingly gave the impression that immediate payment was required, which in turn overshadowed the disclosure. Dkt. 25 at 8.

         Whether the letter's debt-collection language overshadowed its 1692g disclosure is judged by the “unsophisticated consumer” test. Zemeckis v. Glob. Credit & Collection Corp., 679 F.3d 632, 635 (7th Cir. 2012). The “unsophisticated consumer, ” however, is not the “least sophisticated consumer.” O'Boyle, 910 F.3d at 344. Instead, the test objectively looks to an “uninformed, naïve, and trusting” individual with “rudimentary knowledge about the financial world” and the ability to make “basic logical deductions and inferences.” Id.With ...


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