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Carlisle v. Stellar Recovery, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 27, 2016

STELLAR RECOVERY, INC., et al., Defendants.


          EMMET G. SULLIVAN United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 17.[1] For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         “On October 10, 2013, Stellar Recovery was referred a delinquent accounted owned by the Plaintiff Aisha Carlisle to Comcast for services and/or equipment provided.” Def.'s Brief in Support of its Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 17-1 (“Def.'s Brief”), Aff. in Support of Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 17-2 (“Martin Aff.”) ¶ 5. “On October 28, 2013, Stellar furnished information regarding [Plaintiff's] Comcast debt to credit reporting agencies.” Martin Aff. ¶ 6. Thus, Stellar was listed as the collection agency associated with an unpaid balance of $110 owed by Plaintiff to Comcast. See Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 19 (“Pl.'s Opp'n”), Exhs. G-I.

         Plaintiff sent Stellar two certified letters, one dated November 20, 2014 and the other dated December 17, 2014, demanding that Steller validate the debt. Compl. ¶¶ 5-6; id., Exhs. B-C; see Martin Aff. ¶ 8. When she “received no written correspondence from Steller, ” Plaintiff submitted to the Federal Trade Commission an Affidavit of Identity Theft and “contacted three credit bureaus in order to set up a fraud and identity theft alert[.]” Id. ¶ 6. In addition, Plaintiff contacted the Better Business Bureau (“BBB”) in January 2015 and filed a complaint against Stellar alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Id. ¶ 7. “On January 2, 2015, [she] received a response from Stellar . . . through the BBB online response portal without getting the validation of debt verification.” Id. Through the BBB representative, “Stellar . . . told [Plaintiff] that the case/file/claim was closed upon receipt of the Identity Theft Affidavit.” Id.

         Meanwhile, Steller received from Plaintiff on December 1, 2014 “a written dispute . . . requesting validation of the debt and cessation of further collection activity.” Martin Aff. ¶ 8. It responded on December 5, 2014 by “order[ing] deletion of the trade line from her credit report with all reporting agencies.” Id. ¶ 9. And upon receipt on December 22, 2014 of “an affidavit and letter from [Plaintiff] indicating that fraud or identity theft was involved in the opening of the account [it] closed the account and returned it to Comcast.” Id. ¶ 11. According to its declarant, “Stellar never communicated directly with [Plaintiff] either before or after December 1, 2014.” Id. ¶ 10. Nor had Stellar “receive[d] any communication from a credit reporting agency indicating that [Plaintiff] disputed the entry that Stellar placed on her credit report.” Id. ¶ 7.


         A. Plaintiff's Legal Claims

         Plaintiff alleges that Steller violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), see 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq., which “covers debt collectors who ‘regularly collect or attempt to collect, directly or indirectly, [consumer] debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another.'” Robinson v. TSYS Total Debt Mgmt., Inc., 447 F.Supp.2d 502, 507 (D. Md. 2006) (quoting Heintz v. Jenkins, 514 U.S. 291, 294 (1995) (quoting 15 U.S.C. § 1692a(6))). For purposes of this discussion, the Court presumes that Stellar is a debt collector as that term is defined in 5 U.S.C. § 1692a(6).

         In Claims I and II, Plaintiff claims that Stellar listed itself “fraudulently on [her] credit report, ” Compl. ¶ 15, and failed to validate the debt in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1692g. Id. ¶ 17. Next, Plaintiff claims that she is entitled to damages under 15 U.S.C. § 1692k. Id. ¶ 19 (Claim III). Lastly, she claims that Stellar violated 15 U.S.C. § 1692i by failing to provide its license number and the name(s) of registered agents authorized to collect debts in the District of Columbia, such that she is entitled to recover damages. Id. ¶ 21 (Claim IV). Plaintiff also purports to bring a civil rights claim against Stellar under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See id. ¶¶ 15, 17, 19 and 21.

         B. Summary Judgment Standard

         The Court grants 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). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Stellar, as the moving party in this case, bears the “initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits . . . which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323 (internal quotation marks omitted). A material fact is one “that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, ” and further, a court will consider a dispute as genuine if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Plaintiff as the nonmoving party must “produce affirmative evidence supporting the challenged aspects of [her] claims by affidavit or other competent evidence.” Mulhern v. Gates, 525 F.Supp.2d 174, 186 (D.D.C. 2007). She cannot create a genuine dispute by relying on conclusory assertions without any factual basis in the record. See Ass'n of Flight Attendants-CWA v. U.S. Dep't of Transp., 564 F.3d 462, 465-66 (D.C. Cir. 2009).

         C. Claims I and II

         Two of Plaintiff's claims arise under Section 809 of the FDCPA, see Compl. ¶¶ 15, 17, which is codified at 15 U.S.C. § 1692g. This provision triggers an obligation on the part of a debt collector who makes an “initial communication with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt” to send a written notice of the amount of the debt, the creditor to whom the debt is owed, notice of the consumer's opportunity to demand verification of the debt, and a statement that, upon receipt of the consumer's written request, it would provide the consumer with the name and address of the original creditor if different from the current creditor. 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a). “If the consumer [timely] notifies the debt collector in writing . . . that the debt . . . is disputed, or that the consumer requests the name and address of the original creditor, the debt collector shall cease collection of the debt . . . until the debt collector obtains ...

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