United States District Court, D. Maryland
DAVID COPPERTHITE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Trident Asset Management, LLC moves this Court for summary
judgment (the "Motion") (ECF No. 127). Defendant
seeks a ruling from the Court that it did not violate the
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15
U.S.C. § 1692 et seq., or the Fair Credit
Reporting Act ("FCRA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1681
et seq., when managing and reporting a debt owed to
Verizon on Plaintiff Denise Miller's credit reports.
Plaintiff filed an opposition to Defendant's Motion (ECF
No. 137) and Defendant replied (ECF No. 142).
considering the Motion and responses thereto, the Court finds
that no hearing is necessary. See Loc.R. 105.6
(D.Md. 2018). In addition, having reviewed the pleadings of
record and all competent and admissible evidence submitted by
the parties, the Court finds that there are no genuine issues
of material fact as to the claims asserted. Accordingly, the
Court will GRANT Defendant's Motion (ECF No. 127). In the
alternative and for the reasons consistent with Section 3 of
this Opinion, the Court sua sponte DISMISSES the
Amended Complaint with prejudice as to Defendant Trident. The
Court will DISMISS Defendant's Motion for Leave to Submit
Audio Recording as Exhibit 9 to Its Motion for Summary
Judgment as moot (ECF No. 129). Defendant's Motion to
Strike (ECF No. 139) is GRANTED.
Trident Asset Management, LLC is a collection agency that
performs debt collection for third-party creditors. ECF No.
128-2 at 2, ¶ 3. In 2017, Plaintiff obtained her credit
reports and discovered a number of alleged inaccuracies. ECF
No. 35 at 3, ¶ 12. Among those alleged inaccuracies was
a debt reported by Defendant that was originally owed to
Verizon in the amount of Si90.00. Id. at 5, ¶
result of the alleged inaccuracies, Plaintiff filed two
credit disputes. On May 9, 2018, Plaintiff sent a letter to
TransUnion, disputing six accounts appearing on her credit
report, including the Verizon account that Defendant was
collecting on. ECF No. 128-4 at 2. Specifically, Plaintiff
disputed that she had any relationship with any of the
collection agencies identified and she requested that
TransUnion verify that the agencies owned a debt that she
owed. Id. Upon learning of the dispute, Defendant
conducted an investigation pursuant to its procedures. ECF
No. 128-2 at 2-3, ¶¶ 7-10. Defendant's
procedure for investigating and responding to credit report
disputes consists of "review[ing] any documents attached
to the dispute and . . . determin[ing] whether the documents
support the dispute, " reviewing documents in the
individual account, and comparing this information with the
data on the Automated Credit Dispute Verification
("ACDV") form. Id at 2-3, ¶¶
7-9. Defendant then submits any updates with its ACDV
response. Id. at 3, ¶ 9. While investigating
Plaintiffs credit dispute, Defendant confirmed that the
amount and identifying information reported to TransUnion
accurately reflected the information and outstanding balance
on Plaintiffs individual account and on the unpaid Verizon
bill. Id. ¶ 11; ECF No. 128-7 at 2. Upon
completing its investigation, Defendant updated Plaintiffs
account to reflect "Completed Investigation of FCRA
Dispute - Consumer Disagrees, " as denoted by
"XC." ECF No. 128-2 at 3, ¶ 12; see
also ECF No. 128-5 at 2-3; ECF No. 128-6 at 2.
23, 2018, Plaintiff sent a letter to Equifax, disputing
several debts appearing on her credit report, including the
Verizon account, and alleging that these debts resulted from
identity theft. ECF No. 128-3 at 2-3. Along with the letter,
Plaintiff included a copy of her credit report which
contained handwritten notations. Id. at 4-7. Next to
the entry reporting the Verizon debt, Plaintiff wrote:
"ID Fraud, Not Mine. Delete, Remove Block This
Fraud." Id. at 6. Defendant once again
investigated the credit dispute and updated Plaintiffs
account to reflect "Completed Investigation of FCRA
Dispute - Consumer Disagrees, " and denoted this change
with "XC." ECF No. 128-2 at 3, ¶12.
27, 2018, Plaintiff called Defendant to discuss the Verizon
account. ECF No. 128-8 at 4-5. Plaintiff was assisted on this
call by Thomas Alston, who had been helping Plaintiff manage
her credit and creditors prior to the lawsuit. ECF No. 128-1
at 4, 9. During the call, in response to Plaintiffs and Mr.
Alston's questions, one of Defendant's employees
informed Plaintiff that the Verizon account was opened on
September 25, 2012 and service was involuntarily disconnected
approximately four months later due to nonpayment. ECF No.
128-8 at 6-7. The employee also informed Plaintiff that the
debt could be settled for $94.90, 50% of the outstanding
balance, and that Defendant was responsible for collecting on
the account. Id. at 8, 12-14.
filing her lawsuit, Plaintiff was deposed on April 16, 2019.
ECF No. 128-1 at 2. In her deposition, Plaintiff testified,
inter alia, that her daughter opened the Verizon
account with Plaintiffs permission and that it was not a
result of identity theft. Id. at 6, 10. Plaintiff
also acknowledged that there was an outstanding balance due
to Verizon because her daughter did not pay the bill,
although Plaintiff had no knowledge of the amount due or
whether the credit reporting was accurate. Id. at 5,
8, 12-13, 14.
15, 2018, Plaintiff filed the original Complaint in the
Circuit Court for Baltimore City against First Premier
Corporation, AFNI, Inc., Stellar Recovery, Inc., Diversified
Consultants, Inc., Southwest Credit Systems, L.P., Credit
Management, LP, Trident Asset Management, LLC, TransUnion,
LLC, Equifax Information Services, LLC, and Experian
Information Solutions, Inc. ECF No. 1-2. On August 17, 2018,
TransUnion removed the action to this Court. ECF No.
October 30, 2018, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, in
which she alleged that Defendant violated the FDCPA and the
FCRA. ECF No. 35 at 5-10, ¶¶ 25, 29-45. Defendant
answered the Amended Complaint on November 7, 2018. ECF No.
November 2018 through July 2019, several defendants were
dismissed from the action, and there were various discovery
disputes, conferences with the Court, and other ancillary
matters that arose between Plaintiff and
Defendant. On July 31, 2019, Defendant filed its
Motion, seeking summary judgment against Plaintiff on her
FDCPA and FCRA claims. ECF No. 127. Defendant also filed a
Motion for Leave to Submit Audio Recording as Exhibit 9 to
Its Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to this Court's
Electronic Case Filing Policies and Procedures Manual. ECF
No. 129. On August 17, 2019, Plaintiff filed an opposition,
ECF No. 137.Defendant filed a reply on September 3,
2019. ECF No. 142. Trident also filed a motion to strike two
exhibits (ECF No. 1374, 137-8).
matter is now fully briefed, and the Court has reviewed
Defendant's Motion, as well as the responses thereto. For
the following reasons, Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment (ECF No. 127) is GRANTED.
Standard of Review
to Rule 56, a movant is entitled to summary judgment where
the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,
show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact.
Fed.R, Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The Supreme Court has clarified
that not every factual dispute will defeat a motion for
summary judgment but rather, there must be a genuine issue of
material fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) ("[T]he mere existence of
some alleged factual dispute between the parties
will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for
summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no
genuine issue of material fact."
(emphases in original)). An issue of fact is material if,
under the substantive law of the case, resolution of the
factual dispute could affect the outcome. Id. at
248. There is a genuine issue as to material fact "if
the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.; see also
Dulaney v. Packaging Corp. of Am., 673 F.3d 323, 330
(4th Cir. 2012). On the other hand, if after the court has
drawn all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving
party, "the evidence is merely colorable, or is not
significantly probative, summary judgment may be
granted." Anderson, 477 U.S., at 249-50
(internal citations omitted).
party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of
either establishing that no genuine issue of material fact
exists or that a material fact essential to the
non-movant's claim is absent. Celotex Corp., 477
U.S. at 322-24. Once the movant has met its burden, the onus
is on the non-movant to establish that there is a genuine
issue of material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In order
to meet this burden, the non-movant "may not rest upon
the mere allegations or denials of [its] pleadings, "
but must instead "set forth specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial." Bouchat v.
Bait. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th
Cir. 2003) (quoting Fed.R, Civ.P. 56(e)).
determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists,
the court views the facts and draws all reasonable inferences
in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Glynn
v. EDO Corp., 710 F.3d 209, 213 (4th Cir. 2013) (citing
Bonds v. Leavitt, 629 F.3d 369, 380 (4th Cir.
2011)). A genuine issue of material fact exists if
"there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving
party for a jury to return a verdict for that party."
Res. Bankshares Corp. v. St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co.,
407 F.3d 631, 635 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Anderson,
477 U.S. at 249). Thus, "to grant summary judgment the
[c]ourt must determine that no reasonable jury could find for
the nonmoving party on the evidence before it." Moss
v. Parks Corp., 985 F.2d 736, 738 (4th Cir. 1993)
(quoting Perini Corp. v. Perini Constr., Inc., 915
F.2d 121, 124 (4th Cir. 1990)).
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
Motion, Defendant seeks summary judgment on all remaining
claims, which include FDGPA claims in Count I and FCRA claims
in Count II. The Court will address each Count in turn.
Summary Judgment Is Appropriate as to the FDCPA Claims.
Count I, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant violated four
specific provisions of the FDCPA: §§ 1692e(2),
e(8), e(10), and 1692f. ECF No. 35 at 7, ¶ 25. "The
FDCPA protects consumers from abusive and deceptive practices
by debt collectors .... Section 1692e forbids the use of any
false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in
debt collection and provides a non-exhaustive list of
prohibited conduct." Sterling v. Ourisman Chevrolet
of Bowie Inc., 943 F.Supp.2d 577, 585 (D.Md. 2013)
(quoting Stewart v. Bierman, 859 F.Supp.2d 754, 759
(D.Md. 2012)) (internal quotation marks omitted). To state a
claim for relief under the FDCPA, Plaintiff must allege that
"(1) the plaintiff has been the object of collection
activity arising from consumer debt, (2) the defendant is a
debt collector as defined by the FDCPA, and (3) the defendant
has engaged in an act or omission prohibited by the
FDCPA." Id. (quoting Stewart, 859
F.Supp.2d at 759-60). Defendant does not dispute that
Plaintiff has been the object of collection activity or that
it is a debt collector. See ECF No. 128 at 11-22.
Rather, Defendant disputes that it engaged in any actions
that violated the four provisions identified by Plaintiff.
Id. at 18-22.
undisputed facts demonstrate that Defendant did not falsely
misrepresent the amount or the legal status of the Verizon
debt in violation of § 1692e(2).
first alleges that Defendant violated § 1692e(2) of the
FDCPA. This provision forbids a debt collector from
"[f]he false representation of- (A) the character,
amount, or legal status of any debt; or (B) any services
rendered or compensation which may be lawfully received by
any debt collector for the collection of a debt." 15
U.S.C. § 1692e(2) (2018). In her Amended Complaint,
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant violated this provision in
two ways: (1) by falsely ...