Judge Denies Request for New Trial in FCRA Case, Lowers Punitive Damages Award to $475k

A District Court judge in Florida has denied a defendant’s request for a new trial in a Fair Credit Reporting Act case, but partially granted a motion for judgment as a matter of law and reduced punitive damages to $475,000 from $700,000 after it was found guilty by a jury of failing to correct information in the plaintiff’s credit report despite the plaintiff filing 31 separate disputes.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Ramones v. AR Resources can be accessed by clicking here.

The debts in question belonged to the plaintiff’s father, Francisco Perez Gonzalez, and not the plaintiff, Francisco Javier Perez Gonzalez. When disputing the debts, the plaintiff included his name, date of birth, the last four digits of his Social Security number, as well as mentioning that he had never been sick, and that the debts were owed by his father. But the defendant’s policy was to not review the consumer message field when processing disputes and the defendant did not have a date of birth in its system to compare the information to.

A jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff and awarded him $80,000 in actual damages and $700,000 in punitive damages.

The defendant filed its motion, arguing that a new trial was required because the judge improperly accepted hearsay testimony, that the plaintiff did not prove he suffered emotional damages, and that the jury exceeded its authority in the size of the punitive damages that it awarded.

After denying the motion for a new trial and affirming that the plaintiff did suffer emotional damages, Judge Patricia A. Seitz of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida turned to the punitive damages award. After determining that the defendant’s actions were “highly reprehensible,” and “callous” in the way it processed disputes, Judge Seitz looked at the ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages in other cases and decided that $700,000 was too high based on the actual damages award. “To be sure, the high punitive damages award likely reflects the jury’s assessment of Defendant’s callous behavior throughout the eighteen months of processing Plaintiff’s approximately thirty disputes, and Defendant’s employees’ testimony which confirmed that such treatment would likely repeatedly occur with countless other consumers,” Judge Seitz wrote. “In addition, although Defendant was not required to have a corporate representative attend trial, the absence of an ARR representative at the four-day trial, undoubtedly reinforced the jury’s perception that ARR lacked any genuine concern about how its policies and procedures for handling consumer disputes impacted Plaintiff Ramones. Finally, given the size of ARR, and the number of disputes handled annually, it is not surprising that the jury deemed a high punitive damages award necessary to send the Defendant a deterrence message.”

Nonetheless, Judge Seitz used ratios from similar FCRA cases within the Eleventh Circuit to lower the punitive damages to $475,000.

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