Judge Largely Grants MSJ for Defendant in FCRA, FDCPA Case Over Combined Utility Accounts

A District Court judge in Maryland has largely granted a defendant’s motion for summary judgment in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and Fair Credit Reporting Act case, but did deny the motion on two counts, dealing with how the plaintiff alleged she was treated by representatives of the defendant, which include allegedly calling the plaintiff a liar.

A copy of the ruling, in the case of Oyathelemi v. L.J. Ross & Associates can be accessed by clicking here.

Background: The background in this case is a little more convoluted than usual. The plaintiff had two electric bills for two different residences that were combined into one account. There is confusion about who opened the second account and who made some of the payments on it. The plaintiff disputed the debt with the credit reporting agencies and the defendant conducted an investigation into the dispute. The plaintiff claims not to be responsible for the second account that was opened in her name, but allegedly has no evidence to support that claim.

Judge Deborah K. Chasanow of the District Court for the District of Maryland tackled the FCRA claims first. The plaintiff failed to inform the defendant that squatters had taken up residence in one of her houses when she disputed the debt, leaving the defendant without a crucial piece of information, and making the investigation that was conducted reasonable under the FCRA.

With respect to the FDCPA claims, though, the plaintiff created a genuine dispute about whether representatives of the defendant incorrectly told her that she had never made a payment on one of the accounts, and called her a liar when she said she had made payments on that account. Along with a “demeaning” tone used by the representative, “a reasonable jury could conclude that the language would have the natural consequence of abusing a consumer relatively more susceptible to harassment, oppression, or abuse,” Judge Chasanow wrote.

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