A District Court judge in New Jersey has denied a plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case, ruling that the plaintiff’s attempt to introduce a new theory at the summary judgment stage of the proceedings — after a Magistrate Court judge had already denied a motion to amend the complaint — is a non-starter.
A copy of the ruling in the case of Ross v. Forster, Garbus & Garbus can be accessed by clicking here.
The plaintiff defaulted on a credit card debt, which was sold to a third-party. The defendant filed a collection lawsuit, on which a default judgment was entered in 2012. During the next four years, the defendant sent 13 letters and/or writs of execution to collect on the judgment. In 2018, the defendant sent a letter, offering to settle the account for less than the balance that was due. In the letter, the following statement was made: If the above settlement offer is not accepted by you and if interest or other charges or fees accrue on this account, after the date of this letter, the amount due on the day you pay may be greater.”
The plaintiff filed suit, alleging the statement was false because the creditor had no intention of adding interest or fees to the debt and was made to force a settlement. The plaintiff filed a motion to amend his complaint, seeking to change his argument that the statement was false to claiming that the statement was open to multiple interpretations and was misleading. A Magistrate judge denied the motion, and then denied a motion to reconsider his denial. The plaintiff then filed his motion for summary judgment, making his argument that the statement was open to multiple interpretations, at least one of which was inaccurate.
The defendant opposed the motion, arguing that the plaintiff was seeking summary judgment based on a new theory that was not part of the original complaint. To make a long story short, Judge Esther Salas of the District Court for the District of New Jersey agreed with the defendant. The plaintiff “cannot present a new argument at this stage of litigation,” Judge Salas wrote.