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Lait v. First Federal Credit Control, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio

August 22, 2017

CECILIA LAIT, Plaintiff,
v.
FIRST FEDERAL CREDIT CONTROL, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER [RESOLVING DOC. 12]

          JAMES S. GWIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On March 3, 2017, Plaintiff Cecilia Lait filed a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) claim against Defendant First Federal Credit Control, Inc. (“FFCC”).[1] In her complaint, Lait alleges that First Federal did not adequately provide her with the name of her creditor, as required by 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a)(2).

         On June 16, 2017, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment.[2] For the reasons below, the Court DENIES the Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

         I. Background

         Defendant First Federal is a debt collector operating out of Cleveland, Ohio. On March 14, 2016, First Federal sent Plaintiff Lait a dunning letter.[3] FFCC sent the letter to Enterprise, Alabama, where Plaintiff Lait resided near the state line dividing Alabama and Florida. The letter mentioned three locations, Cleveland, Ohio; Enterprise, Alabama; and a “North Carolina Permit Number.”[4]

         Along with the amount of the debt, an account number, and several other statutorily mandated disclosures, FFCC listed “Physician Associates” as the creditor on this dunning letter. In fact, the full name of Plaintiff Lait's creditor is “Physician Associates, LLC.” Physician Associates, LLC is a Florida-based medical services provider.

         On March 13, 2017, Plaintiff Lait filed a complaint alleging that by listing “Physician Associates” as her creditor instead of “Physician Associates, LLC, ” First Federal violated the FDCPA's requirement that a debt collector inform a creditor of her creditor's name.[5] Defendant First Federal then moved for summary judgment.[6]

         II. Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, “[s]ummary judgment is proper when ‘there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'”[7] The moving party must first demonstrate that there is an absence of a genuine dispute as to a material fact entitling it to judgment.[8] Once the moving party has done so, the non-moving party must set forth specific facts in the record-not its allegations or denials in pleadings- showing a triable issue.[9] The existence of some doubt as to the material facts is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment.[10] But the Court views the facts and all reasonable inferences from those facts in favor of the non-moving party.[11]

         III. Discussion

         The FDCPA requires a debt collector to provide a creditor with certain information within five days of initially contacting that creditor.[12] That information includes “the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed.”[13]

         The sole issue in this summary judgment motion is whether FFCC violated this FDCPA requirement by identifying Plaintiff Lait's creditor as “Physician Associates” instead of “Physician Associates, LLC.”

         A. The Least-Sophisticated Consumer Standard

         FDCPA is a remedial statute designed to “address the widespread and serious national problem of debt collection abuse by unscrupulous debt collectors.”[14] The Sixth Circuit has noted that the FDCPA is “extraordinarily broad.”[15] In order to effectuate the statute's remedial purpose, the Sixth Circuit evaluates whether a statement is misleading under the FDCPA through “an objective, ‘least sophisticated-consumer' test.”[16]

         This “standard is lower than simply examining whether particular language would deceive or mislead a reasonable debtor.”[17] Instead, it “is ‘designed to protect consumers of below average sophistication or intelligence, ' or those who are ‘uninformed or naïve.'”[18] Nevertheless, this standard does not allow for “bizarre or idiosyncratic interpretations of collection notices” and presumes a consumer who has “a basic level of understanding and willingness to read with care.”[19]

         Ultimately, the notice must “effectively convey” the required information to the least sophisticated consumer.[20] “The critical question is [...] whether the notice fails to convey the required information ‘clearly and effectively and thereby makes the least sophisticated consumer uncertain' as to the meaning of the message.”[21]

         B. “Physician Associates” Potential for Confusion

         At first glance, the difference between “Physician Associates” and “Physician Associates, LLC” appears minimal. But, the seemingly minimal addition of “LLC” gains importance because the name “Physician Associates” is so common across the country. The potential to confuse the least-sophisticated consumer arises when taking into account the prevalence of ...


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