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Main v. Investment Retrievers, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Oregon

July 18, 2014

STANLEY MAIN, Plaintiff,
v.
INVESTMENT RETRIEVERS, INC., et al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

MICHAEL McSHANE, District Judge.

Defendant Investment Retrievers Inc. moves for summary judgment in this action surrounding its efforts to collect a debt allegedly owed by plaintiff Stanley Main. Main previously stipulated to dismissal of the other defendants, leaving Investment Retrievers as the sole remaining defendant. For the reasons stated below, defendant's motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 21, is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND[1]

The core of this case surrounds the events that took place while Investment Retrievers attempted to secure payment of certain debts that Main may have owed. During this time, the defendant, a debt collection agency, contacted the plaintiff's girlfriend, now Mrs. Main, six times after an initial contact on February 28, 2011 and allegedly informed her of Main's debts with defendant. In attempting to collect the debt and locate Main, Investment Retrievers disclosed some account information to Mrs. Main.

Investment Retrievers had not directly contacted Main himself regarding the debt prior to March 4, 2011. On October 25, 2011, Main requested a copy of his credit report, which showed a debt for $14, 740.00 to Investment Retrievers. Main disputed the debt directly to the defendant and asked for verification and validation. Through a series of letters and responses, the parties exchanged essentially the same paperwork and requests until January 9, 2012, [2] when Investment Retrievers stopped direct contact with Main and instead used various law firms as intermediaries for any communication. Investment Retrievers never contacted Main regarding an initiated or completed investigation regarding the debt.

On January 25, 2013, Investment Retrievers contacted Main through a law firm. Main again stated he wished to dispute the debt and asked for verification and validation of the debt. On May 28, 2013, another law firm contacted plaintiff to collect the debt. Main again stated he wished to dispute the debt and asked for verification and validation. The law firm sent a letter stating the enclosed materials complied with and exceeded any requirements for documentation. Neither law firm contacted a credit reporting agency to report the account as "in dispute" or disclosed information to Main about a completed or initiated investigation into the dispute of the debt. Main alleges that as of the time of filing, the credit reporting agencies report the debt as owing.

STANDARDS

The court must grant summary judgment if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). An issue is "genuine" if a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Rivera v. Phillip Morris, Inc., 395 F.3d 1142, 1146 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A fact is "material" if it could affect the outcome of the case. Id. The court reviews evidence and draws inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Miller v. Glenn Miller Prods., Inc., 454 F.3d 975, 988 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999)). When the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party must present "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

DISCUSSION

I. Claims 1, 3, 4 and 9: Fair Debt Collection Practices Act - 15 U.S.C. § 1692

The purpose of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is to eliminate abusive debt collection practices and to create uniform protections for consumers. See 15 U.S.C. § 1692. A consumer is defined as "any natural person obligated or allegedly obligated to pay any debt." 15 U.S.C. § 1692a(3). Debt is defined as "any obligation or alleged obligation of a consumer to pay money arising out of a transaction in which the money, property, insurance, or services which are the subject of the transaction are primarily for personal, family, or household purposes." Id. at (5). "[T]he [FDCPA] applies to consumer debts and not business loans." Bloom v. I.C. Sys., Inc., 972 F.2d 1067, 1068 (9th Cir. 1992). When determining the type of debt, a court must examine the transaction as a whole, paying attention to the particular purpose and treat substance over form. Slenk v. Transworld Sys. Inc., 236 F.3d 1072, 1075 (9th Cir. 2001).

Although Main makes many allegations about improper communication with third parties about the debt and other alleged improprieties on the part of Investment Retrievers, a threshold question under FDCPA is whether the debt is in fact a consumer debt. Slenk v. Transworld Sys. Inc., 236 F.3d at 1075. The debt here is a commercial debt. Main's response to the motion for summary judgment cites to his exhibit 4 to substantiate that there is no debt at all. He additionally repeatedly refers to the debt as the alleged debt. Based upon Main's letters to the defendant and the arbitration hearing's findings, I assume Main means to say there is no debt for which he is personally liable as the debt in question was for Main Construction Company and was a business line of credit.

This does not affect the characterization of the debt nor is it a material fact to the claims Main alleges. The limited record regarding the type of loan indicates that it was an ordinary business loan and not for any personal use. Main confirmed this much at oral argument. That the parties disagree over whether Main in fact agreed to personally guarantee the business loan does not somehow make the underlying debt a consumer debt. See id. at 1076 (in determining whether a debt is a consumer or business debt, courts look to "true nature of the debt" and not to the method in which the debt collector attempts to collect the debt). Thus, based upon the information within the plaintiff's pleadings, the loan documents, the letters Main wrote to ...


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