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Pralle v. Cooling & Winter, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

May 2, 2017

WILLIAM PRALLE, Plaintiff,
v.
COOLING & WINTER, LLC, a Georgia limited liability company, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN E. STEELE SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on defendant Cooling & Winter, LLC's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint and Memorandum of Law in Support (Doc. #22) filed on February 3, 2017. Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition (Doc. #27) on March 20, 2017. Also before the Court is Cooling & Winter, LLC's Motion for Sanctions Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 (Doc. #25) filed on March 7, 2017. Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition (Doc. #33) on March 21, 2017. On April 7, 2017, defendant filed a Notice of Supplemental Authority. (Doc. #37.) For the reasons set forth below, both motions are denied.

         I.

         On December 7, 2016, plaintiff William Pralle (plaintiff or Pralle) filed a Complaint (Doc. #1) pursuant to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. and the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (FCCPA), Fla. Stat. § 559.55 et seq. against defendants Cooling & Winter, LLC (C&W) and Midland Funding, LLC (Midland). Plaintiff alleges that he incurred a financial obligation payable to World's Foremost Bank (id. ¶ 9), and that the obligation was subsequently assigned and/or transferred to defendant Midland for collection, (id. ¶ 10). Midland filed suit against plaintiff in the County Court of the Twentieth Judicial Circuit in and for Charlotte County, Florida, Case Number 14-000296-CC. (Id. ¶ 11.) This lawsuit was eventually resolved pursuant to a settlement agreement between Midland and plaintiff (“the Settlement Agreement”). (Id. ¶ 12; Doc. #1-1.) The Settlement Agreement provided that, beginning October 2, 2015, plaintiff would pay Midland $200.00 a month for twelve months, totaling $2, 400.00. (Doc. #1-1.) Plaintiff alleges that he fully complied with the terms of the Settlement Agreement. (Doc. #1, ¶ 13.)

         Despite plaintiff's full compliance with the Settlement Agreement, Midland hired C&W as new counsel. (Id. ¶ 14.) C&W sent plaintiff correspondence dated April 8, 2016, which plaintiff describes as a “dunning letter.” (Id.) Plaintiff asserts that the letter misleadingly and falsely stated that plaintiff owed a balance of $7, 263.86 on the obligation. (Id.) The letter did not make any reference to the Settlement Agreement. (Id. ¶ 15.) As a result of the letter, plaintiff asserts he incurred additional attorney fees for time spent reviewing the letter and the Settlement Agreement. (Id. ¶ 16.)

         II. Motion to Dismiss

         Defendant C&W asserts that plaintiff's Complaint should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because plaintiff lacks constitutional standing to bring this action. (Doc. #22, pp. 8-15.) Alternatively, C&W asserts that plaintiff's Complaint should be dismissed for failure to state claims upon which relief may be granted. (Id. at 15-19.) Plaintiff disagrees with each argument presented by C&W. (Doc. #27.)

         A. Count I: Article III Standing

         Count I of the Complaint alleges that C&W violated the FDCPA by sending the April 8, 2016 letter to plaintiff's attorney which “falsely and misleadingly misrepresent[ed] an amount that was not due and seeking to collect same.” (Doc. #1, ¶ 18.) The letter, attached to both the Complaint and the Motion to Dismiss, stated plaintiff's account “is being serviced by” C&W and that Midland was the current owner of the account. (Doc. #1-2, p. 1.) The letter continued that “[w]e are required to provide some additional information pertaining to this account.” (Id.) Included in the information were statements that the “balance” and “current balance” was $7, 263.86. (Id.) The letter further directed the recipient to the following page for “IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE INFORMATION.” (Id.) That important information included the statements that “This is an attempt to collect a debt” and that payments and correspondence should be mailed to a certain address in Georgia. (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff alleges that this letter caused him to incur additional attorney fees for the time to review the letter and the Settlement Agreement. (Doc. #1, ¶ 16.)

         Defendant asserts that because the letter was sent to plaintiff's attorney, plaintiff does not have standing to bring the claims. (Doc. #22, pp. 13-14.) The Court rejects this argument. See Miljkovic v. Shafritz & Dinkin, P.A., 791 F.3d 1291, 1302-03 (11th Cir. 2015) (finding that the FDCPA applies to a debt collector's communications with a consumer's attorney to the same extent as the debt collector's communications with the consumer himself).

         C&W further asserts that plaintiff does not have standing to bring this action under the principles announced in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S.Ct. 150 (2016). (Doc. #22, pp. 8-15.) The Court disagrees.

         To establish Article III standing, a “plaintiff must have (1) suffered an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.” Spokeo, 136 S.Ct. at 1547 (citing Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992)). See also Nicklaw v. Citimortgage, Inc., 839 F.3d 998, 1001-02 (11th Cir. 2016). Defendant asserts that plaintiff fails to sufficiently allege the first and second requirements of constitutional standing.

         The alleged injury must consist of “‘an invasion of a legally protected interest' that is ‘concrete and particularized' and ‘actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.'” Spokeo, 136 S.Ct. at 1548 (quoting Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560). This holds true regardless of whether the alleged injury is tangible or intangible. See id. at 1549; Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727, 738 (1972). “Where, as here, a case is at the pleading stage, the plaintiff must ‘clearly . . . allege facts demonstrating' each element” of standing. Spokeo, 136 S.Ct. at 1547 (quoting Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 518 (1975) (omission in original)). The Eleventh Circuit has summarized Spokeo as follows:

In Spokeo, the Supreme Court vacated the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded the issue of whether a plaintiff sufficiently alleged a concrete injury where the plaintiff claimed a statutory violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”). 136 S.Ct. at 1545-46. The plaintiff alleged that a website had published inaccurate information about him. Id. at 1544. The Supreme Court emphasized that in addition to being particularized, intangible injuries, including statutory violations, must still be concrete. Id. at 1548 (“A ‘concrete' injury must be ‘de facto'; that is, it must actually exist.”). The Supreme Court stated that “both history and the judgment of Congress play important roles” in determining whether an intangible harm is concrete, explaining that “it is instructive to consider whether an alleged intangible harm has a close relationship to a harm that has traditionally been regarded as providing a basis for a lawsuit in English or ...

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