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Vanover v. NCO Financial Services, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

May 17, 2017

KAREN VANOVER, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
NCO FINANCIAL SERVICES, INC., Defendant-Appellee.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 8:15-cv-01434-VMC-EAJ

          Before TJOFLAT and HULL, Circuit Judges, and BYRON, [*] District Judge.

          BYRON, District Judge.

         Plaintiff-Appellant Karen Vanover ("Vanover") sued Defendant-Appellee NCO Financial Systems, Inc. ("NCO"), on April 23, 2014, for violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act ("TCPA"), 47 U.S.C. § 227, after NCO attempted to collect medical debts from her. See Vanover v. NCO Fin. Sys., Inc., Case No. 8:14-cv-964-T-35EAJ (M.D. Fla. 2014) (hereinafter "Vanover I"). Nearly one year after Vanover I was filed, Vanover sued NCO in Florida state court, alleging violations of the TCPA, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692-1692p, and the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act ("FCCPA"), Fla. Stat. §§ 595.55-.785. See Vanover v. NCO Fin. Sys., Inc., Case No. 2015-CA-1525WS (Fla. Cir. Ct. 2015) (hereinafter "Vanover II"). NCO removed the Florida state court action and filed a motion to dismiss for improper claim-splitting. Vanover thereafter amended her complaint in Vanover II, NCO renewed its motion to dismiss for claim-splitting, and Vanover sought leave to join additional parties and to amend her complaint a second time. The district court denied Vanover's motion to join additional parties and entered final judgment dismissing Vanover's Amended Complaint.

         This appeal involves two issues. First, Vanover alleges the district court erred by denying her motion to join additional parties. Second, Vanover claims the district court erred in dismissing Vanover II for improper claim-splitting.

         After thorough review, and with the benefit of oral argument, we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Whether a complaint may be dismissed for asserting claims which could and should have been presented in an earlier-filed complaint is an issue of first impression in this Circuit. Due to the nature of the claim-splitting doctrine, and because this appeal involves a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, we outline in detail the allegations in Vanover I and Vanover II.[1]

         A. Vanover I

         In Vanover I, Vanover alleges that during the twelve months prior to filing the complaint-April 2013 through April 2014-NCO violated the TCPA by calling her cellular telephone without express permission and in direct violation of her instructions, all in an attempt to collect medical debts allegedly owed by her to various hospitals. Vanover further contends that NCO employed an automatic telephone dialing system to place the debt collection calls. Under the TCPA, an automatic telephone dialing system ("ATDS") "means equipment which has the capacity-(A) to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator; and (B) to dial such numbers." 47 U.S.C. § 227(a)(1). The TCPA prohibits debt collection agencies such as NCO from calling a consumer using an ATDS except in an emergency or after obtaining the express consent of the consumer. See 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A). On May 13, 2015, NCO moved for summary judgment in Vanover I, arguing that Vanover had consented to being contacted on her cellular telephone and asserting that NCO did not call her via an ATDS.

         B. Vanover II

         One week later, on May 20, 2015, Vanover filed a complaint in Florida state court (Vanover II), alleging violations of the TCPA from April 2010 through November 2013, as well as violations of the FDCPA and the FCCPA. NCO removed the state court case to federal court and filed a motion to dismiss for improper claim-splitting. Vanover requested leave to amend her complaint, which was granted by the district court, and filed her Amended Complaint on July 31, 2015. Thereafter, NCO moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint in Vanover II, again citing the claim-splitting doctrine.

         The Amended Complaint in Vanover II names the same plaintiff and defendant named in Vanover I. Also like Vanover I, the Amended Complaint in Vanover II alleges that NCO was attempting to collect multiple unsubstantiated consumer medical debts from Vanover. The allegations in the Amended Complaint in Vanover II do not indicate, however, that the debts at issue in the subsequent lawsuit were different from the debts at issue in Vanover I. Vanover asserts that NCO used predictive dialers (ATDS) to contact her residential landline phone and her cellular phone hundreds of times beginning on April 11, 2010 and continuing through and including April 23, 2013. NCO is also alleged to have contacted third parties via their cellular, residential, and business telephone numbers to discuss Vanover's medical debts. Vanover contends that the medical debts were not owed because she is covered by Medicaid. Count One of the Amended Complaint in Vanover II asserts violations of the FDCPA arising from NCO contacting Vanover against her direction to cease and desist. Count Two sets forth the FCCPA state analogue to Count I, which is also predicated on NCO attempting to collect the medical debts after being instructed not to do so. Count Three is the previously described TCPA claim.

         C. The District Court's Orders

         After NCO filed its Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint in Vanover II, Vanover sought leave to add Expert Global Solutions, Inc., formerly known as NCO Group, Inc., and Transworld Systems, Inc. as defendants in a proposed Second Amended Complaint. The district court denied the motion to join additional parties. Thereafter, the district court granted NCO's motion to dismiss Vanover II, with prejudice, finding that Vanover I and Vanover II involve the same parties ...


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