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Wilder v. Credit Control Company, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

June 5, 2019

RYAN WESLEY WILDER PLAINTIFF
v.
CREDIT CONTROL COMPANY INC. DEFENDANT

          OPINION AND ORDER

          KRISTINE G. BAKER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Before the Court is defendant Credit Control Company, Inc.'s (“Credit Control”) motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 11). Credit Control seeks summary judgment on plaintiff Ryan Wesley Wilder's claims pursuant to the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), Pub. L. 95-109; 91 Stat. 974, codified as 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692-1692p, and the Arkansas Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“AFDCPA”), Arkansas Code Annotated §§ 17-24-501, et seq. Mr. Wilder filed a response in opposition to the motion (Dkt. No. 16). For the following reasons, the Court grants Credit Control's motion for summary judgment and dismisses Mr. Wilder's claims (Dkt. No. 11).

         I. Factual And Procedural Background

         Credit Control filed a statement of material facts not in dispute, and Mr. Wilder responded (Dkt. Nos. 13, 15). The following facts are taken from Mr. Wilder's response to Credit Control's statement of material facts not in dispute (Dkt. No. 15), unless otherwise specified by notation.

         Mr. Wilder is an adult resident of the State of Arkansas and is a consumer within the meaning of the FDCPA (Id., at 1). Credit Control is a debt collection agency within the meaning of the FDCPA and the AFDCPA (Id., at 1-2). Little Rock Ambulance Authority, doing business as MEMS (“MEMS”), is a municipal ambulance and emergency medical services organization operating in the Central Arkansas area including but not limited to Pulaski County, Arkansas, pursuant to state and local authority (Id., at 2). MEMS engages Credit Control to collect delinquent accounts for ambulance and emergency medical services (Id.).

         On September 17, 2015, Mr. Wilder received ambulance and emergency medical services from MEMS (Dkt. No. 15, at 2). MEMS sent a final invoice to Mr. Wilder on October 30, 2015 (Id.; Dkt. No. 13-1, at 1). No. insurance payment was received for this run, and no other payment was made by Mr. Wilder (Dkt. Nos. 13-1, at 1; 15, at 2). The September 17, 2015, services were assigned a “run number” of 68, 475 (Dkt. No. 13-1, at 1).

         On April 3, 2016, MEMS electronically forwarded the unpaid balance for the September 17, 2015, services to Credit Control to initiate collection efforts (Dkt. Nos. 13-2, at 1; 15, at 2). The client reference number for this incident is 15-68475 (Dkt. No. 15, at 2). The client reference number is the last two digits of the year of service followed by the MEMS run number for that service (Id.). Credit Control assigned an internal account number of 70983 to this matter (Id.).

         On December 19, 2016, Mr. Wilder received ambulance and emergency medical services from MEMS (Id.). Mr. Wilder signed an authorization guaranteeing payment for these services (Dkt. No. 17-1, at 6). A final invoice for the December 19, 2016, services was sent to Mr. Wilder by MEMS on February 10, 2017 (Dkt. Nos. 13-3, at 1; 15, at 3). This invoice was assigned a run number of 93, 778 (Dkt. No. 13-3, at 1). This invoice includes “trip notes” that indicate “Qualchoice paid $479.74 6/16/17.” (Id.).

         On December 20, 2016, Mr. Wilder again received ambulance and emergency services from MEMS (Dkt. No. 15, at 3). Mr. Wilder signed an authorization guaranteeing payment for these services (Dkt. No. 17-2, at 7). The invoice for these services was assigned a run number of 94, 095 (Dkt. No. 13-4, at 1). On January 24, 2017, MEMS received an insurance payment that paid part of the cost of the December 20, 2016, services (Dkt. Nos. 13-4, at 1; 15, at 3).

         On or about May 21, 2017, MEMS electronically forwarded the unpaid balances for the December 2016 services to Credit Control to initiate collection and copied the electronic transmission of the 2015 services originally forwarded April 3, 2016 (Dkt. No. 15, at 3). This included the $888.75 amount for run 16-93778 (Id., at 3). The December 19, 2016, services with MEMS client reference number 16-93778 were assigned as Credit Control file 8001750 by Credit Control (Id.). The December 20, 2016, services with MEMS-client reference number 16-94095-was assigned Credit Control account file 8001798 (Id.).

         The information communicated by MEMS contained an erroneous Social Security Number (“SSN”) beginning 151 as opposed to Mr. Wilder's correct SSN beginning 589 (Id.). As a result, Credit Control did not associate the December 20, 2016, claim for services with the two other claims (Dkt. No. 15, at 4). Debt information is electronically forwarded by MEMS to Credit Control where Credit Control's system electronically enters it into its collection database (Id.). There is no human activity in this process (Id.). Thus, Credit Control was not involved in entering an incorrect SSN for the December 20, 2016, services (Id.).

         Credit Control uses the Collector System from Columbia Ultimate Business Systems (“CUBS”) to receive and store all the information for its collection accounts (Dkt. No. 15, at 4). All information is entered into this system including the contemporaneous notes of conversations with debtors, information received, and actions taken (Id.).

         On May 24, 2017, Credit Control's collector “Carol, ” listed as CLZ on its internal note system, contacted Mr. Wilder telephonically regarding MEMS account 8001750 (Id.). The conversation was cordial (Id.). Carol properly identified herself, and, during the conversation, Mr. Wilder informed her that he had health insurance but that he did not know his membership number (Dkt. No. 15, at 4). He later called back and gave her his membership information, which Carol forwarded to MEMS on May 25, 2017 (Id.).

         Mr. Hanson also testified that Credit Control, on May 24, 2017, did not know whether a claim had been submitted to Mr. Wilder's insurance (Dkt. No. 13-12, at 13). Mr. Hanson further testified that Credit Control relies on MEMS to submit medical bills to insurance companies (Id.). Mr. Hanson also stated that Credit Control will acquire insurance information and pass it along to MEMS for MEMS to file a claim and that MEMS keeps Credit Control apprised of the status of such claims (Id.). Mr. Hanson explained that, “if [MEMS] acquire[s] insurance information, either from me or from-if the individual calls them up and gives them that insurance information, they will call and advise me: We are filing insurance on this. Will you please put a hold on the account until we see what happens.” (Id.). On May 25, 2017, Credit Control's records indicate that MEMS requested a 45-day hold on Mr. Wilder's account (Dkt. No. 13-6, at 2).

         Mr. Hanson further testified that, “if a lawsuit is being filed, it is filed in MEMS name, ” not “under [Credit Control's] name.” (Dkt. No. 13-12, at 14). Mr. Hanson explained that Credit Control will evaluate whether to file suit, “[a]nd at that point, we will prepare an affidavit of the account and send it to our client for them to make the final approval.” (Id.). He further elaborated that “whether we file that suit or not is entirely up to my client. They get to make that decision . . . .” (Id.).

         On May 25, 2017, a validation letter was sent to Mr. Wilder by Credit Control stating: “RE: MEMS AMBULANCE 16-93778;” a principal due of $888.75; that Credit Control was a debt collector and this was an effort to collect a debt; and setting forth Mr. Wilder's rights as required by the FDCPA (Dkt. No. 15, at 5). The May 25, 2017, letter from Credit Control to Mr. Wilder included the following language:

We have been authorized by our client to demand payment in full.
Unless you notify this office within 30 days after receiving this notice that you dispute the validity of this debt or any portion thereof, this office will obtain verification of the debt or obtain a copy of a judgment and mail you a copy of such judgment or verification. If you request this office in writing within 30 days after receiving this notice, this office will provide you the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor.

         (Dkt. No. 13-8).

         Credit Controls records indicate that, on June 1, 2017, Carol spoke with Mr. Wilder and recommended that he “get a debit card to cover both accounts in case ins[urance] does not pay . . . .” (Dkt. No. 13-6, at 2). Payment of $479.74 was received by MEMS from Mr. Wilder's health insurer on or about June 16, 2017 (Id.).

         Credit Control's records also show that, on June 26, 2017, Carol spoke with Mr. Wilder and that Mr. Wilder indicated that he could not get a credit card and that he offered to pay $40.00 a week (Dkt. No. 13-6, at 3). Carol told Mr. Wilder that she would call back next week (Id.). Also, on June 26, 2017, Credit Control sent to Mr. Wilder a letter updating the amount owed to reflect the June 16 insurance payment (Id.). This letter states that the “Balance Due” is $409.01 (Dkt. No. 13-9). This letter included the statement: “May we suggest you have your attorney determine your liability towards this obligation.” (Id.).

         Mr. Hanson testified that, on July 5, 2017, Credit Control's records indicate that Carol attempted to call Mr. Wilder and that nobody answered (Dkt. No. 13-12, at 18).

         On July 21, 2017, Carol called Mr. Wilder at 10:00 a.m. and asked to speak to “Ryan.” (Dkt. No. 15, at 5) Mr. Wilder acknowledges that he had been waiting for her to call, but he disputes that he was waiting for her to call on that specific day and time (Id.). Mr. Wilder's version of this call is that he had been working until 2:00 a.m. and was awakened by Carol's call (Id.). He states that he answered the call but was silent other than possibly grunting (Id.). When he said nothing, the caller said words to the effect of, “That's ok. We'll be seeing you soon, ” and hung up (Dkt. No. 15, at 5). Mr. Wilder characterizes this language as a threat (Id.). In his deposition, Mr. Wilder described his reaction to Carol's statement:

Q: The only thing you said was huh?
A: Practically, yes. Like I don't-I believe that was the only thing that was said. There was-nothing else was said. If anything, I might have also made a noise when I answered the phone, but I don't even think I did that. I think I just answered the phone and they knew I answered the phone because the ringing stopped. And then she asked to speak to me, and I mumbled a word. And then she said, “That's okay. We'll be seeing you soon, ” and she hung up the phone.
. . .
Q: And you interpreted that as a threat?
A: Yes.
Q: A threat to do what?
A: I don't know. A threat to sue me. A threat to-“we'll be seeing you soon, ” like what-like I've heard people say that in the past, like it's never been a good thing, never been a good thing. I don't understand an instance where that would be a good thing for someone to say that to you in a way that, like-okay, maybe a family member will say, okay, yeah, we'll be ...

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