Last month, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed a pro se plaintiff’s third attempt at bringing a claim under FCRA and FDCPA. Blackwell v. United Auto Credit, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50681 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 18, 2021). While a reminder of what is necessary to survive federal pleading standards, the case also discusses the essential elements of a claim under these federal privacy statutes. Read on for a recap.
First, let’s take a look at the (alleged) facts. Plaintiff filed suit against United Auto Credit (“UAC”) alleging that UAC harassed him over a debt that Plaintiff disputed. This purportedly occurred over a period spanning two years, from February 2019 through the suit’s filing in December 2020.
Recall that the FDCPA is designed to protect consumers from abusive debt collection practices. To be successful, a FDCPA claim has to show that the plaintiff was harmed by a violation of the statute, where the debt was primarily for personal or family reasons, and, importantly, where the individual in violation is a ‘debt collector.’ Here, although Plaintiff asserted in the Complaint that UAC is a debt collector, the Complaint was devoid of any alleged facts to support this assertion. Similarly, despite alleging that UAC had used harassing and abusive tactics to collect the debt, Plaintiff did not provide any details specifying UAC’s alleged misconduct.
The FCRA, by contrast, applies to credit reporting agencies, or ‘furnishers’ of the information that is compiled into a credit report. As UAC is clearly not a credit reporting agency, the court interpreted Plaintiff’s Complaint to assert that UAC was a ‘furnisher.’ Well, in the context of the FCRA, for a viable noncompliance claim against a furnisher, a plaintiff must show that the defendant was aware of a disputed debt and failed to investigate the situation. Here, the Plaintiff asserted that the debt was disputed, but again, the lack of detail proved fatal. He did not include what was inaccurate about the debt, that any reporting agency had been made aware, or that UAC had not properly investigated. In short, Plaintiff did not include “any of the factual detail that he has to include to state a plausible claim under FCRA.”
The Court surprisingly gave Plaintiff one final chance to amend his Complaint (for a total of four opportunities to state a cognizable claim—which is three opportunities over what CPW would have permitted). Will Plaintiff (finally) get his act together with yet another bite at the apple? Time will tell-and CPW will be there to keep you in the loop. Stay tuned.