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Reyes v. Julia Place Condominiums Homeowners Association Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 29, 2015

NICOLE REYES, ET AL
v.
JULIA PLACE CONDOMINIUMS HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION INC., ET AL., Section

ORDER AND REASONS[1]

HELEN G. BERRIGAN, District Judge.

Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment and New Trial by defendants Steeg Law, LLC and Margaret V. Glass. Rec. Doc. 470. The Motion is opposed by plaintiffs as set out in their Memoranda in Opposition. Rec. Docs. 477, 498. The Motion is before the Court on the briefs and without oral argument. Having considered the record, the law, and the submissions of the parties, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Nicole Reyes brings this class action lawsuit on behalf of herself and other condominium owners. Rec. Doc. 325. Plaintiff alleges that she and the other class members have been subject to excessive fines and fees and debt collection practices by the Steeg Law Firm, LLC ("Steeg") and various Condominium Associations throughout the New Orleans area that violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), Louisiana usury law, and the Louisiana Condominium Act ("LCA"). Id. The factual background of this case has been described in greater detail in this Court's prior orders dated February 5, 2013 and July 3, 2014. Rec. Docs. 153, 380.

On December 18, 2014, this Court issued an Order granting plaintiffs' Motion to Certify Class as to the FDCPA Monetary Relief Class, as narrowed by the Court. Rec. Doc. 464. Now, defendants move the Court to grant summary judgment on the claims of five (5) members of this certified class whom defendants assert are corporate entities. According to defendants, these five claimants, as corporations, cannot be "consumers" as defined under the provisions of the FDCPA as they are not "natural persons" and, therefore, their claims must be dismissed with prejudice. Rec. Docs. 470, 495, 503.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The plain language of Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment always bear the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. If the moving party satisfies the initial burden, the nonmoving party must "designate specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial" using evidence cognizable under Rule 56. Id. at 324. Material facts are those that "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

When considering whether any genuine issue of material fact exists, courts view the evidence and inferences fairly drawn from that evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Daniels v. City of Arlington, Texas, 246 F.3d 500, 502 (5th Cir. 2001). Summary judgment does not allow a court to resolve credibility issues or to weigh evidence. Int'l. Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1263 (5th Cir. 1991).

III. LAW AND ANALYSIS

1. The FDCPA and its Purpose

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, by definition, was adopted by Congress in order to "eliminate abusive debt collection practices by debt collectors" and to "protect consumers against debt collections abuses." 15 U.S.C. §1692(e) (emphasis added). Under the statute, a 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, whether or not such obligation has been reduced to judgment." 15 U.S.C. §1692a(5) (emphasis added). It is clear, then, that Congress intended for the Act to apply only to the collection of "traditional consumer debts" and has "no application to the collection of commercial accounts." Manuel H. Newburger and Barbara M. Barron, Fair Debt Collection Practice ¶ 1.02[1-2] (Senate Report No. 95-382 on the FDCPA states: "This bill applies only to debts contracted by consumers for personal, family, or household purposes; it has no application to the collection of commercial accounts.").

2. "Consumers" under the FDCPA

The FDCPA defines a "consumer", for purposes of the Act's protections, as "any natural person obligated or allegedly obligated to pay any debt." 15 U.S.C. §1692a(3) (emphasis added). It is defendants' assertion and the Court's finding that Congress' use of this specific "natural person" language is of central importance to the resolution of the question presently before the Court - that is, whether a corporate entity may be held to be a "consumer" for purposes of the FDCPA.

Plaintiff's argument points to what she calls the "broad purpose" of the Act and rests on the central assertion that, despite the statute's explicit use of the "natural person" language, it was not Congress' intent to so narrowly prescribe who may recover under the FDCPA. Rec. Doc. 477 at 2. Plaintiff argues instead that Congress intended to allow "any person" to recover under the Act. Rec. Doc. 477 at 6-7. To support this, plaintiff points to discrete use of this "any person" phrasing in other parts of the statute.[2] The Court draws a different conclusion from this occurrence. The Court finds the fact that the legislature deliberately chose to use the more specific "natural person" language in the "consumer" definition instead of the "any person" phrasing found elsewhere in the statute to be strong evidence of Congress' precise intent to limit applicability of the Act to only "natural persons." Additionally, plaintiff cites to the Fair Debt Collection Practice treatise for the assertion that "it appears that Congress intended that word [person] to have its broadest legal meaning and not be limited to natural' persons." Manuel H. Newburger and Barbara M. ...


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