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Echlin v. Peacehealth Southwest Medical Center

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

April 7, 2015




Plaintiff Michelle Echlin brings this action under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. ยง 1692, alleging that Defendants PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center ("PeaceHealth") and Computer Credit, Inc. ("CCI") engaged in "deceptive and unfair collection practices." (Doc. No. 1). Defendants now move for summary judgment. (Doc. Nos. 38 and 42). Echlin opposes the motions and has moved to certify a class action. (Doc. No. 31). After reviewing the briefs and all other relevant material properly before the Court, the Court grants each motion for summary judgment and denies the motion for class certification. The Court's reasoning follows:


Michelle Echlin is a former patient of PeaceHealth, a 501(c)(3) non-profit health system. (Doc. No. 42).[1] PeaceHealth treated Echlin on two different occasions: February 2012 and April 2013. Echlin incurred roughly $1, 000 in medical expenses as a result of these treatments. (Echlin Dec. at Ex. 1; Doc. No. 1 at paras. 12-13).[2]

PeaceHealth sent Echlin a bill for each visit. Echlin did not respond to either bill or to additional requests for payment. (Doc. No. 43 at 1-2). Upon receiving no response from Echlin, PeaceHealth determined that Echlin's account was "delinquent" and ceased all in-house collection efforts. ( Id. at 2). Pursuant to its standard policies, PeaceHealth then referred the account to CCI, a debt collection agency, for additional action. ( Id. ).

CCI and PeaceHealth haved operated together under a Debt Collection Subscriber Agreement since 2004. (Doc. No. 38, Ex. 6). Pursuant to that Agreement, PeaceHealth pays CCI a fixed fee per account it refers to CCI. CCI, in turn, provides various services, including sending collection letters, fielding collection inquiries, and assisting the processing of payments.

To initiate the collection process, PeaceHealth provides CCI with the following personal information for each debtor: her name and address; her guarantor's name (if any); the date of service; and the amount owed on her account. Once CCI receives that information, it assigns each account a CCI key number and a CCI reference number. (Doc. No. 38, Woods Dep. 19:18-20:14). CCI then engages in a "data control" and screening process through which CCI identifies any potential collection problems, such as whether the claim may be barred by a statute of limitations. ( Id. at 23:20-24:10). If CCI deems that the account can be collected, CCI sends a letter to the debtor advising her that the account has been assigned to CCI for collection purposes. (Eddings Dec. at paras 10-12).[3] CCI asserts that, while it shows its customers samples of its letters, it exercises complete control over the content of the letters.

CCI typically allows the debtor fourteen days to respond to the first letter. If CCI receives payment from the debtor, CCI forwards the funds to PeaceHealth and ceases all activity on the account. (Doc. No. 42 at 4). If the debtor fails to pay or respond within that time, CCI sends the debtor a second letter, renewing its request that the debtor settle her account. If the debtor does not pay her debt in response to the second letter, CCI refers the debt back to PeaceHealth for further action. Throughout the process, CCI fields and responds to written and telephonic debtor inquiries.[4] Accounts sent back to PeaceHealth are generally reassigned to DCS Financial for additional actions, including the filing of a collection lawsuit.[5]

On April 4, 2013, PeaceHealth transmitted Echlin's information to CCI. CCI assigned Echlin's debt a CCI account number and engaged in its screening process. On April 5, 2013, CCI sent its initial collection letter to Echlin, seeking payment for the first visit. (Doc. No. 50, Echlin Dec. at Ex. 1). The letter contained the heading "Computer Credit, Inc." and provided the following:

Your overdue balance with PeaceHealth... has been referred to [CCI] for collection... This letter will serve to inform you that your account remains unpaid and we expect resolution of your obligation to the medical center.

( Id. ). The letter further directed Echlin to remit payment or face "further collection activity by" CCI. ( Id. ). Having received no response, CCI mailed a second letter to Echlin on April 19, 2013. This letter included the following additional statement:

This is our FINAL NOTICE and you must take action to resolve this overdue account. Pay the amount due to discharge your debt owed to the medical center... this is our LAST attempt to collect this debt.

(Doc. No. 49, Ex. 3 at 2).[6] Echlin asserts that she interpreted these letters to mean that PeaceHealth had assigned the debt to CCI, which, according to Echlin, made her feel as if she was under a "greater threat" than if the debt had remained with PeaceHealth only. (Doc. No. 59 at 3).

On October 5, 2013, Echlin sent a letter to CCI, requesting that any reporting of the debt to a credit reporting agency should indicate that the debt is disputed. Upon receipt of Echlin's letter, CCI marked the account as "disputed" and determined that all further collection activity should cease. (Doc. No. 38 Ex. 12). CCI sent PeaceHealth a ...

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