United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
DANA SYRIA, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
ALLIANCEONE RECEIVABLES MANAGEMENT, INC., et al., Defendants.
S. ZILLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
MATTER comes before the Court on a motion for summary
judgment brought by defendant AllianceOne Receivables
Management, Inc. (“AllianceOne”), docket no. 69.
Having reviewed all papers filed in support of, and in
opposition to, the motion, the Court enters the following
to RCW 3.02.045(1), the King County District Court entered
into a contract with AllianceOne pursuant to which
AllianceOne would collect for the King County District Court
unpaid legal financial obligations (“LFOs”)
imposed in connection with criminal sentences. See
Ex. 2 to Bolden Decl. (docket no. 54-2); see also
1st Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 3.1 & 3.4 (docket no.
1-1). The contract between the King County District Court and
AllianceOne was in effect from August 1, 2009, through July
31, 2010, and then automatically renewed for one-year terms
thereafter, until it was terminated. See Ex. 2 to
Bolden Decl. (docket no. 54-2). Under the agreement, AllianceOne
absorbed all costs in processing credit cards, and it could
charge and retain a “nominal convenience fee” for
credit card transactions. Ex. 4 to Bolden Decl. (docket no.
54-4). AllianceOne's credit card fee is the subject of
the relevant period, AllianceOne accepted payment via cash,
check, or money order without charging a transaction fee.
See Silvernale Decl. at ¶ 2 (docket no. 10-24).
AllianceOne was not required to permit payment by credit
card, but it did so as a convenience to debtors. See
id. In contrast to cash payments, which require a debtor
to travel to a courthouse pay station, credit card
transactions could be completed online or by phone. See
id. at ¶¶ 2 & 3. Moreover, unlike payments
by check, credit card transactions were not subject to any
waiting period, and were immediately posted in the same
manner as cash. Id. at ¶ 2; see Ex. 4
to Bolden Decl. (docket no. 54-4) (a 14-day holdover was
placed on personal checks, after which time AllianceOne would
“absorb all checks returned” for insufficient
funds or otherwise). Thus, by using a credit card, a debtor
could wait until the due date to make payment without
incurring any late penalties. See Silvernale Decl.
at ¶ 2 (docket no. 10-24).
written communications with debtors, AllianceOne advised that
a convenience fee would be charged for each credit card
transaction. See Ex. 4 to Bolden Decl. (docket no.
54-4). The convenience fee was initially $5, but increased to
$10 during the timeframe at issue in this litigation. See
id.; Brimer Decl. at ¶ 2.A (docket no. 9-17). In
addition, when debtors called or went online to make credit
card payments, they were told about the associated
transaction fee, as well as the fee-free payment options,
namely walk-in cash payments or payments by check via mail.
Silvernale Decl. at ¶ 3 (docket no. 10-24).
22, 2010, plaintiff Dana Syria pleaded guilty to a
misdemeanor, and the King County District Court imposed LFOs
in the amount of $1, 720.50. 1st Am. Compl. at ¶ 3.3
(docket no. 1-1). Between November 2011 and October 2012,
plaintiff made four payments to AllianceOne via credit card
in connection with the LFOs imposed by the King County
District Court, and each time incurred a $10 charge for using
a credit card. Id. at ¶ 3.5. Plaintiff alleges
that AllianceOne's assessment of credit card fees was
prohibited by Washington's Collection Agency Act
(“WCAA”) and therefore constituted an unfair or
deceptive trade practice in violation of Washington's
Consumer Protection Act (“CPA”). Id. at
¶ 5.2. Plaintiff asserts her CPA claim on behalf of a
class of all persons who paid AllianceOne a transaction fee
for use of a credit or debit card to pay down an alleged
debt. Id. at ¶ 4.4(i). AllianceOne now moves for
summary judgment, seeking dismissal of plaintiff's CPA
Standard for Summary Judgment
Court shall grant summary judgment if no genuine issue of
material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). When the
record, taken as a whole, could not lead a rational trier of
fact to find for the non-moving party on matters as to which
such party will bear the burden of proof at trial, summary
judgment is warranted. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); see
also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24
Washington's Consumer Protection Act
establish a violation of the CPA, a private plaintiff must
prove that: (i) the defendant engaged in an unfair or
deceptive act or practice; (ii) such act or practice occurred
within a trade or business; (iii) such act or practice
affected the public interest; (iv) the plaintiff suffered an
injury to his or her business or property; and (v) a causal
relationship exists between the defendant's act or
practice and the plaintiff's injury. Hangman Ridge
Training Stables, Inc. v. Safeco Title Ins. Co., 105
Wn.2d 778, 785-93, 719 P.2d 531 (1986). In its motion for
summary judgment, AllianceOne contends that plaintiff cannot
establish any of the five elements of a CPA claim. The Court
concludes, as a matter of law, that plaintiff has not met her
burden, with respect to the first element, of showing
AllianceOne engaged in an unfair or deceptive act or practice
by imposing the credit card transaction fee at issue and, as
a result, the Court does not reach the other arguments raised
conduct constitutes an unfair or deceptive trade practice
within the meaning of the CPA constitutes a question of law.
Robinson v. Avis Rent A Car Sys., Inc., 106 Wn.App.
104, 114, 22 P.3d 818 (2001). An act or practice can be
deemed unfair or deceptive in one of two ways: (i) when it
violates a statute in which the Washington Legislature has
declared such violation to be a “per se” unfair
or deceptive trade practice, Hangman Ridge, 105
Wn.2d at 786; or (ii) when it is either unfair or deceptive
under the criteria developed in Washington jurisprudence,
see Rush v. Blackburn, 190 Wn.App. 945, 962-63, 361
P.3d 217 (2015) (outlining a three-part test for
“unfair” acts and a separate standard for
“deceptive” practices). Plaintiff has not
satisfied either test for an unfair or deceptive trade
violations of the WCAA are “per se” unfair acts
or practices for purposes of the CPA, including commission by
a licensed collection agency of an act or practice prohibited
by RCW 19.16.250. See RCW 19.16.440. Plaintiff
alleges that AllianceOne is a collection agency within the
meaning of the WCAA and that it violated one of the
provisions of RCW 19.16.250, namely subsection (21), which
precludes a collection agency from collecting or attempting
to collect “in addition to the principal amount of a
claim any sum other than allowable interest,
collection costs or handling fees expressly authorized by
statute, and, in the case of suit, attorney's fees and
taxable court costs.” RCW 19.16.250(21) (emphasis
added). AllianceOne responds that this language did not apply
to its collection activities because LFOs are not a
“claim” as defined by the WCAA. The Court agrees.
Under the WCAA, a “claim” is an ...