United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
Honorable Richard A. Jones United States District Judge.
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for
Partial Summary Judgment (Dkt. # 12) and Defendants'
Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. # 14). Both parties have responded to
the others' motion, but neither has filed a reply. Dkt.
## 16, 17. For the reasons stated below, the Court
GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART both
motions. Dkt. ## 12, 14.
case concerns Plaintiff Kimberly Beane's
(“Plaintiff”) contacts with Defendant Robert P.
Williamson (“Defendant” or “Mr.
Williamson”), who is an attorney and solo practitioner
at his law firm, Defendant RPW Legal Services, PLLC. Dkt. #
15, ¶ 1. In 2017, Mr. Williamson was hired by the
Marysville Estates Property Owners' Association
(“MEPOA”) to collect unpaid dues from Plaintiff,
a property owner in the MEPOA neighborhood in Tulalip, WA.
Id. at ¶ 9, Ex. A.
16, 2017, the MEPOA, through its attorney Mr. Williamson,
filed suit against Plaintiff for monies due in Snohomish
County District Court. Id., Ex. A. This lawsuit
sought recovery in the amount of $2, 180.37 in allegedly
unpaid annual assessments from 2005 to June 2017, including
interest and late charges. Id. at ¶¶
September 12, 2017, Mr. Williamson sent Plaintiff a letter on
his firm's letterhead, titled “Marysville Estates
Property Owners' Association Assessment Collection,
” purportedly addressing “several objections to
the Association's collection efforts.” Dkt. # 15,
Ex. B. Mr. Williamson's letter indicated that the unpaid
assessments charges now totaled $902.09 (as the MEPOA could
only collect dues for the past six years), but this total
“will increase” as Mr. Williamson's actions
in the case proceeded to summary judgment. Id. at
1-2. Mr. Williamson stated that if Plaintiff was interested
in “discussing any payment amount, to settle the
assessment and collection fess charges, please call
me.” Id. at 2.
October 9, 2017 Mr. Williamson sent Plaintiff another letter,
also titled “Marysville Estates Property Owners'
Association Assessment Collection, ” purportedly
responding to Plaintiff's request for
“verification” of the assessments owed to MEPOA.
Dkt. # 15, Ex. C. Mr. Williamson included with this letter
copies of the annual invoices sent to Plaintiff from 2014 to
2017, and a copy of Plaintiff's account spreadsheet.
Id. The last page of this communication included a
“Debt Validation Notice, ” which stated that the
“Balance” of the debt was “approximately
$3, 000.” Id. at 7. The “Debt Validation
Notice” also stated that Plaintiff would have thirty
(30) days to dispute the validity of the debt, otherwise
“the debt will be assumed to be valid by any attorney
or debt collector engaged to assist with collection of the
debt.” Id. The footer of both the first and
last pages of the letter included the following statement:
“This letter, communication, or notice pertains to
collection of a debt, and any information provided herein or
obtained from you will be used for that purpose. I am acting
as an attorney or debt collector for the creditor.”
Id. at 1. This language was not present in the
September 12, 2017 letter.
October 24, 2017, Mr. Williamson, acting on behalf of MEPOA,
filed a motion for summary judgment in the Snohomish County
District Court case. Dkt. # 15, Ex. D at 2-8. This motion
argued that Plaintiff's account balance as of November
2017 was $910.11, and requested summary relief in this amount
and attorney's fees. Id. at ¶¶ 2.7,
5.3. The same day, Mr. Williamson sent Plaintiff another
letter, which included the motion and supporting materials.
Id. at 1. This letter contained the same
“Collection” subject line and footer language as
the previous communication. Id. This letter did not
contain any other information on the exact amount of the debt
or Plaintiff's ability to contest the debt.
15, 2018, Plaintiff filed this suit against Defendants,
alleging several violations of the Fair Debt Collection
Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq.
(“FDCPA”). Dkt. # 1. Defendants answered and
asserted a counterclaim against Plaintiff for filing the
lawsuit in bad faith in violation of 15 USC §
1692k(a)(3). Dkt. # 5. On October 4, 2018, Plaintiff served a
series of Requests for Admissions on Defendants. Dkt. # 13,
Ex. A. After receiving these Requests, Mr. Williamson served
his responses, and made several admissions on behalf of both
Defendants, including that for (1) Plaintiff is a consumer;
(2) Defendants attempted to collect a debt; and (3)
Defendants were debt collectors. Dkt. # 13, Ex. B.
February 27, 2019, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Partial
Summary Judgment on her FDCPA claims. Dkt. # 12. On March 12,
2019, Defendants countered with a Motion to Dismiss for Lack
of Standing. Dkt. # 14. Both motions are now before this
action is premised in large part on alleged violations of the
FDCPA. Congress enacted the FDCPA to counter the
“abusive, deceptive and unfair debt collection
practices sometimes used by debt collectors against
consumers.” Turner v. Cook, 362 F.3d 1219,
1226 (9th Cir. 2004). The FDCPA's restrictions on debt
collectors run from the very broad (such as a prohibition on
unfair or deceptive communication) to the very narrow (such
as a prohibition on using post cards). Courts must give the
Act a liberal interpretation. Clark v. Capital Credit
& Collection Servs., Inc., 460 F.3d 1162, 1176 (9th
Cir. 2006). The validity of the alleged debt does not bear on
FDCPA violation analysis. Baker v. GC Serv. Corp.,
677 F.2d 775, 777 (9th Cir. 1982).
the FDCPA is a strict liability statute, a debt
collector's intent to deceive or mislead a consumer is
irrelevant. Clark, 460 F.3d at 1175. Courts apply
the FDCPA using a “least sophisticated debtor”
standard, which ensures that the “FDCPA protects all
customers, the gullible as well as the shrewd … the
ignorant, the unthinking, and the credulous.”
Id. at 1171. “The ‘least sophisticated
debtor' standard is ‘lower than simply examining
whether particular language would deceive or mislead a
reasonable debtor.'” Id. (quoting
Terran, 109 F.3d at 1432). “Most courts agree
that although the least sophisticated debtor may be
uninformed, naive, and gullible, nonetheless [their]
interpretation of a collection notice cannot be bizarre or
unreasonable.” Evon v. Law Offices of Sidney
Mickell, 688 F.3d 1015, 1027 (9th Cir. 2012). The
“least sophisticated consumer” standard presents
a lower bar for a plaintiff to overcome than does the
familiar “reasonable person” standard. Terran
v. Kaplan, 109 F.3d 1428, 1431-32 (9th Cir. 1997).
Plaintiff identifies three alleged violations of the FDCPA.
Dkt. # 1 at ¶¶ 10-12; Dkt. # 12 at 6-7. First,
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated Section 1692e(11)
by sending an initial communication to Plaintiff in an
attempt to collect a debt without disclosing they were debt
collectors. Dkt. # 1 at ¶ 11; Dkt. # 12 at 6. Second,
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated Section 1692g(a)
by failing to timely provide a validation notice of the debt
and including “a balance statement that was
uncertain.” Dkt. # 1 at ¶ 10. Finally,
Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated Section 1692g(b) by
filing a motion for summary judgment for the debt in question
within thirty (30) days of the Validation Notice, thereby
“overshadowing” Plaintiff's right to contest
the debt ...