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Cawley-Bruso v. Ray Klein Inc.

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

December 17, 2019

SHARA CAWLEY-BRUSO, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
RAY KLEIN INC, Defendant.

          ORDER ON MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Marsha J. Pechman, United States Senior District Judge

         The above-entitled Court, having received and reviewed:

1. Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to Liability (Dkt. No. 16),
2. Defendant's Response in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to Liability (Dkt. No. 17),
3. Plaintiffs' Reply in Support of Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to Liability (Dkt. No. 20),

all attached declarations and exhibits, and relevant portions of the record, rules as follows:

         IT IS ORDERED that the motion is PARTIALLY DENIED (both as to Plaintiffs' motion to strike and as to that portion of Plaintiffs' theory of liability based on their alleged non-indebtedness).

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the parties are to provide further briefing on the issue of the application of the statute of limitations to claims under RCW4.16.040(2) (the “accounts receivable” statute) as detailed at the conclusion of this order.

         Background

         From 2009-2013, Plaintiff Shara Cawley-Bruso (“Cawley-Bruso”) worked as a veterinary technician for the Animal Hospital at Murphy's Corner (“AHMC”). She alleges that during that period all veterinarian services provided through AHMC were provided at no cost as a benefit to the employees. Dkt. No. 16-1, Decl. of Cawley-Bruso at ¶¶ 10-11.[1] Plaintiff Cawley-Bruso does not dispute that services were provided to pets belonging to her and her husband (co-Plaintiff Michael Bruso [“Bruso”], who was her boyfriend during this period); she says she did a lot of the veterinarian work, but again does not dispute that she used AHMC's facilities and equipment.

         Beginning in August 2015 until January 2019, Plaintiffs began receiving collection notices from Defendant Professional Credit Service (“PCS”), relating to a series of debts totaling $751.95 and allegedly owed to AHMC. Dkt. No. 16-1, Decl. of Cawley-Bruso, Ex. A.[2] The timing of the letters is relevant. The first letter is dated August 10, 2015, is addressed to Bruso alone and cites a debt of $751.70. (BRUSO 024.) The second is dated August 11, 2015, is again addressed to Bruso alone and references a debt of $751.95. (BRUSO 025; it is identical in every other respect to the 8/10/15 letter, with no explanation for the $0.25 discrepancy.) The third is dated October 15, 2015, is addressed to Cawley-Bruso, and cites the $1838 debt (this claim is mentioned nowhere else in the parties' arguments; see fn. 2). The fourth is dated January 29, 2016, is addressed to Bruso and claims a total amount owing of $781.24 ($750.95 $30.29 interest; BRUSO 004-005). A fifth letter, dated November 15, 2017, is addressed to Cawley-Bruso and cites a $750.95 claim plus interest of $191.99 for a total of $924.94. (BRUSO 002.) The final letter is dated January 25, 2019, is addressed to Bruso and cites the $750.95 debt with interest now grown to $299.97 for a total of $1, 050.93. (BRUSO 001.) Except for the October 15, 2015 letter to Cawley-Bruso, all letters (regardless of whom they are addressed to) cite the same PCS and AHMC account numbers.

         In addition to her position that AHMC employees received free veterinary services, Plaintiff Cawley-Bruso also asserts that (1) she never saw any invoices during her five years of employment, (2) the clinic veterinarian (and owner) listed on the invoices did “nearly none” of the work reflected in the billing, (3) the invoices do not “represent any services actually rendered” (this allegation is not explained further and the Court is unclear on what it means), and (4) she never agreed to pay for any of the services actually rendered. Id. at ¶¶ 16-20. Plaintiff Bruso declares that he relied on Cawley-Bruso to arrange for (and provide) the treatment for their pets. Dkt. No. 16-2, Decl. of Bruso, ¶¶ 4-5.

         In 2016, PCS reported the alleged debt as a liability on Plaintiff Bruso's credit. Id. at ¶ 8. PCS continued to accumulate interest payments on the alleged unpaid debt; in January 2019, the company sent a collection notice demanding $1, 050.92 and threatening legal action. Decl. of Cawley-Bruso, Ex. A, BRUSO 001.

         Plaintiffs initiated this lawsuit in state court in March 2019, asserting violations of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) and the Washington Collection Agency Act (“WCAA”); Defendant removed the matter to federal court on April 1, 2019. Dkt. No. 1-1.

         Analysis

         Plaintiffs' Motion to Strike

         Plaintiffs make a three-fold motion to strike. First, they move to strike Defendant's response as untimely, but the Court has already entered an order permitting a late-filed response in this matter. (Dkt. No. 22).

         Plaintiffs next move to strike the relevant (and damaging to their case) portions of the Declaration of Donna Sowder. (Dkt. No. 17-1.) Sowder is owner of AHMC and Plaintiff Cawley-Bruso's former employer. Her declaration asserts in relevant part that (1) her employees received discounted services, but she had no agreement with Cawley-Bruso to provide a 100% discount, and (2) the services reflected ...


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