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Garcia v. Law Offices Howard Lee Schiff, P.C.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 15, 2019

LUIS GARCIA, Plaintiff,
v.
LAW OFFICES HOWARD LEE SCHIFF, P.C., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         TABLE OF CONTENTS

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY .................................................................................................... 3

         II. FINDINGS OF FACT: THE PARTIES .................................................................................. 6

         III. FINDINGS OF FACT: THE LETTER ................................................................................... 6

         A. The Nature of the Letter ................................................................................................. 7

         B. The Two Balances ........................................................................................................ 11

         IV. CONCLUSIONS OF LAW: MATERIALLY MISLEADING STATEMENT .................... 11

         A. Misleading Statement ................................................................................................... 11

         B. Material Statement ....................................................................................................... 13

         V. CONCLUSIONS OF LAW: BONA FIDE ERROR………………………………………….15

         A. First Prong of the Bona Fide Error Defense…………………………………………..15

          B. Second Prong of the Bona Fide Error Defense………………………………………..16

         C. Third Prong of the Bona Fide Error Defense………………………………………….19

         VI. DAMAGES…………………………………………………………………………………22

         VII. CONCLUSION ..................................................................................................................... 27

         Luis Garcia (“Plaintiff”) sued the Law Offices Howard Lee Schiff, P.C. (“Schiff firm” or “Defendant”), alleging a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq. (“FDCPA”).

         Following a one-day bench trial, the Court now sets forth its findings of fact and conclusions of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a)(1). Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a)(1).

         As explained below, the Court finds that Defendant sent a materially misleading letter to Mr. Garcia in violation of the FDCPA, and that Defendant is not entitled to the bona fide error defense to strict liability under the FDCPA. Mr. Garcia therefore has established an entitlement to damages under the FDCPA. 15 U.S.C. § 1692k.

         Accordingly, the Court ORDERS Judgement for Mr. Garcia and AWARDS $500 in statutory damages, but DENIES any other relief, except for attorney's fees and costs.

         Mr. Garcia may file a motion for attorney's fees and costs by August 30, 2019. Defendant may respond by September 20, 2019 and any reply to any response shall be due by September 27, 2019.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On May 23, 2016, Mr. Garcia sued Defendant, alleging that he had received a debt collection letter from the Schiff firm on or around February 12, 2016. Compl. ¶ 9. Mr. Garcia claimed that the wording of the letter “ma[de] it impossible for a consumer to know how much is owed and if the debt will be considered paid if payment is made in full.” Id. ¶ 13.

         On June 14, 2016, Defendant moved to dismiss the case. Mot. to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction, ECF No. 9. On June 30, 2016, Mr. Garcia opposed the motion to dismiss. Mem. of Law in Opp. to Def. Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 13.

         On March 30, 2017, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendant's motion to dismiss. Ruling on Def. Mot. to Dismiss. The Court granted the motion to dismiss claims under 15 U.S.C. § 1692(d) and 15 U.S.C. § 1692(f), found that Mr. Garcia had not stated a claim under 15 U.S.C. § 1692(e)(2), 15 U.S.C. § 1692(e)(5), 15 U.S.C. § 1692(e)(7) and 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692(e)(8), but denied the motion to dismiss claims for violations of 15 U.S.C. § 1692(e) and 15 U.S.C. § 1692(e)(10). Id.

         On April 12, 2017, Defendant filed its Answer. Answer, ECF No. 19.

         On July 7, 2017, Defendant moved for summary judgment. Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 31.

         On August 3, 2017, Mr. Garcia moved to amend or correct his responses to Defendant's Requests for Admissions, Interrogatories and Requests for Production. Pl. First Mot. for Withdrawal and Amend. of Responses to Admissions, ECF No. 35. The next day, Mr. Garcia opposed summary judgment. Mem. in Opp. to Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 37.

         On February 21, 2018, the Court granted Mr. Garcia's motion to amend or correct his responses, denied Defendant's motion for summary judgment without prejudice, and set an amended discovery schedule. Ruling on Mot. for Summ. J. and Mot. to Withdraw Admissions, ECF No. 41.

         On July 26, 2018, Defendant again moved for summary judgment. Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 56.

         On August 3, 2018, Mr. Garcia moved for summary judgment. Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 57.

         On August 16, 2018, Mr. Garcia opposed Defendant's motion for summary judgment. Mem. in Opp. to Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 58.

         On August 24, 2018, Defendant opposed Mr. Garcia's motion for summary judgment, Mem. in Opp. to Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 59, and moved to strike the affidavits of Luis Garcia. Mot. to Strike Affidavits of Luis Garcia, ECF No. 60.

         On December 13, 2018, the Court convened a hearing on the pending motions. Min. Entry, ECF No. 68.

         On December 14, 2018, the Court denied the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment and Defendant's motion to strike. Ruling on Mots. for Summ. J. and to Strike Affidavits, ECF No. 69.

         On January 28, 2019, Defendant filed a motion in limine to preclude Mr. Garcia from introducing any evidence that had not been disclosed during discovery, Def. Mot. in Limine, ECF No. 71, and set a February 18, 2019 response deadline on the docket.

         On February 1, 2019, the parties filed the Joint Trial Memorandum (“JTM”). Joint Trial Mem., ECF No. 74.

         On February 19, 2019, Mr. Garcia filed his opposition to the motion in limine. Pl. Resp. in Opp. to Def. Mot. in Limine, ECF No. 75.

         On February 25, 2019, Defendant filed a motion to strike Plaintiff's opposition as untimely. Mot. to Strike Pl. Opp. to Def. Mot. in Limine, ECF No. 76.

         Three days later, Defendant filed its reply to Plaintiff's opposition to the motion in limine. Def. Resp. to Pl. Opp. to Mot. in Limine, ECF No. 77.

         On May 10, 2019, the Court issued a ruling denying without prejudice to renewal Defendant's motions in limine. Ruling on Motions in Limine, ECF No. 79.

         The Court scheduled a bench trial for May 20, 2019. Notice, ECF No. 78.

         On May 20, 2019, the Court held a bench trial. During the trial, two witnesses testified: Mr. Garcia and Karen Wisniowski, Defendant's managing partner. Tr. of Proceedings (“Tr.”) at 8:5-12; 35:17-23. Two exhibits were marked for admission and one exhibit was admitted into evidence. Tr. 33:7-19; 115: 6-13.

         On May 31, 2019, Defendant filed its proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. Def. Proposed Finding of Fact and Conclusions of Law (“Def. Post-Trial Findings”), ECF No. 89.

         On June 7, 2019, Plaintiff filed its opposition to Defendant's findings of fact and conclusions of law. Pl. Opp. to Def. Proposed Finding of Fact and Conclusions of Law (“Pl. Post-Trial Opp.”), ECF No. 90.

         On June 13, 2019, Defendant responded to Plaintiff's opposition. Def. Resp. to Pl. Opp. to the Proposed Finding of Fact and Conclusions of Law ...


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