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BOURFF vs. RUBIN LUBLIN, LLC | GA 11th Cir. Appeals Court “The identity of the “creditor” in these notices is a serious matter, FDCPA”

BOURFF vs. RUBIN LUBLIN, LLC | GA 11th Cir. Appeals Court “The identity of the “creditor” in these notices is a serious matter, FDCPA”


IN THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

________________________
No. 10-14618
________________________
D.C. Docket No. 1:09-cv-02437-JEC

MICHAEL BOURFF,
Plaintiff – Appellant,

versus

RUBIN LUBLIN, LLC,
Defendant – Appellee.
________________________
Appeal from the United States District Court
for the Northern District of Georgia
________________________
(March 15, 2012)

Before EDMONDSON and PRYOR, Circuit Judges, and BOWDRE,* District
Judge.
*

PER CURIAM:
This appeal involves a Fair Dept Collection Practices Act claim in which a
“false representation” has been alleged. Michael Bourff appeals the district
court’s dismissal of his civil action under 15 U.S.C. §1692, the Fair Debt
Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), for failure to state a claim. The district court
concluded that Bourff’s claim was covered by the FDCPA but that Bourff did not
allege acts that violated the FDCPA. We vacate the dismissal and remand the case
for further proceedings.

Background

This case involves a $195,000 loan by America’s Wholesale Lender
(“AWL”) to Michael Bourff. The loan was evidenced by a note, was used to
purchase property in Fulton County, Georgia, and was secured by a deed to the
property purchased.1

The basics of this case are not in dispute. In April 2009 Bourff failed to
make a payment on the loan and caused default under the terms of the note. AWL
later assigned the loan and the security deed to BAC Home Loan Servicing, LP
f/k/a Countrywide Home Loans Servicing, LP (“BAC”) for the purpose of
collecting on the note. BAC in turn hired defendant law firm, Rubin Lublin, LLC
(“Rubin Lublin”), to assist in collection efforts. In late May 2009 Rubin Lublin
sent a notice to Bourff stating that they had been retained to help collect on the
loan. The notice clearly stated that it was being sent as “NOTICE PURSUANT
TO FAIR DEBT COLLECTION PRACTICES ACT 15 U.S.C. § 1692[,]” and that
it was “AN ATTEMPT TO COLLECT A DEBT.” The notice also identified BAC
as “the creditor on the above-referenced loan.” (Compl. Ex. A.)

Shortly after receiving the notice, Bourff filed this civil action against Rubin
Lublin pursuant to the FDCPA. Bourff claimed that the notice sent by Rubin
Lublin violated §1692e of the FDCPA by falsely representing that BAC was the
“creditor” on the loan, despite entities in BAC’s position being specifically
excluded from the definition of “creditor” by the language of the FDCPA. Rubin
Lublin filed a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), and the district court
dismissed the action for failure to state a claim under the FDCPA. The district
court concluded that BAC was a “creditor” according to the ordinary meaning of
the term and that, even if BAC was no creditor, the error in listing it as such was a
harmless mistake in the use of the term because BAC had the power to foreclose
on the property or otherwise to act as the creditor on the loan. (Order 11.)

Standard of Review

We review the grant of a motion to dismiss de novo; and in so doing, we
accept the allegations in the complaint as true while construing them in the light
most favorable to the Plaintiff. Powell v. Thomas, 643 F.3d 1300, 1302 (11th Cir.
2011). The interpretation of a statute is likewise reviewed de novo as a purely
legal matter. Belanger v. Salvation Army, 556 F.3d 1153, 1155 (11th Cir. 2009).
A “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct.
1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974
(2007)). Stating a plausible claim for relief requires pleading “factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for
the misconduct alleged”: which means “more than a sheer possibility that a
defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.

DISCUSSION

The FDCPA limits what is acceptable in attempting debt collection. The
FDCPA applies to the notice here in question because the notice was an attempt at
debt collection. The notice stated that Rubin Lublin had been retained to “collect
the loan,” stated in bold capital letters that it was “an attempt to collect a debt,”
and advised Bourff to contact Rubin Lublin to “find out the total current amount
needed to either bring your loan current or to pay off your loan in full.” (Compl.
Ex. A.)

The FDCPA, among other things, mandates that, as part of noticing a debt, a
“debt collector” must “send the consumer a written notice containing” — along
with other information — “the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed[.]”
15 U.S.C. §1692g(a)(2). In addition, the Act prohibits a “debt collector” from
using “any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection
with the collection of any debt.” 15 U.S.C. §1692e. The use of “or” in §1692e
means that, to violate the FDCPA, a representation by a “debt collector” must
merely be false, or deceptive, or misleading. A false representation in connection
with the collection of a debt is sufficient to violate the FDCPA facially, even
where no misleading or deception is claimed.

Plaintiff claims that Rubin Lublin violated the prohibition on “false,
deceptive, or misleading representation[s]” by falsely stating in its collection
notice that BAC was the “creditor” on Bourff’s loan. The identity of the
“creditor” in these notices is a serious matter. For the FDCPA, “creditor” is
defined this way:

“The term ‘creditor’ means any person who offers or extends credit
creating a debt or to whom a debt is owed, but such term does not include
any person to the extent that he receives an assignment or transfer of a debt
in default solely for the purpose of facilitating collection of such debt for
another.” 15 U.S.C. §1692a(4).

Plaintiff’s complaint alleges that Bourff defaulted on the loan in April 2009
by failing to tender the required monthly payment. The complaint further alleges
that BAC “received an assignment of the security deed and debt on June 19, 2009 .
. ., while the Plaintiff’s loan was in default, for the purpose of facilitating
collection of such debt for another, presently unknown, entity.” (Compl. ¶13)
Accepting Plaintiff’s allegations as true and construing them in the light most
favorable to the Plaintiff, the statement on the May 2009 notice that BAC was
Plaintiff’s “creditor” was a false representation and was made by a “debt collector”
as defined in §1692a of the FDCPA.

The FDCPA provides that “any debt collector who fails to comply with any
provision of this subchapter with respect to any person is liable to such person…”
for potential damages and costs. 15 U.S.C. §1692k(a). The complaint on its face,
taken as true and viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, states a claim
upon which relief may be granted under the FDCPA. As such, we vacate the
dismissal and remand this case to the district court for further proceedings.

VACATED and REMANDED.

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