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Scheuermann v. Law Office of Christopher L. Fletcher, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

January 21, 2016

LEANN SCHEUERMANN, Plaintiff,
v.
LAW OFFICE OF CHRISTOPHER L. FLETCHER, LLC, and CHRISTOPHER L. FLETCHER, individually, Defendants.

OPINION & ORDER

JAMES D. PETERSON DISTRICT JUDGE

This is a case alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. Plaintiff Leann Scheuermann and her husband Jeffrey Scheuermann (who is not a party to this case) received a letter from defendants Law Office of Christopher L. Fletcher, LLC and Christopher L. Fletcher regarding an alleged debt. The debt was for a surgical procedure that Scheuermann’s husband had undergone several years before he married Scheuermann. But the collection letter was addressed to both Scheuermann and to her husband, and it did not distinguish between Scheuermann and her husband regarding who was responsible for the debt.

Scheuermann filed a complaint in this court alleging that defendants’ letter violated the FDCPA. Defendants have now moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The court will deny defendants’ motion. Based on the text of the letter and the factual allegations in the complaint, Scheuermann has adequately alleged that an unsophisticated consumer would have been confused by defendants’ letter and believed that her property was subject to collection to satisfy a debt incurred by her spouse.

ALLEGATIONS OF FACT

In reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court accepts the complaint’s well-pleaded factual allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences from those allegations in the plaintiff’s favor. Cincinnati Life Ins. Co. v. Beyrer, 722 F.3d 939, 946 (7th Cir. 2013). Thus, at this point in the case, the court draws the following facts from Scheuermann’s complaint.

Scheuermann and her husband reside in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Fletcher is an attorney and the managing partner of Law Office of Christopher L. Fletcher, LLC, which is a debt collection law firm. Scheuermann and her husband were married in September 2014, and this case concerns a letter that Fletcher sent to their residence on December 29, 2014. The letter discussed a debt of $1, 926.67 that Scheuermann’s husband had incurred when he underwent surgery in February 2010.

The letter was addressed to “Jeffrey and Leann Scheuermann, ” and it began with the salutation: “Dear Jeffrey & Leann.” Dkt. 8-1.[1] The first sentence of the letter stated that Fletcher had been retained to represent a hospital and an anesthesiologist “and their interests as they relate to an account balance that this creditor claims is owed by you.” Id. The letter also stated that: “unless you notify this office within 30 days after receiving this notice that you dispute the validity of this debt or any portion thereof, this office will assume this debt is valid.” Id. Finally, the bottom of the letter contained a notice in bold type face and all caps: “this is an attempt to collect a debt by a debt collector and any information obtained will be used for that purpose.” Id.

Scheuermann filed a complaint on May 21, 2015, alleging that the contents of the letter violated several provisions of the FDCPA. Defendants have now moved to dismiss these claims under Rule 12(b)(6). This court has subject matter jurisdiction over the case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because Scheuermann’s claims arise under federal law.

ANALYSIS

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint; it is not an opportunity to undertake fact-finding or weigh evidence. In considering such a motion, the court will “accept all well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true and then ask whether those facts state a plausible claim for relief.” Firestone Fin. Corp. v. Meyer, 796 F.3d 822, 826 (7th Cir. 2015). But the court is not bound to accept legal conclusions or threadbare allegations that merely recite the elements of a claim, and the complaint must allege facts sufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 826-27.

In this case, Scheuermann alleges that she was not liable for her husband’s debt, and so defendants violated the FDCPA by addressing the letter to both her and her husband. Specifically, Scheuermann alleges four violations of the FDCPA: (1) the natural and probable consequences of defendants’ letter were to harass, oppress, or abuse her, in violation of § 1692d; (2) defendants falsely represented the legal status of the debt, in violation of § 1692e(2)(A); (3) defendants used deceptive means in an attempt to collect the debt or gain information, in violation of § 1692e(10); and (4) defendants used unfair and unconscionable means in an attempt to collect the debt, in violation of § 1692f and § 1692f(1). Defendants move to dismiss, contending that these allegations fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because Wisconsin law entitles the creditors to collect the debt from property in which Scheuermann has an interest.

Defendants rely on several Wisconsin statutes that govern the effect that one spouse’s obligations have on the couple’s property.[2] Because Wisconsin is a marital property state, the general rule is that “[a]ll property of spouses is marital property except that which is classified otherwise [and e]ach spouse has a present undivided one-half interest in each item of marital property.” Wis.Stat. § 766.31. As relevant in this case, Wisconsin law also provides that:

[a]n obligation incurred by a spouse before or during marriage that is attributable to an obligation arising before marriage or to an act or omission occurring before marriage may be satisfied only from property of that spouse that is not marital property and from that part of marital ...

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