February 27, 2018
from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No.
1:15-cv-00822-TWP-DML - Tanya Walton Pratt, Judge.
Wood, Chief Judge, and Bauer and Barrett, Circuit Judges.
Barrett, Circuit Judge.
Walton sued EOS CCA, a debt collector, under the Fair Debt
Collection Practices Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Walton argues that EOS violated the former by failing to
contact the creditor directly to "obtain
verification" of her debt and the latter by failing to
investigate disputed information. The district court
concluded that EOS had discharged its obligation under both
statutes and entered summary judgment for EOS. We affirm the
district court's judgment.
letter dated October 11, 2014, AT&T notified Deborah
Walton that she owed $268.47 on her closed AT&T account.
It identified her account number as 119864170 and informed
her that failure to pay the bill "may cause your account
to be referred to an outside collection agency." Walton
did not pay the bill, and on January 27, 2015, she received a
debt-collection letter from EOS CCA ("EOS"). The
notice stated that she owed AT&T $268.47 and that payment
was expected "unless [she] dispute[d] the debt."
Because of an error in the records AT&T sent EOS, the
letter incorrectly identified Walton's AT&T account
number as "864119170" when her actual account
number is 119864170. AT&T had swapped the first three
digits of Walton's account with the second three in the
information it provided to EOS.
contacted EOS to dispute that the debt belonged to her.
During a phone call with an EOS representative, Walton
acknowledged that her name and mailing address in the debt
notice were correct, but she falsely denied that the last
four digits of her social security number matched those the
representative gave her in an attempt to confirm her
identity. Walton also wrote EOS a letter disputing the debt,
in which she asserted: "I do not own [sic] AT&T any
money under the account number listed above." After
investigating, EOS sent Walton a notice it characterized as
"verification of your outstanding debt." It told
Walton that based on "a review of our records, " it
had verified that her name, address, and the last four digits
of her social security number matched the debt report it had
received from AT&T. The verification letter also provided
additional information about the amount of the debt: it
stated a balance of $268.47 and specified that AT&T had
not added interest or collection costs to the account. As it
had in its initial notice to Walton, EOS listed her AT&T
account number with the three swapped digits reflected in the
records AT&T had sent it.
reported Walton's debt to two credit-reporting agencies,
Experian and TransUnion. When it did so, it informed the
agencies that the account was disputed. Walton wrote to
Experian and TransUnion to dispute the debt, once in April
and again in May. Each time, the agencies sent EOS a notice
reflecting the complaint that Walton had registered. The
first notice stated that Walton had insisted that the debt
did not belong to her. This notice prompted EOS to
double-check its own records, and it again concluded that
Walton's name, address, and social security number
matched the information it had received from AT&T. The
second notice stated that Walton had asserted that EOS's
debt-collection letter referred to account 864119170, when
her correct account number was 119864170. After receiving
this second notice, EOS asked Ex-perian and TransUnion to
delete Walton's debt record.
sued EOS, claiming that it violated (1) the Fair Debt
Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1692
et seq. (2006), by not verifying her debt with the
creditor, AT&T, and (2) the Fair Credit Reporting Act
(FCRA), 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. (2010), by not
reasonably investigating the disputed information. She
alleges that she lost income, suffered emotional distress,
and incurred substantial attorney's fees as a result of
these violations. A magistrate judge recommended that the
district court enter summary judgment in favor of EOS, and
the district court, overruling Walton's objections to the
magistrate's report and recommendation, did so.
begin with the FDCPA. Under that Act, if a consumer
"notifies the debt collector in writing within the
thirty-day period" that the consumer is disputing a debt
notice, "the debt collector shall cease collection of
the debt … until the debt collector obtains
verification of the debt … and a copy of such
verification or judgment … is mailed to the consumer
by the debt collector." 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(b). The
statute does not describe what it means to "obtain
verification of the debt, " and the definition of
"verification" does not cast much light on the
problem before us. "Verification" is "the
authentication of truth or accuracy by such means as facts,
statements, citations, measurements, or attendant
circumstances." Webster's Third New International
Dictionary 2543 (1961). The question here, however, is what
the debt collector is supposed to be verifying. Walton argues
that § 1692(g) is about the accuracy of the underlying
debt; she insists that the provision obligated EOS to contact
AT&T to confirm whether the account number was hers and
thus whether she really owed AT&T the money. EOS
maintains that § 1692(g) is about the accuracy of its
collection notice; it argues that the provision required EOS
to confirm only that its notice to Walton matched
AT&T's description of the debt and debtor.
right. The Act's stated purpose is "to eliminate
abusive debt collection practices by debt collectors, to
insure that those debt collectors who refrain from abusive
debt collection practices are not competitively
disadvantaged, and to promote consistent State action to
protect consumers against debt collection abuses." 15
U.S.C. § 1692(e). It is both sensible and consistent
with that purpose to construe § 1692g(b) as requiring a
debt collector to verify that its letters to the consumer
accurately convey the information received from the creditor.
The verification assures the consumer that the creditor
actually made the demand the debt collector said it did and
equips the consumer to evaluate the validity of the
creditor's claim. It would be both burdensome and
significantly beyond the Act's purpose to interpret
§ 1692g(b) as requiring a debt collector to undertake an
investigation into whether the creditor is actually entitled
to the money it seeks. Section 1692g(b) serves as a check on
the debt-collection agency, not the creditor. We thus join
other circuits in holding that the statute requires
"nothing more than the debt collector confirming in
writing that the amount being demanded is what the creditor
is claiming is owed." Chaudhry v. Gallerizzo,
174 F.3d 394, 406 (4th Cir. 1999); Clark v. Capital
Credit & Collection Servs., Inc., 460 F.3d
1162, 1173-74 (9th Cir. 2006).
this in mind, EOS plainly satisfied § 1692g(b). It
checked its records and confirmed that the Deborah Walton to
whom it had sent a debt-collection letter was the same
Deborah Walton identified by AT&T. It then mailed Walton
a notice confirming that it had sent the demand for payment
to the person AT&T identified and for the amount AT&T
sought. The notice included AT&T's address, which
served both to identify and provide contact information for
the creditor. This verification armed Walton with the
information she needed to "sufficiently dispute the
payment obligation." Dunham v. Portfolio Recovery
Assocs., LLC, 663 F.3d 997, 1004 (8th Cir. 2011);
see also Haddad v. Alexander, Zelmanski, Danner &
Fio-ritto, PLLC, 758 F.3d 777, 784 (6th Cir. 2014).
Indeed, that is precisely what Walton did. She used the data
she received from EOS-in particular, the erroneous ...