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Spaulding v. Tri-State Adjustments, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

December 11, 2019

JULIE SPAULDING, Plaintiff,
v.
TRI-STATE ADJUSTMENTS, INC., Defendant. BRYANT SPAULDING, Plaintiff,
v.
TRI-STATE ADJUSTMENTS, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM M. CONLEY DISTRICT JUDGE

         In these consolidated cases, plaintiffs Julie Spaulding and her husband Bryant Spaulding each allege violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq., by defendant Tri-State Adjustments, Inc. In turn, Tri-State counterclaimed, alleging abuse of process by both Julie and Bryant. Plaintiffs have moved for summary judgment on their FDCPA claims, as well as on defendant's counterclaim. Defendant has also moved for partial summary judgment as to one of plaintiffs' FDCPA claims. For the reasons set forth below, the court will deny plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment as to their FDCPA claims, grant plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment as to defendant's counterclaim, and deny defendant's motion for partial summary judgment.

         UNDISPUTED FACTS[1]

         Defendant Tri-State Adjustments, Inc. (“Tri-State”) is a debt collection company. Between 2015 and 2017, Radiology Associates of Wausau S.C. (“Radiology Associates”) referred three debt accounts purportedly owed by plaintiffs Julie and Bryant Spaulding to Tri-State for collection.[2] The parties dispute whether Tri-State sent the Spauldings a written notice for all three debts, which will be addressed in greater detail below. However, Tri-State spoke with Bryant Spaulding on the phone on October 9, 2017, in an attempt to collect on the Spauldings' debts. During that call, Bryant advised that his wife, Julie, generally takes care of the bills, and she would call Tri-State back later. In fact, Julie did not call Tri-State back.

         A few months later, on February 22, 2018, Radiology Associates sent a letter to the Spauldings notifying them of their debts and giving them thirty days to dispute those debts. After the Spauldings failed to dispute the debts as instructed, Radiology Associates filed a small claims complaint against the Spauldings in Marathon County Circuit Court on April 23, 2018. The Spauldings received a formal Summons and Complaint for this action, which noted that the “return date” for the case was set for May 23, 2018.

         Between May 4, 2018, and May 17, 2018, Julie then had four follow-up phone conversations with various Tri-State representatives. Each of these phone conversations was recorded and transcribed; neither party disputes the accuracy of the transcripts.

         In the first phone call on May 4, 2018, Tri-State called Julie after she had left a voicemail with Radiology Associates. The most relevant part of the conversation is recounted below:

[Julie:] So, the $883.61, is that . . . the whole amount, is that in collection.
[Tri-State:] Ah, so there's actually additional court costs that have been added because it looks like a suit was filed.
. . .
[Julie:] [C]an this be taken care of before court, like can there be some payment plan or something or --
. . .
[Tri-State:] Ah, no, as far as court goes . . . the balance of the . . . legal portion here, the $1, 002.11, that would need to be paid in full in our office at least two days prior to court with guaranteed funds . . . .
[Julie:] Okay. So, it would be a full balance?
[Tri-State:] Yes, it would need to be paid in full prior to the court date with guaranteed funds in order to stop the judgment. . . . Otherwise, it would be entered -- [Julie:] Then I won't pay anything on it today.
[Tri-State:] Okay. Yeah. Otherwise we can set up arrangements to avoid garnishment in the future, after that judgment's entered, but -- but a payment wouldn't stop it, right.

(Addis Decl., Ex. A (dkt. #50-1) 3-9.) On May 8, 2018, Tri-State again called Julie in response to another message she had left with Radiology Associates. During that call, Julie informed Tri-State that she would have her attorney call Tri-State back.

         On May 11, 2018, Julie next made a payment of $504.06 directly to Radiology Associates. Later that same date, Julie called Tri-State:

[Julie:] So, I need to talk to somebody about our account here. We got this Summons & Complaint and um, I talked to the Radiology Associates and . . . they said that the only thing that they have is a $504.06, and I just got done paying that with them. . . . But, I'm confused because the Summons & Complaint is for . . . $883.61.
[Tri-State:] Okay. They never reported a payment on it . . . .
[Julie:] I just did it like ten minutes ago, so - [Tri-State:] Okay. . . . So, I can note that you paid the $504.
. . . You said you paid the $504?
[Julie:] Right. . . .
[Tri-State:] Okay. And if that is for the account we have here, that would be applied, but we still do have a remaining balance after that payment would go through, if that was to be applied here.
[Tri-State:] Okay. . . . if we assume that you did pay the $504.06, there'd still be a balance of $944.15.
[Tri-State:] Okay. $329.78, that's principal balance so -- I mean, there's court costs and interest on -- on the accounts as well. So, the -- the payoff to stop any judgment -- if we can confirm the $504.06 is $488.80.
[Julie:] So, $883.61 plus $118.50, and that would still be added, even if the case is settled before that? [Tri-State:] Yes, because it's -- the court cost is added when it's filed, so - [Tri-State:] Yeah, unless the account's paid in -- all the balance is paid in full prior to the court date with guaranteed funds, the judgment would be entered if it wasn't paid . . . .

(Addis Decl., Ex. A (dkt. #50-1) 13-28.)

         Julie again called Tri-State on May 17, 2018. During that conversation, she asked what the account balance was, and Tri-State again informed her that it was $1, 002.11. The Spauldings have never disputed with Tri-State or Radiology Associates ...


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