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McAfee v. Law Firm of Forster & Garbus

August 18, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nicholas G. Garaufis, United States District Judge.


Defendants have submitted motions for summary judgment in this debt collection action. For the reasons that follow, their motions are granted.

I. Background

Plaintiff Percy T. McAfee, III ("Plaintiff" or "McAfee"), proceeding pro se, brings this action under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1692e, against Defendants Law Firm of Forster & Garbus ("Law Firm" or "Forster & Garbus"), and three attorneys currently or formerly employed by Forster & Garbus, Edward J. Damsky ("Damsky"), Robert A. Meyerson ("Meyerson"), and Jacques Nazaire ("Nazaire") (collectively "Individual Defendants"). Defendant Law Firm and the Individual Defendants represented Citibank, a non-party to this action,*fn1 in a 2004 New York State court debt collection action against Plaintiff. In the instant action, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated the FDCPA by

(1) failing to respond to interrogatories in the state-court action, (2) submitting a request for a preliminary hearing to Plaintiff without submitting it to the state court, and (3) for filing a Request for Judicial Intervention ("RJI") with inaccurate statements, namely for stating that "there have been no related actions or proceedings." (Complaint ¶ 34.)

II. Failure to Comply With Local Rules

Presented with two motions for summary judgment against Plaintiff, by Memorandum & Order dated January 30, 2008 (January 30, 2008 M&O), the court sua sponte granted Plaintiff sixty days leave to correct infirmities in his filings in opposition to Defendants' motions for summary judgment.In support of his opposition, Plaintiff had submitted two separate affirmations that were virtually identical. (Docket Entries #25 & #28.) In his original affirmations, Plaintiff referenced certain exhibits but in many instances went on for pages without citing to a single exhibit or piece of evidence. The court's Order stated that:

Plaintiff has failed to comply satisfactorily with the requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) and wholly failed to comply with Local Rule 56.1(b) and (d). . . . [D]espite his status as a pro se litigant, Plaintiff is required to abide by these summary judgment requirements. Furthermore, as a practical matter, Plaintiff's failure to follow the rules on summary judgment have rendered it impracticable for the court to determine whether his claims should survive summary judgment on the merits. Given Plaintiff's pro se status, however, rather than grant summary judgment in favor of Defendants on this ground, the court will allow him an opportunity to remedy the shortcomings of his filings under the rules cited above. The court's decision to do so should not be construed as expressing an opinion on the merits of Plaintiff's claims.

(January 30, 2008 M&O at 4.)

By Memorandum of Law and Affidavit dated March 29, 2008, Plaintiff appears to have attempted to comply with the court's Order. However, Plaintiff's opposition again fails to meet the requirements of Local Rule 56.1 and Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). (Docket Entry # 31.) The first seven pages, which review Plaintiff's rendition of the undisputed facts of the case, again fail to cite to any admissible evidence. (E.g., Plaintiff's Memorandum and Affidavit in Support of Opposition to All Defendants['] Motions for Summary Judgment ¶ 3g ("The opportunity to have a voice in court and raise the issues discussed above disappeared. How did this happen? Because FORSTER & GARBUS SUBMITTED FALSE AND MISLEADING DOCUMENTS, DOCUMENTS THAT SIMULATED LEGAL PROCESS TO A CONSUMER, IN VIOLATION OF THE FDCPA."), ¶ 6 ("F&G failed to respond. That is not an act of openness. On the contrary[,] it is the opposite. It is meant to conceal, to hide[], to bamboozle.").)

Similarly, Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law is two-and-a-quarter pages long and, in substantial measure, simply lists legal citations without any argument. The remainder of Plaintiff's opposition reads like an answer to a complaint but fails to cite any admissible evidence. (E.g., Plaintiff's Response to Defendant Robert A. Meyerson's Motion for Summary Judgment ¶ 13 ("That's reasonably accurate, per se. One has to ask, if Mr. McAfee defaulted, as Mr. Meyerson claims, then why didn't F&G simply file for default judgment and avoid having to file a 'new' action in a different court."), ¶ 55 ("Any violation of Federal [l]aw is a crime, per se. Like cheating on one's taxes. It's still a crime none the less [sic].").)

In this court's previous Order, the court explicitly reminded Plaintiff that, at the summary judgment stage, where, as here, the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, "(1) the movant may point to evidence that negates its opponent's claims or (2) the movant may identify those portions of its opponent's evidence that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, a tactic that requires identifying evidentiary insufficiency and not simply denying the opponent's pleadings." Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 272-73 (2d Cir. 2006) (citations omitted). Here, Defendants have submitted evidence purporting to negate Plaintiff's claims and purporting to identify "evidentiary insufficiency" in Plaintiff's case; thus, Defendants have carried their initial burden as movants. Salahuddin, 467 F.3d at 272-73. In addition, the record indicates that Defendants have satisfied their duty pursuant to Local Rule 56.2 to provide Plaintiff with notice of his summary judgment obligations. (See Docket Entry #23 at 14-15.) Thus, the burden has shifted back to Plaintiff to "record evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact," id. at 273 (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)), and Plaintiff as the non-movant "cannot rest on allegations in the pleadings and must point to specific evidence in the record to carry its burden on summary judgment," id.

Even construing Plaintiff's pro se submissions liberally, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (per curiam) (pro se pleadings held "to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers"), Plaintiff must nevertheless abide by these evidentiary requirements in order to withstand summary judgment, which means he "must offer some hard evidence showing that [his] version of the events is not wholly fanciful." Jeffreys v. City of New York, 426 F.3d 549, 554 (2d Cir. 2005). Finally, the evidence offered in opposition to summary judgment must be admissible in the event that a trial occurs. See Woodman v. WWOR-TV, Inc., 411 F.3d 69, 90 (2d Cir. 2005) (affirming the district court's award of summary judgment in favor of defendants "[b]ecause plaintiff failed to adduce admissible evidence raising a triable issue of fact").

Plaintiff has been duly warned about his obligations on summary judgment and has failed to fulfill them, even after having been given an opportunity to cure the defects in his prior opposition papers. Based on Plaintiff's failure to comply with Rule 56.1, the court deems the facts asserted in Defendants' Rule 56.1 statement admitted. Pierre-Antoine v. City of New York, No. 04-Civ-6987 (GEL), 2006 WL 1292076, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. May 9, 2006) (deeming facts in defendants' Rule 56.1 statement as admitted by pro se plaintiff, where plaintiff was provided notice of failing to properly respond to summary judgment motion under Local Civil Rule 56.2). Nevertheless, given Plaintiff's pro se status, the court has in its discretion searched the record in resolving the instant motion in an effort to determine whether triable issues of material fact exist. See, e.g., Holtz v. Rockefeller & Co., Inc., 258 F.3d 62, 73 (2d Cir. 2001) (holding that a district court has broad discretion in determining whether to overlook a party's failure to comply with local court rules); Pugni v. Reader's Digest Ass'n, Inc., No. 05-Civ-8026 (CM), 2007 WL 1087183 (S.D.N.Y. April 9, 2007) (holding that a court "is not required to consider what the parties fail to point out" in their Local Rule 56.1 statements) ...

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