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Warman v. Law Office of Slane

United States District Court, W.D. New York

March 13, 2017

Warman et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
The Law Office of Daniel M. Slane et al., Defendants.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          LAWRENCE J. VILARDO, UNITED STATED DISTRICT JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         On August 25, 2014, the plaintiffs filed a complaint alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692, et seq. The defendants failed to appear and defend this action, and the time to do so expired. As a result, the plaintiffs asked the Clerk of Court to enter a default, which accordingly was entered on February 25, 2015. Docket Items 5, 7-8. Now before this Court is the plaintiffs' motion for default judgment pursuant to Rule 55(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. After hearing oral argument on January 20, 2017, and considering the plaintiffs' submissions dated February 24, 2017, this Court GRANTS the plaintiffs' motion.

         BACKGROUND

         The plaintiffs in this case[1] incurred consumer debt that the defendants, The Law Office of Daniel M. Slane (“Slane”) and United Recovery Worldwide, LLC, sought to collect. Slane formerly operated as a collection agency and was a “debt collector” within the meaning of the FDCPA. Complaint, Docket Item 1 ¶¶ 17-18, 151. The defendants merged on June 2, 2014; Slane no longer exists and United Recovery Worldwide, the surviving company, assumed all liability for the conduct committed by Slane prior to the merger.[2] Docket Item 1-1.

         The complaint alleges that the defendants violated the FDCPA in connection with each of the plaintiffs as follows:

         Michael Warman. In seeking to collect Warman's debt, Slane called him and threatened to take legal action if the debt was not paid immediately. Id. ¶ 26. The collector also falsely stated that Warman would automatically owe thousands of dollars if the lawsuit were filed. Id. ¶ 27. The coercion worked: Warman provided his bank account information to Slane. Id. ¶ 28.

         Erin King. Starting in 2011, Slane tried to collect King's debt by calling her cellphone. Id. ¶ 34. In June 2011 and April 2013, King requested that the calls stop. Docket Item 25 at 2; Docket Item 1 ¶ 37. But the calls did not stop, and King continued to receive up to three calls per day. Docket Item 1 ¶ 38. Further, Slane threatened to file legal action against King and failed to send her written correspondence informing her of the right to dispute her debt. Id. ¶¶ 39-40.

         Timothy Lawson. Slane attempted to collect Lawson's debt by repeatedly calling him at work, as many as 30 times, even after Lawson told Slane that the contact was inconvenient and asked for it to stop. Id. ¶¶ 74-76; Docket Item 12-5 ¶ 4. Slane falsely told Lawson that it was a law firm, threatened to “ruin” Lawson's credit and financial future, and threatened to tell Lawson's family and employer that he owed the debt. Docket Item 1 ¶¶ 77-79.

         Summer Goff. Slane sought to collect Goff's debt through written correspondence. Id. ¶ 85; Docket Item 1-2 at 2. Because the letter, with the letterhead “The Law Office of Daniel Slane, ” did not state whether or not it was prepared or reviewed by an attorney, Goff assumed that he was being contacted by an attorney. Docket Item 1 ¶¶ 85-86; Docket Item 1-2 at 2.

         Mario Tucker. Slane tried to collect Tucker's debt by contacting him at his place of employment. Docket Item 1 ¶¶ 93. After Tucker asked that the calls stop, Slane persisted in contacting Tucker at work as many as 15 more times, even speaking with several coworkers about the purpose of the calls. Id. ¶¶ 94-96; Docket Item 12-7 ¶ 4. Slane threatened to garnish Tucker's wages, contacted Tucker's mother and informed her of the debt without Tucker's consent, and withdrew money from Tucker's bank account after Tucker had revoked his permission for that withdrawal. Id. ¶¶ 97-101, 103.

         Alex Davis. In attempting to collect Davis's debt, a Slane representative called Davis several times without informing him of the debt-collection purpose of those calls. Id. ¶¶ 110-11. Slane also lied to Davis by threatening to issue a warrant for Davis's arrest and representing in a voicemail that Slane was a law firm rather than a collection agency. Id. ¶¶ 112-13. In the same voicemail, Davis was told that the matter could “result in civil or criminal charges being filed.” Id. ¶ 114.

         Rita Taylor. Slane sought to collect Taylor's debt by calling her workplace and disclosing to a coworker, without Taylor's consent, the purpose of the call. Id. ¶¶ 120-21.

         Ronald Moore. Slane called Moore to collect Moore's debt, but Moore was not told the purpose of the call. Id. ¶¶ 126-27. When Moore explained to Slane that he had already paid his debt in full, Slane responded that it nevertheless would continue to seek payment until the debt was paid directly to Slane. Id. ¶¶ 128-29. Slane also failed to provide the requested proof that Moore's debt was valid and payable, did not tell Moore about his right to dispute his alleged obligation to pay the debt, and continued to call Moore in an effort to collect the purported debt. Id. ¶¶ 130-32.

         Jarred Johnson. In attempting to collect Johnson's debt, Slane called Johnson several times. Id. ¶ 137. On one occasion, a Slane collector spoke with Johnson's wife and told her that Slane would be “filing a claim through Johnson's social security number.” Id. ¶¶ 139. In a later call, a Slane representative did not tell Johnson that the purpose of the calls were to collect a debt. But he did falsely threaten Johnson that a warrant would be issued and falsely told him that Daniel Slane could “practice in all 50 states.” Id. ¶ 140-42.

         William Welling. In October 2012, Welling paid his debt to Slane and requested proof of payment, which he never received. Id. ¶¶ 147, 149. In January 2014, a Slane collector orally confirmed that Welling's debt was paid and told Welling that he would receive a release-of-debt letter, which he never did. Id. ¶¶ 148-49. Instead, from January to June 2014, Slane called Welling numerous times seeking payment on the already-paid debt and providing misleading information. Id. ¶ 150. For example, Welling was told both that “payment made in 2012 was not the full amount” and that Slane had “never received a payment from [Welling].” Id.

         The plaintiffs allege that they suffered myriad negative consequences as a result of their contact with Slane and its collectors, including anger, emotional distress, frustration, anxiety, helplessness, embarrassment, and frustration. Id. ¶¶ 6-9, 11-19.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Default Judgment

         To obtain default judgment, a party must secure a Clerk's Entry of Default by demonstrating, “by affidavit or otherwise, ” that the opposing party “has failed to plead or otherwise defend” the case. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). Upon entry of default, the court accepts the complaint's factual allegations, except those relating to damages, as true, and draws all reasonable inferences in the moving party's favor. See Finkel v. Romanowicz, 577 F.3d 79, 84 (2d Cir.2009); Greyhound Exhibitgroup, Inc. v. E.L.U.L. Realty Corp., 973 F.2d 155, 158 (2d Cir. 1992) (citing Flaks v. Koegel, 504 F.2d 702, 707 (2d Cir.1974)). In considering whether to enter default judgment, the court determines whether the alleged facts state a valid claim for relief and has the discretion to require further proof of necessary facts. Au Bon Pain Corp. v. Artect, Inc., 653 F.2d 61, 65 (2d Cir. 1981) (discussing Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2)). As to damages, the court ...


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