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Torres v. Gutman Mintz Baker & Sonnenfeldt P.C.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 29, 2018

CARMEN TORRES, Plaintiff,
v.
GUTMAN, MINTZ, BAKER & SONNENFELDT P.C. et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Cheryl L. Pollak, United States Magistrate Judge.

         On July 11, 2017, Carmen Torres (“plaintiff”), through counsel, commenced this action against Gutman, Mintz, Baker & Sonnenfeldt LLP (“GMBS”), Edguardo L. Baldinucci, Kathleen E. Nolan, Yevgeniya Musheyeva, and Buddy Equities LLC (collectively, “defendants”) seeking damages, attorney's fees and costs, and injunctive and declaratory relief, pursuant to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq., New York General Business Law (“GBL”) § 349 et seq., and New York Judiciary Law (“NYJL”) § 487.

         Now before the Court is plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants plaintiff's motion.

         BACKGROUND

         Since approximately 2004, plaintiff leased a rent-stabilized apartment in a building owned and operated by defendant Buddy Equities LLC. (Compl.[1] ¶ 17). Due to plaintiff's severe disability and limited income, the entirety of plaintiff's rent is paid by the Department of Social Services (“DSS”), a branch of the New York City Human Resources Administration (“HRA”). (Id. ¶ 18).

         In June 2014 and again in August 2016, plaintiff signed two-year rent stabilized lease agreements with defendant Buddy Equities LLC that required her to pay monthly rent in the amount of $1, 714.40. (Id. ¶ 22). Under its standard practice, HRA would make two monthly rental payments on plaintiff's behalf. Such payments took the form of an “A check, ” typically sent on the first week of the month, and a “B check, ” typically sent on the third week of each month. Each check consisted of half of her total monthly rent. (Id. ¶ 19).

         Between 2015 and 2016, defendant Buddy Equities, through its counsel, GMBS, initiated three eviction proceedings against plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 24). In each case, plaintiff alleges that Buddy Equities, GMBS, and its attorneys, unlawfully mischaracterized the debt owed by plaintiff or HRA. (Id.)

         1. The First State Court Proceeding

         On June 8, 2015, Defendants initiated a non-payment eviction proceeding against plaintiff in the Kings' County Housing Court in which defendants falsely represented that plaintiff had paid none of the $1, 714.40 due in monthly rent from December 2014 through June 2015. (Id. ¶ 27). In total, defendants alleged that plaintiff owed $11, 915.20, plus attorneys' fees. (Id.) Rebutting defendants' claims, plaintiff's attorney provided the Housing Court with HRA records showing that DSS had paid $1, 591.10 for every month that Defendant had alleged complete non-payment. Of the $11, 915.20 defendants demanded, $10, 682.20 had already been paid. (Id. ¶ 31). Despite the clear evidence, defendant continued litigating the matter for another five months. (Id. ¶ 30).

         2. The Second State Court Proceeding

         On July 26, 2016, defendants initiated a second nonpayment eviction proceeding against plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 34). They alleged that plaintiff failed to pay the full $1, 714.40 due for the months of June and July 2016, and demanded payment of the rent amount, plus $1, 147 in late fees, and attorney's fees. (Id.) On August 17, 2016, the Housing Court judge determined that plaintiff's rent for June and July had been fully paid by DSS and a Stipulation of Settlement and Discontinuance was filed. (Id. ¶ 36).

         3. The Third State Court Proceeding

         On November 9, 2016, defendants initiated a third nonpayment eviction proceeding against plaintiff, claiming that she owed $3, 787.26 for failure to pay rent in October and November 2016, as well as attorney's fees. (Id. ¶ 38). On December 20, 2016, plaintiff's attorney filed a Motion to Dismiss and provided the Housing Court with records demonstrating that DSS had already paid the defendant $1, 714.40 for the months in question, and that defendant had cashed the checks for those payments. (Id. ¶ 41). Ultimately, the Housing Court judge discontinued the case with prejudice, finding that plaintiff had made all her payments through November 30, 2016. (Id. ¶ 42).

         4. Plaintif ...


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