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Wall v. Works & Lentz of Tulsa, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

October 17, 2017

CORY M. WALL and KELLI WALL, Plaintiffs,
v.
WORKS & LENTZ OF TULSA, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CLAIRE V. EAGAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Now before the Court is defendant Works and Lentz of Tulsa, Inc.'s renewed motion to dismiss (Dkt. # 17). Plaintiffs Cory M. Wall and Kelli Wall have filed a response (Dkt. # 25), and defendant has filed a reply (Dkt. # 26).

         I.

         This lawsuit arises from defendant's request for attorney fees in a prior state court lawsuit (underlying lawsuit) against plaintiff. On August 16, 2016, Saint Francis Health Systems, Inc. (Saint Francis), by and through defendant, filed suit against plaintiffs in the District Court of Tulsa County, State of Oklahoma, seeking to collect a medical debt. Dkt. # 13, at 5.

         On January 19, 2017, Saint Francis filed a motion for summary judgment. Dkt. # 13-2. In it, Saint Francis requested attorney fees. In support of this request, Saint Francis attached an affidavit of Susan E. Lentz (Lentz affidavit), one of defendant's attorneys representing Saint Francis, and an itemization of the attorney fees sought. Dkt. # 13-2, at 5-8. The Lentz affidavit stated, “[t]he reasonable worth of [defendant's] professional services should be established at no less than $150.00 per hour which in the aggregate equals $1, 050.00. A fee of $900.00 is requested.” Id. at 7. The itemization stated:

         In the course of this representation the firm has expended on behalf of this client the following time:

12/18/2015

Received documentation from client; opened file; demand letter sent to Defendants

2.00 hrs.

6/15/2016

Verified Suit Criteria

.50 hr

8/15/2016

Suit Approved - prepared Summons, Petition/ Affidavit of Account

1.00 hrs

8/16/2016

Filed Suit at Courthouse

1.00 hr.

10/12/2016

Obtained copy of Answer filed by Defendants

.50 hr.

10/13/2016

Prepared Motion for Summary Judgment, Brief-in-Support with supporting Affidavits

2.00 hrs.

TOTAL TIME SPENT

7.00 hrs

Id.

         On February 12, 2017, plaintiffs, proceeding pro se, responded to Saint Francis's motion. Dkt. # 5-2. Plaintiffs alleged that they contacted Saint Francis and defendant numerous times to obtain an itemized bill explaining their debt but were never given this information. Id. at 1-2. In addition, plaintiffs stated that they were, “contesting any and all accusations regarding their account.” Id. at 2. Plaintiffs did not specifically challenge Saint Francis's request for attorney fees.

         On March 3, 2017, the state court granted Saint Francis's motion for summary judgment, ordering plaintiffs to pay the debt they owed and, in addition, $900 in attorney fees for Saint Francis's “attorneys of record;” that is, defendant. Dkt. # 17-1.

         On June 5, 2017, plaintiffs filed a complaint in this Court (Dkt. # 2). In response, defendant filed a motion to dismiss (Dkt. # 5). Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint (Dkt. # 13) on July 19, 2017, and defendant filed a renewed motion to dismiss (Dkt. # 17), which is now before the Court.

         In their amended complaint, plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and a putative class, allege that defendant is a “collection mill:” that is, a law firm that employs non-attorney support staff to operate an automated document preparation system that allows defendant to file thousands of lawsuits every year with little attorney involvement. Dkt. # 13, at 3. Accordingly, plaintiffs contend, the attorney fee affidavits that defendant routinely submits in debt collection litigation-including the Lentz affidavit submitted in the underlying lawsuit-are unlawful, as they falsely represent or imply that the persons who performed the itemized activities were attorneys. Id. at 6.[1] To support this allegation, plaintiffs attach to the amended complaint a January 9, 2017, consent order that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) entered against defendant. In the Matter of Works & Lentz, Inc., et al., CFPB, No. 2017-CFPB-0003 (Jan. 9, 2017). Dkt. # 13-1. In the consent order, the CFPB found, inter alia, that (1) defendant attempted to collect approximately 700, 000 debts totaling over $500 million annually; (2) upon receiving a new account from a client, defendant's computer system automatically sends the consumer whose debt is the subject of the account an initial demand letter; and (3) since 2012, in many instances, no attorney reviews the consumer account before defendant sends the initial demand letter. Id. at 6. According to plaintiffs, the CFPB's findings suggest that defendant has represented, in the underlying lawsuit and others like it, that attorneys have performed certain tasks, including “received documentation from client; opened file; demand letter sent to Defendants, ” when, in fact, attorneys have not performed this work. Dkt. # 25, at 5.[2]

         With respect to allegations of law, count I of plaintiffs' amended complaint alleges that defendant's conduct violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq., in the following seven respects:

(a) by engaging in any conduct the natural consequence of which is to harass, oppress or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1692d;
(b) by engaging in any false, deceptive or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1692e;
(c) by making a false representation of the character, amount or legal status of any debt in contravention of 15 ...

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