A federal district court judge in Nevada recently denied competing motions for summary judgment in a Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) furnisher investigation case, demonstrating the challenges FCRA litigants often face in convincing courts to decide cases on matters of law.
In Land v. Allied Collection Services, Inc. (Allied), the defendant argued that since it had conducted an investigation before receiving the plaintiff’s formal dispute it did not need to conduct a duplicative investigation after receiving the dispute. Allied also argued that the one satisfaction rule barred the plaintiff’s recovery because he had already settled with other defendants. The court declined to decide either legal issue at the summary judgment stage.
As background, the plaintiff alleged that Allied violated 15 U.S.C. § 1681s-2(b) by conducting an inadequate investigation. According to the plaintiff, although he disputed that he owed rent to an apartment complex, Allied continued to report the debt to consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) without reinvestigating. Allied responded that it directly contacted the apartment complex manager before receiving the plaintiff’s formal dispute and the complex manager verified the debt. Allied argued there was no indication in the dispute that anything had changed.
The plaintiff moved for summary judgment on the issue of liability, arguing that Allied admitted that it did not reinvestigate the accuracy of the report after it received his dispute. Allied did not dispute that material fact, and the plaintiff did not dispute that Allied had called the complex manager. The only question remaining was whether § 1681s-2(b) was satisfied by an investigation conducted prior to the receipt of a formal dispute.
The court decided that the accuracy of the underlying report was still unresolved, but more importantly the remaining question was the “reasonableness” of Allied’s investigation. The court relied on Ninth Circuit precedent to find that reasonableness is a question for the jury.
The court also held that it was premature to decide the one satisfaction issue. The court stated that “because the amount of Land’s alleged damages, including emotional distress damages,” had not been determined, there was “no basis to determine whether his settlements with the CRAs fully satisfied his injuries.”
This case highlights the difficulty of getting FCRA cases decided at the summary judgment stage. Because legal issues are often intertwined with the question of reasonableness, courts can be reluctant to rule on the record even when all other material facts are undisputed.