Is it acceptable to allege in court that a reasonably accurate credit record is, in fact, not accurate and therefore in violation of the FCRA? Nope. That’s according to U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey Judge Renée Marie Bumb, who dismissed what she termed a “frivolous” lawsuit against Experian in the recent, twinned cases Glenn Williams v. Experian and Lorissa Williams v. Experian.
The case involves credit disputes filed by both Williamses against Experian, which had determined and reported that each Plaintiff had filed two chapter 13 bankruptcies in the District Court of NJ. Both plaintiffs had disputed the bankruptcies, prompting Experian to reinvestigate. Experian sent an Automated Consumer Dispute Verification (ACDV) to Lexis Nexis, which is Experian’s public records vendor; Lexis Nexis subsequently confirmed the accuracy of the bankruptcy attributions. Experian then informed the plaintiffs of the dispute process results.
Experian may have considered the matter settled, but Experian’s mailbox suggested otherwise. Between 2011 and 2014, seven dispute letters were sent to Experian regarding either Glenn Williams’s or Lorissa Williams’s reports.
In filing suit against Experian, Plaintiffs’ counsel alleged that Experian violated the FCRA by failing to delete inaccurate information from their credit file after reinvestigation and failing to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the credit report. Plus, the Plaintiffs sued for defamation for reporting the “false and negative alleged bankruptcies.”
False and negative how? That proved tricky argument for Plaintiffs counsel to make. According to court documents, counsel provided no evidence whatsoever that the bankruptcies in question were not real and accurately reported. Counsel presented nothing more than the online dispute forms originally submitted to Experian. What’s more, the Plaintiffs’ identifying information are all over the bankruptcy court documents – documents which the Plaintiffs did not dispute. (Believe it or not, counsel for the Plaintiffs actually argued that there are imposters posing as the Plaintiffs. The court asked for evidence to back up the theory. Didn’t get it.)
As the Judge Bumb notes, Experian can’t really violate FCRA requirements on accuracy or duty to reinvestigate consumer disputes if its information is factually accurate.
“In the end, there is nothing before this Court to show that Plaintiffs did not file these petitions,” Bumb states. “To the contrary, the evidence all points to the fact that Experian has had to expend resources for over a year and a half litigating a baseless case. And, again, it is most noteworthy that Plaintiffs have not even submitted a sworn document before this Court in support of their claims that they did not file these bankruptcies. In this Court’s mind, this speaks volumes and highlights the nakedness of the allegations … If the information in a consumer’s file was, in fact, correct, then no investigation could have revealed the existence of inaccurate information because there was no inaccurate information to uncover.”
What’s more, Bumb could not resist noting that light-on-review FCRA cases like this are not uncommon and that the court has taken notice.
“This Court is not naïve to the fact that FCRA litigation and its cousin Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)litigation are often pursued on boilerplate pleadings with no ultimate intent or hope that the case proceeds to trial or much past the pleading stage,” she states. “Indeed, to this end, a cursory search of the dockets reveals that Plaintiffs’ counsel appears to have filed hundreds of FCRA and FDCPA actions in the District of New Jersey, many of which did not proceed past several docket entries before the case was terminated. The fact that some portion of FCRA or FDCPA cases present[s] similar factual predicates prone to bulk litigation does not, however, give an attorney license to file a case without any meaningful review or investigation.”
“This Court has little doubt that Plaintiffs filed the bankruptcy petitions, and their mailings to Experian stating otherwise have all the markings of a well-schemed fraud,” she concludes.
The insideARM perspective
As it happens, sometimes turnabout is fair play. insideARM covered the Bock v. Pressler & Pressler case late last year, a case involving a collections law firm that brought suit against a consumer after one of their attorneys reviewed the consumer’s file in “four seconds.” The District Court of New Jersey found that the meaningful attorney involvement standard, which applies to a letter sent by an attorney, can also apply both to pleadings and the filing of a complaint.
The cases of Glenn Williams v. Experian and Lorissa Williams v. Experian show that the courts may have very little patience for quickly filed, largely (if not entirely) baseless suits filed by consumer attorneys, too.