Does consent to receive calls on a cell phone given by a patient to a medical provider pass to a debt collector hired by the medical provider to collect the delinquent account? The 6th Circuit already answered this question in the affirmative. The Eastern District of Michigan recently reaffirmed and extended this flow of TCPA consent in Mayang v. The PAR Group, Inc., 17-CV-12447 (Jul. 17, 2018). In this case, the court found that TCPA consent provided to a doctor’s office flows all the way to a debt collector retained by the laboratory running a blood test on behalf of the doctor’s office.
Read the decision here.
Factual and Procedural Background
In this case, Plaintiff incurred a medical debt for a blood test performed at a laboratory as requested by the Plaintiff’s doctor. When registering at the doctor’s office, Plaintiff provided his cell phone number as a way to be contacted. The registration form also stated “I understand that as a part of my treatment, payment, or healthcare operation, it may become necessary to disclose my protected health information to another entity, and I consent to such disclosure.” The Plaintiff did not limit this consent on the registration form.
When Plaintiff failed to pay the invoice for the blood test, the laboratory sent the account to The PAR Group, Inc. (“PAR Group”) to collect on the debt. After receiving a call for PAR Group, Plaintiff contacted his insurance company to inquire about the claims and whether they were paid, but failed to inform PAR Group of this.
Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against PAR Group alleging that it violated the TCPA by calling him on his cell phone using an Automated Telephone Dialing System (“ATDS”) without his consent and violated the FDCPA for attempting to collect a debt not owed by him. Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on all claims, which the court denied.
Regarding the TCPA claim, the court found that by providing his cell phone number on the doctor’s registration form, Plaintiff consented to receive calls on his cell phone from the doctor and subsequent debt collector that collects on a debt related to the services provided. The court also noted Plaintiff’s failure to limit the consent when he had the chance to do so.
Plaintiff attempts to argue that he revoked his consent during one of the phone calls. However, the only person at PAR Group who spoke with Plaintiff alleges that the revocation did not occur. Since this fact is in dispute, the court could not take it into consideration when deciding this motion.
Regarding Plaintiff’s FDCPA claim, the court found insufficient undisputed evidence to grant summary judgment for Plaintiff. Plaintiff alleged that his insurance company paid the claim, thus he did not owe the debt PAR Group was attempting to collect. However, PAR Group disputes that it knew this, and Plaintiff did not inform PAR Group of his insurance’s payment of this debt. Two vital issues also remain to be answered in order for a decision to be reached on the issue. First, the court stated that it is reasonable for a debt collector to rely on the medical provider’s representation that Plaintiff owed the debt. Second, there is a question of whether the bona fide error defense applies to this claim. With these items unaddressed, the court decided it could not grant summary judgment on this issue.
A court grants summary judgment if the undisputed facts, when viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, show that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, foregoing the need for a trial on the issue. By denying Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, the court decided that there were issues left unanswered that would need to be decided before a final decision on the merits can be reached.
While this decision is not dispositive of the case, the court took a step to explain the reach of TCPA consent. While the 6th Circuit already found that consent provided to a medical provider flows to a debt collector, the doctor to whom consent was provided was not the entity that retained the debt collector in this case. It was the laboratory that ran the blood test at the request of the doctor. It appears that the court is trying to show that consent flows with the account.