Hooper v. Midland Funding, LLC

Decision Date30 July 2021
Docket Number2:19-cv-01601-HNJ
PartiesCOLBY HOOPER, Plaintiff, v. MIDLAND FUNDING, LLC, et al. Defendants.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama


This case proceeds before the court on Defendants Midland Funding LLC and Midland Credit Management, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment, (doc. 34), as well as Plaintiff Colby Hooper's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, (doc. 33) and Motion to Compel Discovery and Motion for Sanctions. (Doc. 28). Plaintiff Colby Hooper claims Defendants Midland Funding, LLC and Midland Credit Management, Inc. engaged in abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq., and Alabama common law.

Hooper bases his claims upon Midland Funding, LLC's alleged failure to effect service of process of the complaint and summons upon him in a prior state court collection lawsuit it initiated against him.[1] Hooper contends Midland Funding, LLC filed a false proof of service in the collection action, which enabled it to obtain a default judgment and ultimately garnish his wages.

Based upon the evidence of record, Hooper fails to sustain a genuine issue of material fact whether Midland Funding, LLC and Midland Credit Management, Inc. may incur liability for filing the alleged false proof of service. Therefore pursuant to the following discussion, the court GRANTS Midland Funding, LLC and Midland Credit Management, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES Hooper's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. The court further DENIES AS MOOT Hooper's Motion to Compel Discovery and Motion for Sanctions.

Standard of Review

Pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, [t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 56(a). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)).

If the movant sustains its burden, a non-moving party demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact by producing evidence by which a reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict in its favor. Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomms., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). The non-movant sustains this burden by demonstrating “that the record in fact contains supporting evidence, sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion.” Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1116 (11th Cir. 1993). In the alternative, the non-movant may “come forward with additional evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial based on the alleged evidentiary deficiency.” Id. at 1116-17; see also Doe v. Drummond Co., 782 F.3d 576, 603- 04 (11th Cir. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S.Ct. 1168 (2016).

The court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000) (citations omitted). “Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.” Id. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). “Thus, although the court should review the record as a whole, it must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe.” Reeves, 530 U.S. at 151 (citation omitted). “That is, the court should give credence to the evidence favoring the nonmovant as well as that ‘evidence supporting the moving party that is uncontradicted and unimpeached, at least to the extent that that evidence comes from disinterested witnesses.' Id. (citation omitted).[2]

Rule 56 “mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. “In such a situation, there can be ‘no genuine issue as to any material fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id. at 322-23. In addition, a movant may prevail on summary judgment by submitting evidence negating [an] opponent's claim, ” that is, by producing materials disproving an essential element of a non-movant's claim or defense. Id. at 323 (emphasis in original).

There exists no issue for trial unless the nonmoving party submits evidence sufficient to merit a jury verdict in its favor; if the evidence is merely colorable or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. The movant merits summary judgment if the governing law on the claims or defenses commands one reasonable conclusion, id. at 250, but the court should deny summary judgment if reasonable jurors “could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. at 248. That is, a court should preserve a case for trial if there exists “sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Id. at 249.


In September 2013, Midland Funding, LLC (Midland Funding) purchased from GE Capital Retail Bank a pool of charged-off accounts containing a credit card account Hooper had maintained.[3] (Doc. 38-2 at 2-3, 9, 14). Hooper remitted to Midland Funding two payments on his account in April and May 2016. (Id. at 55). In February 2017, Midland Funding retained the law firm Moxley & Associates, LLC (“Moxley”) to collect the balance of Hooper's account. (Doc. 38-5 at 3). On May 10, 2017, Moxley filed a complaint on behalf of Midland against Hooper in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama, alleging claims for account stated and breach of contract.[4] (Doc. 38-6 at 2-3).

On June 28, 2017, Midland Funding filed a service return form representing that private process server Hannah VanSlambrouck[5] purportedly served a copy of the complaint and summons upon Hooper at his home address on May 26 2017.[6] (Doc. 36-24). The form depicts an address and telephone number beneath Hooper's name, which Hooper affirmed reflect his home address and cellular telephone number. (Id.; Hooper Dep. at 75, ll. 20-22). Beneath Hooper's name, address, and telephone number, the service return form portrays a signature acknowledging receipt of service; however, it lacks a printed name corresponding to the signature. (Doc. 36-24). Hooper testified the signature [l]ooks like [his] signature, ” and “is shaped like [his] signature, ” though he avers he never received or signed the form, and never received a copy of the complaint and summons. (Hooper Dep. at 74, ll. 12, 19-20; doc. 1 ¶ 11).

When asked whether Hooper had “any reason to believe that Midland [Funding] or anyone on behalf of Midland [Funding] . . . somehow added [his] signature” to the service return form, Hooper responded, “Yes. . . . I know how easy that would be to do. I'm a graphic artist.” (Hooper Dep. at 76, ll. 21-23; 77, ll. 4-8). Hooper did not know whether Midland Funding possessed his signature prior to filing the service return form, and he could not recall ever furnishing Midland Funding a document containing his signature. (Id. at 77, ll. 9-16).

When asked whether he believed Midland Funding “knew or should have known that [he] [allegedly] did not actually sign” the service return form and allegedly did not receive service of process, Hooper responded, “I don't know. . . . I don't know what [it] knew or what [it] did not know.” (Id. at 78, ll. 2-10). When asked a second time whether he believed Midland Funding should have known he allegedly did not sign the service return form and receive service of process, Hooper responded, “No.”[7] (Id. At 78, ll. 11-19). Hooper stated he “ha[d] no idea” how his signature “made it onto” the service return form. (Id. at 75, ll. 11-16).

In her Affidavit, VanSlambrouck averred she “personally served the court summons and the Complaint filed by [Midland Funding] against Colby Hooper . . . upon Mr. Hooper at his residence.” (Doc. 38-8 ¶ 3). VanSlambrouck averred Hooper “identified and otherwise demonstrated himself to be Mr. Hooper when [she] served the court summons and Midland Funding's Complaint upon him at his residence.” (Id.) According to VanSlambrouck, [i]n serving the summons and Complaint upon Mr. Hooper, [she] asked [him] to sign for his receipt of service, and [he] indeed did sign for his receipt of service.” (Id. ¶ 4). She further stated she “likewise signed and otherwise [completed] the ‘Return on Service' section of the service return form.” (Id.) VanSlambrouck appended to her Affidavit a photograph of a man, who she averred constitutes a photograph of Hooper and “depicts the individual on whom [she] personally served the court summons and Midland Funding's Complaint on May 26, 2017.” (Id. ¶ 5).

On June 29, 2017, after Hooper failed to file a responsive pleading to its complaint, Midland Funding filed a request for the entry of a default judgment.[8] (Doc. 36-25). On July 3, 2017 the district court granted Midland Funding's request and...

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