Micks v. Gurstel Law Firm, P.C., Case No. 17-cv-4659 (ECT/ECW)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Minnesota
Writing for the CourtEric C. Tostrud, United States District Judge
Citation365 F.Supp.3d 961
Docket NumberCase No. 17-cv-4659 (ECT/ECW)
Decision Date01 February 2019
Parties Wanda MICKS, Plaintiff, v. GURSTEL LAW FIRM, P.C., Defendant.

365 F.Supp.3d 961

Wanda MICKS, Plaintiff,
v.
GURSTEL LAW FIRM, P.C., Defendant.

Case No. 17-cv-4659 (ECT/ECW)

United States District Court, D. Minnesota.

Signed February 1, 2019


365 F.Supp.3d 964

Todd M. Murray, Friedman Iverson, PLLC, Minneapolis, MN, for Plaintiff Wanda Micks.

Andrew D. Parker, Parker Daniels Kibort LLC, Minneapolis, MN, for Defendant Gurstel Law Firm, P.C.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Eric C. Tostrud, United States District Judge

Plaintiff Wanda Micks ("Micks") co-signed a student loan (the "Loan") for a friend in 2006, and she filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy the following year. The parties dispute whether Micks's obligation under the Loan might have been among those debts discharged through her bankruptcy. Her friend later stopped making payments on the Loan, and in 2015, Defendant Gurstel Law Firm, P.C. ("Gurstel"), as counsel for the owner of the Loan, obtained a judgment against Micks and her friend in Hennepin County District Court for the unpaid balance. Soon after, Gurstel began garnishing Micks's wages to collect on that judgment. Micks, seeking relief from the garnishment, applied with the Hennepin County District Court to have the judgment against her vacated. Micks properly served Gurstel with her application to vacate the judgment. Gurstel received Micks's application but mistakenly failed to timely object to it. Having received no response from Gurstel, the state court vacated the judgment against Micks in July 2017. Gurstel was informed of the state-court order vacating the judgment, but nonetheless continued garnishing Micks's wages to collect on the (now-vacated) judgment.

Micks filed this lawsuit. Her Amended Complaint alleges that Gurstel's actions violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. , and constituted the common-law tort of conversion. ECF No. 10. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 31, 36. Micks confirmed at the hearing that she was moving for summary judgment only as to liability on her FDCPA claim and not as to damages on that claim or on any aspect of her conversion claim. Gurstel represented at the hearing that it seeks summary judgment on all aspects of both of Micks's claims. Gurstel also has moved for sanctions against Micks and her counsel stemming from Micks's alleged abuse of the related state-court proceedings. ECF No. 55. Micks's summary-judgment motion will be granted because the law and the facts establish beyond reasonable dispute that Gurstel violated the FDCPA and that Gurstel's FDCPA violations did not result from a "bona fide error," as the FDCPA uses those terms. Gurstel's motions for summary judgment and sanctions will be denied.

I

A

The facts giving rise to this dispute begin long before the alleged FDCPA violations occurred. Micks1 met Reginald Birts

365 F.Supp.3d 965

in 1998. Edwards Aff. Ex. B ("Micks Dep.") at 124 [ECF No. 34-1 at 16–175 ]. They met through Micks's work, and their children attended the same school. Id. at 125. The two were friends and would watch one another's children. Id. 124. Birts was the person who told her about Habitat for Humanity, the program through which Micks later acquired her home, and Birts even put "sweat equity" into the home to assist her in that process. Id. at 128–30. At some point Birts became interested in Micks romantically, but she did not reciprocate, so she ended the friendship. Id. at 126. They lost touch around 2000 or 2001. Id. at 125, 128–30.

Micks did not hear from Birts again until 2006, when he told Micks he wanted to go into politics and needed to seek more education to do that, and he asked her to co-sign a private student loan for $ 20,000. Id. at 126–27, 152–53. Micks agreed. Id. at 153–54. Birts used the money exclusively for his education and did not use any of the loan proceeds for a business or other commercial purpose. Birts Decl. ¶¶ 2–3 [ECF No. 44 ]. Micks received no part of the Loan proceeds herself. Micks Dep. at 158–59. She testified that she co-signed the Loan so that "we would have somebody else in politics" and that she "was co[-]signing for somebody that [she] wanted to see do better in his life." Id. at 159. Birts signed a "promissory note" agreeing to pay all principle and interest on the Loan, and not to "mess up" Micks's credit. Id. at 153.

B

In August 2007, Micks filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. See generally In re Harris , No. 07-42680 (NCD) (Bankr. D. Minn. 2007). Her bankruptcy petition listed the Loan, which had been originated by Charter One Bank. Decl. of Todd Murray ("Murray Decl.") Ex. 3 [ECF No. 40-1 at 22–56] at 16. Micks told her bankruptcy attorney that receiving a discharge of the Loan was particularly important to her. Murray Decl. Ex. 4 [ECF No. 40-1 at 58 ]. The bankruptcy court granted her a discharge on November 14, 2007. Edwards Aff. Ex. E, Order Discharging Debtor, No. 07-42680 (NCD) (Bankr. D. Minn. Nov. 14, 2007) [ECF No. 34-1 at 112 ].

At that point, Micks understood that the Loan had been included in her discharge. Micks Dep. at 175. She cites a number of facts on which she based that understanding. First, the Loan was listed in her July 2007 bankruptcy petition, see Murray Decl. Ex. 3 at 16, and as her bankruptcy case proceeded she specifically expressed to her attorney the importance of having that specific Loan discharged, see id. Ex. 4 ("I wanted to know if you can make sure if they can release me on the attached student loan that I co-signed for? I won't be able to pay for this especially since I haven't even started paying for my own student loan." (emphasis in original) ). Second, she received updates from her bankruptcy attorney as that proceeding unfolded, and she understood from her lawyer that, although other creditors had appeared in court, no one had appeared for the Loan creditors. Micks Dep. at 172. Third, she also understood from her bankruptcy attorney that in a "discussion with the legal team from the bankruptcy court ... [t]hey were talking about the dismissal of the [L]oan." Id. at 173–74. As a result of those discussions, Micks understood, her bankruptcy attorney wrote a letter to the Loan creditor "saying that he was including it in the bankruptcy." Id. at 174. Fourth, correspondence from her bankruptcy attorney to the Loan creditor represented that because Micks was a "co-maker" on the loan and did not receive the loan funds herself, the debt was included in her discharge and

365 F.Supp.3d 966

further collection efforts on the Loan would be prohibited following discharge. See Murray Decl. Exs. 6 [ECF No. 40-1 at 63] and 7 [ECF No. 40-1 at 65–69].

Notwithstanding those facts, however, Micks's bankruptcy attorney, Gregory Wald, testified2 that at no point did he advise Micks that the Loan would be discharged through her bankruptcy filing. Edwards Aff. Ex. D ("Wald Interrog. Dep.") [ECF No. 34-1 at 109–11 ] at Ans. to Interrog. No. 1. Specifically, Wald believes he advised Micks that "generally it is necessary to bring a lawsuit known as an ‘adversary proceeding’ in bankruptcy court to prove ‘undue hardship’ to discharge a student loan." Id. at Ans. to Interrog. No. 3. No evidence in the record before the Court suggests that Micks ever pursued an adversary proceeding with respect to her Loan debt. See, e.g. , Edwards Aff. Ex. C ("Wald Dep.") at 18 [ECF No. 34-1 at 87–08 ]. Wald further recalls advising her as follows:

Before the bankruptcy petition was filed with the court, I believe that I told Wanda Micks that student loans are not ordinarily discharged in bankruptcy, but that a minority of courts had ruled that co-signed debts could be discharged without a finding of "undue hardship", and we could at least make an argument to the student loan lender that the debt should be considered discharged based on her co-debtor status. She could then make further decisions about the student loan after the student loan lender replied to our assertion of dischargeability.

Wald Interrog. Dep. at Ans. to Interrog. No. 2. He further advised her that only a minority of bankruptcy cases had ruled that co-signed student loans could be discharged in bankruptcy without a showing of undue hardship. Id. at Ans. to Interrog. No. 3. Wald did send a letter to the Loan creditor making that argument on Micks's behalf, but the Loan creditor did not respond. Id. Wald "did not tell her it was guaranteed or even likely that her student [loan] would be discharged based on her co-debtor status." Id.

C

Birts stopped making payments on the Loan in April 2009, and in November 2009, the Loan was charged off. See Edwards Aff. Ex. R [ECF No. 34-1 at 173 ]. At that time, the Loan carried a balance of $ 31,195.53. Id.

In April 2013, the National Collegiate Student Loan Trust 2006-2 ("NCSLT"), which owned the debt on the Loan, filed suit against both Micks and Birts in Hennepin County District Court. See Edwards Aff. Ex. F, National Collegiate Student Loan Trust 2006-2 v. Birts et al. , No. 27-CV-14-9994 (Henn. Cty. Dist. Ct.) [ECF No. 34-1 at 113–18 ]. Gurstel represented NCSLT in that action. Id. at 115. Micks disputed the allegations in NCSLT's complaint by sending a letter to Gurstel in which she explained that she understood her obligation under the student loan to have been...

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6 practice notes
  • Oliphant v. Midland Funding LLC, No. 4:19 CV 1204 RWS
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Missouri
    • February 20, 2020
    ...action that seeks to attach not only the funds of a debtor, but also a debtor's business). 3. Micks v. Gurstel Law Firm, P.C., 365 F. Supp. 3d 961, 974 (D. Minn....
  • Pettitt v. Chiari & Ilecki, LLP, 1:17-CV-00640 EAW
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of New York
    • December 16, 2019
    ...to do so where it had knowledge from prior dealings that debt was owed to a different entity); Micks v. Gurstel Law Firm, P.C. , 365 F. Supp. 3d 961, 977 (D. Minn. 2019) (objectively unreasonable for debt collector to not conduct any factual investigation despite receiving two calls from de......
  • Stone v. Signode Indus. Grp., LLC, No. 17 C 5360
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • March 13, 2019
    ..."); Murphy , 61 F.3d at 566 ("The Plan states that retiree benefits terminate ‘upon the date the Plan is terminated 365 F.Supp.3d 961or amended to terminate the Retiree's [or his dependent's] coverage. ’ "); Ryan v. Chromalloy Am. Corp. , 877 F.2d 598, 601 (7th Cir. 1989) (&q......
  • Bodor v. Maximus Fed. Servs., CIVIL 5:19-cv-05787-JMG
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • October 22, 2021
    ...have held that erroneously garnishing a student loan debtor's wages is a violation of §1692(f). See Micks v. Gurstel Law Firm, P.C., 365 F.Supp.3d 961, 974 (D. Minn. 2019) (debt collector violated § 1692f by garnishing wages after student loan judgment was vacated). Demarais observes “an er......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • Oliphant v. Midland Funding LLC, No. 4:19 CV 1204 RWS
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Missouri
    • February 20, 2020
    ...action that seeks to attach not only the funds of a debtor, but also a debtor's business). 3. Micks v. Gurstel Law Firm, P.C., 365 F. Supp. 3d 961, 974 (D. Minn....
  • Pettitt v. Chiari & Ilecki, LLP, 1:17-CV-00640 EAW
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of New York
    • December 16, 2019
    ...to do so where it had knowledge from prior dealings that debt was owed to a different entity); Micks v. Gurstel Law Firm, P.C. , 365 F. Supp. 3d 961, 977 (D. Minn. 2019) (objectively unreasonable for debt collector to not conduct any factual investigation despite receiving two calls from de......
  • Stone v. Signode Indus. Grp., LLC, No. 17 C 5360
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
    • March 13, 2019
    ..."); Murphy , 61 F.3d at 566 ("The Plan states that retiree benefits terminate ‘upon the date the Plan is terminated 365 F.Supp.3d 961or amended to terminate the Retiree's [or his dependent's] coverage. ’ "); Ryan v. Chromalloy Am. Corp. , 877 F.2d 598, 601 (7th Cir. 1989) (&q......
  • Bodor v. Maximus Fed. Servs., CIVIL 5:19-cv-05787-JMG
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • October 22, 2021
    ...have held that erroneously garnishing a student loan debtor's wages is a violation of §1692(f). See Micks v. Gurstel Law Firm, P.C., 365 F.Supp.3d 961, 974 (D. Minn. 2019) (debt collector violated § 1692f by garnishing wages after student loan judgment was vacated). Demarais observes “an er......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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