Midland Funding LLC v. Ford, 042020 MNCA, A19-1887

Docket Nº:A19-1887
Opinion Judge:REILLY, JUDGE
Party Name:Midland Funding LLC, et al., Respondents, v. Joy Ford, Appellant.
Attorney:Derrick N. Weber, Stephanie S. Lamphere, Katie D. Figgins, Messerli & Kramer, P.A., Plymouth, Minnesota (for respondents) Darren B. Schwiebert, DBS Law LLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)
Judge Panel:Considered and decided by Reilly, Presiding Judge; Connolly, Judge; and Hooten, Judge.
Case Date:April 20, 2020
Court:Court of Appeals of Minnesota

Midland Funding LLC, et al., Respondents,

v.

Joy Ford, Appellant.

No. A19-1887

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

April 20, 2020

This opinion will be unpublished and may not be cited except as provided by Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2018).

Ramsey County District Court File No. 62-CV-18-8184

Derrick N. Weber, Stephanie S. Lamphere, Katie D. Figgins, Messerli & Kramer, P.A., Plymouth, Minnesota (for respondents)

Darren B. Schwiebert, DBS Law LLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)

Considered and decided by Reilly, Presiding Judge; Connolly, Judge; and Hooten, Judge.

REILLY, JUDGE

Respondent-creditor's-assignee sued appellant-debtor to collect a $508.52 unpaid credit card bill. The district court granted summary judgment to respondent-assignee on its breach-of-contract claim and appellant's counterclaims against respondent-assignee and respondent-assignee's counsel under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Appellant argues that the district court (1) abused its discretion by ruling that certain evidence was properly authenticated and admissible under Minn. R. Evid. 803(6); (2) erred in concluding that respondent-assignee had standing; (3) erred by granting summary judgment in favor of respondent-assignee on its breach-of-contract claim; (4) erred by granting summary judgment in favor of respondents, dismissing her FDCPA counterclaims; (5) abused its discretion by denying her motion to amend her counterclaim; and (6) abused its discretion by denying her motion for additional discovery under Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.04. We affirm.

FACTS

On June 13, 2016, Comenity Bank (Comenity) issued a credit card to Joy Ford. The next day, Ford used the credit card to purchase several items, incurring a balance of $161.90. Ford subsequently failed to make the minimum payment due on the account, and a $27 late fee was assessed. Ford then made a $30 payment on the account on August 7, 2016, and made another purchase of $35.95 that same day. But Ford failed to make any more payments on the account, and on March 16, 2017, Ford's account was "closed and charged-off." At the time the account was closed, Ford owed a balance of $508.52.

In June 2017, Comenity transferred Ford's account to respondent Midland Funding LLC (Midland).1 Midland then filed suit against Ford in conciliation court seeking to recover the debt owed by Ford on the account. Following a trial, the conciliation court concluded that Midland was entitled to recover $508.52 and ordered Ford to pay that amount plus the $85 filing fee.

In December 2018, Ford removed the case to district court. Ford also filed a counterclaim against Midland and respondent Messerli & Kramer P.A., 2 the law firm representing Midland in its debt-collection action against Ford, alleging that respondents violated several provisions of the FDCPA. See 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692-1692p (2018).

Respondents moved for summary judgment. Shortly thereafter, Ford moved to amend her counterclaim to add an additional FDCPA claim under 15 U.S.C. § 1692f, alleging that Midland failed to comply with sections 131(a) and 131(b) of its 2015 United States Government's Consent Order (consent order). Ford filed a motion to compel discovery, and to postpone the summary-judgment hearing until the additional discovery was completed. Ford also filed a motion for partial summary judgment on her FDCPA counterclaims.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Midland on its breach-of-contract claim. The district court also granted respondents' motion for summary judgment, dismissing Ford's counterclaims. Finally, the district court denied Ford's motion to postpone the summary-judgment hearing under rule 56.04, and denied, as moot, Ford's motions to compel discovery and amend the counterclaim. This appeal follows.

DECISION

Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.01. This court reviews a district court's summary-judgment decision de novo, assessing whether any genuine issues of material fact exist and whether the district court misapplied the law. Melrose Gates, LLC v. Moua, 875 N.W.2d 814, 819 (Minn. 2016). We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and resolve doubts regarding the existence of material facts in that party's favor. Senogles v. Carlson, 902 N.W.2d 38, 42 (Minn. 2017).

I.

The district court did not abuse its discretion by ruling that certain evidence was properly authenticated and admissible under Minn. R. Evid. 803(6).

Ford challenges the admissibility of the affidavits and supporting documents submitted by Midland in support of its summary-judgment motion.3 While a district court's summary-judgment decision is reviewed de novo, McKee v. Laurion, 825 N.W.2d 725, 729 (Minn. 2013), this court reviews "a district court's evidentiary rulings, including rulings on foundational reliability, for an abuse of discretion," Doe 76C v. Archdiocese of

St. Paul and Minneapolis, 817 N.W.2d 150, 164 (Minn. 2012). Decisions on foundation are within the sound discretion of the district court, and a district court may allow a qualified witness other than the custodian of a business record to establish foundation for admissibility of another business's records. Minn. R. Evid. 803(6), 901(a); Nat'l Tea Co. v. Tyler Refrigeration Co., 339 N.W.2d 59, 62 (Minn. 1983) (holding that district court should be guided by certain principles relating to whether evidence was prepared for presentation in case being tried, whether report was made by independent agency or hired agency, when report was made, and nature of organization preparing the report).

A document must be authenticated or identified to be admissible. Minn. R. Evid. 901(a). This requirement "is satisfied by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims." Id. The rules of evidence provide several examples of the procedure for authenticating or identifying evidence, including testimony of a knowledgeable witness "that a matter is what it is claimed to be." Id. at (b)(1).

Here, in order to authenticate the documents supporting its motion for summary judgment, Midland submitted the affidavits of a legal specialist employed with Midland, and the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Comenity. Ford argues that these affidavits do not satisfy the requirement of Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.03(d) that supporting affidavits be made on personal knowledge setting forth such facts as would be admissible in evidence. We disagree.

The CFO's affidavit established that electronic and other records, including the bill of sale, were transferred to Midland, and that the transferred records were kept by Comenity in the course of regularly conducted business and were a part of its regular business practice. In addition, the legal specialist's affidavit established that the attached cardholder agreement, billing agreements, the CFO's affidavit, and the bill of sale were kept by Midland in the course of regularly conducted business activities and were made a part of Midland's regular business practice, which was based upon her personal knowledge, industry experience, and review of records prepared in the ordinary course of Midland's business practice. And the legal specialist testified that she was provided with these records as part of her position at Midland as legal specialist, and that she was "familiar with and trained on the manner and method by which [Midland] creates and maintains its business record pertaining to [Ford's] account." The affiants demonstrate that they reviewed the relevant documents and had knowledge that Ford owed an amount to Comenity and that Comenity sold the account to Midland. Ford is unable to demonstrate that the district court abused its discretion in concluding that the challenged affidavits were properly authenticated.

Ford further contends that although the legal specialist, as Midland's agent, may be qualified to offer documents as to Midland's business, she is not qualified to offer documents or business records of Comenity because she lacks sufficient firsthand knowledge of their business practices.4 But under rule 803(6): Business records are admissible under the business-records exception if the custodian or another qualified witness can testify that the records were (1) made by a person with personal knowledge of the matters recorded and a business duty to report accurately or from information transmitted by a person with such knowledge, (2) made at or near the time of the recorded event, (3) kept in the course of a regularly conducted business activity, and (4) made as part of the regular practice of that business activity.

In re Child of Simon, 662 N.W.2d 155, 160 (Minn.App. 2003) (citing Minn. R. Evid. 803(6)). "[O]ne business entity may submit the records of another business entity to establish a proposition at trial." Nat'l Tea, 339 N.W.2d at 61-62 (citation omitted). The actual custodian need not testify, but the person laying foundation must be...

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