In Bruce v. Am. Honda Fin. Corp., No. 3:20-cv-00128-ECM, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107187, at *9 (M.D. Ala. June 8, 2021), Judge Marks ruled against a FCRA Plaintiff on the claim that identification of the amount monthly payment on a closed, zero-balanced account is “inaccurate” and suggests to users that the account is open.
Now pending before the Court is Defendant American Honda Finance Corporation’s (“AHFC”) motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). (Doc. 42). The question before the Court is whether the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) prohibits a finance corporation from publishing a credit report that identifies a former loan as “closed” with a $0 balance, when it also identifies the loan as having a “monthly payment” of $669. The Plaintiff, Yolanda Bruce, argues that the “monthly payment” line on the credit report creates the impression that she still has an outstanding loan and has upcoming payments each month of $669. AHFC argues in turn that the credit report obviously shows that her loan is no longer outstanding because it says “closed” and shows a balance of $0. Both Parties point to case law that supports their arguments. For the following reasons, AHFC is entitled to judgment on the pleadings, and the motion is due to be GRANTED.
The District Court explained:
This claim requires the existence of an inaccuracy in AHFC’s report. “Accuracy is quite clearly not a self-defining concept, and FCRA‘s fragmentary legislative history provides little, if any, guidance as to how Congress intended this standard to be applied.”Cahlin, 936 F.2d at 1157. The Eleventh Circuit clarified how “accuracy” should be assessed further in the furnisher’s context, explaining, [a]lthough a credit reporting agency has a duty to make a reasonable effort to report “accurate” information on a consumer’s credit history, it has no duty to report only that information which is favorable or beneficial to the consumer. Congress enacted FCRA with the goals of ensuring that such agencies imposed procedures that were not only “fair and equitable to the consumer,” but that also met the “needs of commerce” for accurate credit reporting. Indeed, the very economic purpose for credit reporting companies would be significantly vitiated if they shaded every credit history in their files in the best possible light for the consumer. Thus, the standard of accuracy . . . is an objective measure that should be interpreted in an evenhanded manner toward the interests of both consumers and potential creditors in fair and accurate credit reporting. Cahlin, 936 F.2d at 1158 (footnote omitted). Therefore, courts consider whether a report is inaccurate or misleading in an “evenhanded manner toward the interests of both consumers and potential creditors.” Meeks v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71774, 2019 WL 1856411, at *5 (M.D. Ga. 2019). However, the requirement that a credit report be accurate also has been interpreted by the Eleventh Circuit to preclude reports from including misleading information. Pedro v. Equifax, Inc., 868 F.3d 1275, 1281 (11th Cir. 2017). Accordingly, courts have generally adopted the approach of considering whether Errant Tradelines are (1) inaccurate or (2) misleading in the furnisher context under 15 U.S.C. § 1681s-2(b). See, e.g., Foster v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc., 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135547, 2019 WL 3490463, at *11 (N.D. Ga. 2019); Jackson v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5353, 2019 WL 179570, at *3-4 (M.D. Ga. 2019). In doing so, these courts specifically addressed complaints whether monthly payment lines were inaccurate or misleading when they were listed under closed or charged off loans. Yet some courts put a premium on accuracy above whether the monthly payment lines are misleading, producing divergent results. For example, in Meeks v. Equifax Information Services, LLC, the court focused on whether the monthly payment line was accurate or not. There, the plaintiff argued that a scheduled monthly payment line for a closed loan account was inaccurate and damaging to his credit. 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71774, [WL] at *5. In that case, the loan showed that the plaintiff’s balance was $0, that the pay status was “charged off,” and that the terms of the loan were “$613 per month.” Id. The court found that the monthly payment line was neither inaccurate nor damaging. The court explained, “when the [ ] account is viewed as a whole, it is undeniable that there exists no ongoing obligation for payment. The [ ] account is clearly reported as closed, charged-off, purchased by another lender, and with a $0 balance. The mere presence of historical monthly payment terms neither causes confusion nor creates an inaccuracy.” 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71774, [WL] at *6. The Meeks court believed that the context of the monthly payment line prevented it from being inaccurate or even misleading. By comparison, another court denied a motion to dismiss because it believed the report was inaccurate or misleading when the plaintiff complained about a monthly payment line of $498 when the balance on the loan was $0.J ackson v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5353, 2019 WL 179570, at *3 found a plausible claim of inaccuracy because the credit report specifically listed a “balance” owed and “amount past due” of $7,411. U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5353, [WL] at *4. Since the loan actually was closed, the listed monthly payment could have been misleading or inaccurate. Id. And, in Lovelace v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95845, 2019 WL 2410800 (D. Ariz. 2019), the court found that “a credit report showing a ‘scheduled monthly payment’ of more than $0 for an account that is closed is inaccurate on its face.” 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95845, [WL] at *4. However, that court specifically did not review evidence of a screenshot submitted on the motion to dismiss that showed the loan also was listed as “Charged Off” and “PAID IN FULL.” 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95845, [WL] at *2. Furthermore, in v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135485, 2019 WL 3503538 (N.D. Ga. 2019), the court found that another monthly payment line was inaccurate when the balance on the loan was $0, but the court again did not review the context of the payment line because the parties disputed the authenticity of the contextual evidence. 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135485, [WL] at *3-4 n.2. Finally, the court in v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc., 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135547, 2019 WL 3490463, at *13 (N.D. Ga. 2019), determined that, because the plaintiff alleged both inaccuracy and the potential to mislead, the complaint in that case raised a question of fact sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. Upon review, the Court finds that this case is more like Meeks than those cases wherein the motion to dismiss was denied. in Meeks, the balance listed by AHFC says “$0,” and the account is listed as “closed.” (Doc. 42-2 at 9). is little opportunity for confusion when the alleged Errant Tradeline is reviewed in context—”it is not plausible that the existence on the credit disclosure of plaintiff’s former monthly payment obligation could materially mislead a prospective lender about the nature of his current obligations.” Meeks, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71774, 2019 WL 1856411, at *7. See also Gibson, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 170719, 2019 WL 4731957, at *4. The context of the report reveals that the monthly payment line is neither inaccurate nor misleading. Because the Plaintiff does not state a claim for which relief may be granted, AHFC is entitled to judgment on the pleadings. The motion is due to be granted.