In Hedayati v. The Perry Law Firm, 2017 WL 4864491, at *7 (C.D.Cal., 2017), Judge Carter held a bench trial regarding the Plaintiff’s claim that the defendant wrongfully attempted to collect a debt from him that, in reality, was owed by his brother. Judge Carter found no false statements made to the Plaintiff, and imposed a reality check on the Plaintiff:
Here, on the other hand, all the documents Plaintiff received listed “Mohammad Hedayati” as the debtor and, importantly, made clear that the debt related to the Corkwood Property. Even the least sophisticated debtor knows his own address and can understand that, if he receives debt collection notices that list an address he doesn’t recognize and a name similar to his own, that the debt collector likely has the wrong individual. In fact, that is exactly what happened in this case—as soon as Plaintiff saw the Corkwood Property listed on documents, he knew that he did not owe the debt and that Defendant was targeting the wrong individual. Thus, this Court cannot say that Defendant violated the FDCPA just because Defendant targeted the wrong person when it mailed and served documents that themselves did not contain false statements and in fact clearly listed the address of the Corkwood Property. See Donohue, 592 F.3d at 1034 (“In assessing FDCPA liability, we are … concerned with … genuinely misleading statements that may frustrate a consumer’s ability to intelligently choose his or her response.”). . . However, even under the reasoning set out in Gallegos, Plaintiff in this case has not shown that Defendant violated the FDCPA. Although Defendant continued to target Plaintiff with its debt collection efforts even after Plaintiff notified Defendant that he was not the debtor, Plaintiff did not give Defendant the same kind of clear notice as the plaintiff provided the defendants in Gallegos, and in this case Defendant did attempt on multiple occasions to confirm the debtor’s information. In Gallegos, the plaintiff wrote a letter clearly stating “that he was not the debtor, that his father was the debtor, and that his father did not live at [Plaintiff’s address].” Id. (emphasis added). Here, however, Plaintiff orally told Defendant that he was not the debtor, but never informed Defendant that he had a brother named “Mohammad Hedayati” who was the debtor. Nor did Plaintiff ever provide any evidence that he was not the debtor, let alone any written notice or dispute of the debt. In addition, Defendant in this case conducted numerous public records searches, checked the title to various properties, and spoke with Plaintiff’s employee and Plaintiff’s tenant, all of which reinforced Defendant’s belief that Plaintiff was in fact the debtor.
Judge Carter held that, even if there was a false representation, the Defendant had reasonable policies and procedures in place that could not have prevented the violation.
Finally, Defendant maintains procedures that are reasonably adapted to avoid attempting service on the wrong party. As discussed above, Defendant conducts public records searches to verify a debtor’s address and other information, and it cross-references the results of its multiple searches. In addition, Defendant does title searches at various times during the debt-collection process to verify debtor’s addresses. Defendant also trains its employees on the proper procedures for dealing with a disputed debt or a claim that the contacted individual is not the debtor. In this case, Defendant’s procedures were not able to prevent the error in large part because even public records can’t differentiate between Plaintiff and his brother. Moreover, when Plaintiff notified Defendant that he was not the debtor, Defendant asked Plaintiff to provide evidence to that effect—which seems to be a procedure reasonably adapted to ensuring the correct person is targeted with debt collection efforts—but Plaintiff declined to ever do so. The bona fide error defense does not require that the internal procedures actually avoid errors—otherwise the defense would have no purpose and 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(c) would be largely meaningless. Rather, it requires that a defendant maintain internal procedures which are reasonably adapted to avoid the errors that occurred. Here, Defendant has established that it maintains procedures reasonably adapted to avoid targeting someone other than the actual debtor.