In Basinger-Lopez v. Tracy Paul & Associates, 2009 WL 1948832 (N.D.Cal. 2009). Judge Armstrong refused to award emotional distress damages in an FDCPA case. Defendant failed to appear in the action, and Plaintiff sought to recover $10,000 in actual damages arising from emotional distress suffered due to the alleged collection activities of the defendant, which included threats of legal action, allegedly telling Plaintiff to “grow up and be an adult”, and allegedly accusing Plaintiff of “stealing.” Judge Armstrong found Plaintiff’s affidavits supporting her claim to emotional distress insufficient.
Emotional distress damages may be proven in a number of ways, including through corroborating medical evidence or non-expert testimony establishing “manifestations of mental anguish [and the occurrence of] significant emotional harm.” Dawson v. Wash. Mut. Bank. F.A., 390 F.3d 1139, 1149-50 (9th Cir.2004). [P] Plaintiff seeks $10,000 in emotional distress damages. (Mot. at 5-7.) However, the only support offered by Plaintiff is the conclusory statement in her declaration that “Defendant’s actions caused [her] to suffer damages, including emotional distress, embarrassment, humiliation, invasion of privacy, harassment, stress and anxiety, sleeplessness, and medical issues.” (Bassinger-Lopez Decl. ¶ 11.) The Court finds this evidence too vague to establish that Plaintiff suffered significant emotional harm. See Dawson, 390 F.3d at 1149-50. While Plaintiff’s declaration shows that she understandably suffered general anxiety resulting from Defendant’s conduct, the law requires a more specific and substantial showing before emotional damages may be awarded. [P] For example, in Bolton v. Pentagroup Financial Servs., LLC, 2009 WL 734038 at *11 (E.D.Cal.2009), the court rejected plaintiff’s request for emotional distress damages in an action brought under the FDCPA. Plaintiff claimed that he suffered headaches and sleeplessness and felt rage as a result of the defendant’s threat to disclose his debt to his commander. Though he took an over-the-counter pain reliever, he did not seek medical attention or take any prescription medication in response to the distress. The court found that “[p]laintiff’s anxiety is similar to that of the plaintiffs in other debt collection cases in which the courts found no severe emotional distress as a matter of law.” Id. The emotional distress claimed by Plaintiff in this case is, at best, analogous the distress which the court found insufficient in Bolton. [P] Plaintiff cites Panahaisl v. Gurney, 2007 WL 738642 at *2 (N.D.Cal.2007) (Fogel, J.) where the district court summarily granted a motion for default judgment and awarded emotional distress damages based on a generalized showing of emotional distress damages. Although there is no Ninth Circuit authority directly on point, the Court finds that the jurisprudence of this Circuit requires a more specific showing than permitted in Panahaisl-particularly when such damages are sought by way of a motion for default judgment. See Dawson, 390 F.3d at 1149-50; e.g., Fausto, 589 F.Supp.2d at 1055 (finding that declarations from plaintiffs and their son providing specific details of the extreme distress suffered and the medical services obtained as a result of defendant’s violations of the FDCPA, were sufficient to create a triable issue of fact as to their claim for emotional distress damages). The Court thus concludes that Plaintiff has not made a sufficient showing to warrant an award of actual damages.
Judge Armstrong found penalties available under both the FDCPA and the Rosenthal Act, explaining:
Here, Plaintiff requests statutory damages of $1,000 under the FDCPA, and another $1,000 under the Rosenthal Act. The Court finds these amounts to be justified. Defendant engaged in numerous violations of the FDCPA and the Rosenthal Act. Defendant made repeated threats against Plaintiff to sue her, made abusive accusations and threatened to embarrass her by disclosing the debt to her family, neighbors and employer. In addition, Defendant persisted in contacting her even after being expressly instructed not to do so, and failed to provide Plaintiff with any of the notices required by law. Defendant’s conduct is precisely the type of harassing and fraudulent practices that both statutes were intended to protect against. Although the same conduct justifies the damage award under both state and federal law, the Court finds this permissible because the Rosenthal Act envisions that “[t]he remedies provided herein are intended to be cumulative and are in addition to any other procedures, rights, or remedies under any other provision of law.” Cal.Civ.Code § 1788.32.