In Ereikat v. Michael & Associates, PC, 2015 WL 4463653 (N.D.Cal., 2015), Judge Corley granted summary judgment to a debt collection law firm whose state court collection action named an “aka” of the debtor listed in the debtor’s TU consumer report that also matched the debtor’s husband’s name.
But Defendant is nonetheless entitled to summary judgment because the Court concludes that the least sophisticated consumer in Plaintiff’s position would not be misled. First, it is undisputed that Defendant did not target Plaintiff for collection of a debt. The complaint was not served on him. No collection letter was sent to him. No telephone call was made to him. He became aware of the complaint only because his wife showed it to him. Second, the State Action complaint unambiguously identifies the name “Mohammed Ereikat” as an “aka” for the named plaintiff, Manal Ereikat. Third, attached to the complaint were account statements that unambiguously identified Manal, and only Manal, as the account holder. Under these circumstances, the complaint caption is not subject to the interpretation urged by Plaintiff. Plaintiff’s insistence that the Court must deny summary judgment because he testified that he was misled is unpersuasive. In effect, Plaintiff urges the Court to hold that when an FDCPA plaintiff contends that he was misled, it always presents a jury question. Not so. Whether a communication would confuse the least sophisticated consumer is a question of law for the court to decide. See Gonzalez, 660 F.3d at 1061 & n.3 (citation omitted). Even accepting as true Plaintiff’s testimony that upon his review of the State Action caption he believed that Defendant sought to collect the debt from him, such evidence fails to persuade the Court that under the undisputed circumstances here use of the “aka” is, as legal matter, misleading. Plaintiff’s argument to the contrary is unavailing. In his briefing and at oral argument, Plaintiff repeatedly cites cases that are factually distinguishable. . . .Plaintiff’s reliance on Dutton v. Wolhar, 809 F.Supp. 1130 (D. Del. 1992), the only case Plaintiff cites that involves allegedly misleading information about the debtor, is equally misplaced. There, the debt collector sent the plaintiffs collection letters and actually named the plaintiffs as defendants in collection lawsuits—not merely as an “aka” in the case caption—to collect debts actually owed by other family members. Id. at 1136. The family members did not and had not resided at the plaintiff’s residences, even though that is where the defendant sent the letters. The Dutton court granted summary judgment on several of the plaintiffs’ FDCPA claims finding that an unsophisticated consumer would be misled to believe himself legally obligated to pay the family member’s debt based on those actions. Id. at 1137. Defendant’s identification of Manal with an “aka” in the State Action is not analogous: Plaintiff was not actually sued, not listed as a separate defendant, and not served with either collection letters or the State Action complaint in such a way that might lead an unsophisticated debtor to believe himself obligated for his wife’s debt. In short, merely having a name after an “aka” in a debt collection case caption that is the same name as someone other than the debtor does not give rise to FDCPA liability, even under the circumstances presented here—i.e., when the person whose name is the same as the name listed as an alias is also a cardholder who used the card to make purchases. Plaintiff’s argument is, at bottom, that a debt collector cannot use an “aka” in a case caption if the “aka” is the same name as someone close to the actual named plaintiff. There is no precedent for such a ruling and the Court declines to be first to so hold here. In sum, Defendant’s inclusion of a name as an alias for Manal in the caption of the debt collection action against Manal that is the same name as Plaintiff’s did not constitute a “false, deceptive or misleading” representation in the collection of a debt or an “unfair or unconscionable collection practice” in violation of the FDCPA. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Defendant’s motion for summary judgment.