In Stewart v. Equifax Information Systems, LLC, et.al., 2018 WL 1138286, at *13–14 (D.Kan., 2018), Judge Crabtree denied summary judgment to an FCRA plaintiff and granted summary judgment to a furnisher arising out of the furnisher’s providing information about a credit card account that the Plaintiff’s ex-husband took out without her consent. The Court offers an interesting discussion of how furnisher’s contract out and respond to ACDVs.
When Credit One receives a consumer dispute from a credit reporting agency, it is obligated to investigate “reasonably” how the information it is providing should appear. So, Credit One employs extensive procedures for handling ACDV disputes. Credit One has as many as 150 employees who handle ACDV disputes. About five to eight of these Credit One employees process ACDV disputes every shift. These employees earn about $15 an hour or an annual salary in the range of $32,000 to $33,000. Credit One also uses overseas vendors who employ about 200 people working around the clock to investigate ACDV disputes. Although Credit One does not supervise the payroll and timesheets for these employees, it does provide performance feedback, constant communication about quality, and joint training. These vendors also conduct reviews of these employees. In addition to the employees handling ACDV disputes, Credit One also employs fraud investigators as members of its customer service team. Credit One processes more than 110,000 FCRA disputes each month. Credit One spends, on average, about five to six minutes investigating a ACDV dispute. But the amount of time spent investigating a dispute also depends on the nature of the documents provided by the credit reporting agency.
The District Court found that when the Plaintiff disputed the account through the CRA, she claimed that the account was not hers rather than that it was a fraud account. Accordingly, when the CRA passed on that information to the furnisher, the furnisher did not have to go beyond the information in the ACDV.
Also, plaintiff asserts that the FCRA imposes a continuing duty on a furnisher to re-respond to disputes if it learns other information about the dispute within that 30-day period. So, plaintiff contends, when Credit One learned more information about the dispute from plaintiff on July 7—but after it already had responded to Equifax on July 4—the FCRA imposed a duty on it to submit another response to Credit One about plaintiff’s dispute. But plaintiff provides no authority to support this argument. And the case law and the statute itself seem to contradict the plaintiff’s continuing duty theory. Some courts have recognized that a furnisher completes its investigation when it provides the investigation’s results to the consumer either directly or indirectly through the CRA. See, e.g., Hinkle v. Midland Credit Mgmt., Inc., 827 F.3d 1295, 1302 (11th Cir. 2016) (observing that “[s]ection 1681s-2(b) contemplates three potential ending points to reinvestigation: verification of accuracy, a determination of inaccuracy or incompleteness, or a determination that the information ‘cannot be verified.’ ” (quoting 15 U.S.C. § 1681s-2(b)(1)(E)); Rapapport v. Green Tree Serv., LLC, No. 13-61624, 2013 WL 5728731, at *6 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 22, 2013) (holding that an FCRA claim accrues when either the 30-day period expires or the furnisher of information notifies the consumer that it has completed its reinvestigation). Although these cases never explicitly decide whether the 30-day compliance period imposes a continuing duty on a furnisher, the language from these cases suggests that a furnisher’s obligation ends after it makes its report back to the CRA.
Accordingly, the District Court found that summary judgment in favor of the furnisher was appropriate.
Here, the summary judgment facts establish that plaintiff disputed Credit One’s report to Equifax that she was an authorized user on the Account. Plaintiff selected the dispute code “not her account” and recited in the narrative portion it was not her account so she could “only assume it was opened fraudulently” or “posted to my bureau in error.” Doc. 75-1 at 1. After Credit One received plaintiff’s dispute from Equifax, it investigated the matter by having one of its contract employees, Angela Andreas, review the ACDV form. And, that review determined that Credit One’s records were consistent with the information it had reported to Equifax. The Account’s application listed plaintiff as an authorized user. It provided the same address and birth date that plaintiff had provided on the ACDV form as her address and birth date. And, based on the substance of plaintiff’s dispute, Credit One had no reason to doubt the accuracy of its records. Indeed, plaintiff never used a dispute code for identity theft or fraud. She only asserted that she “assumed” the Account was openly fraudulently but she provided no other information that would have permitted Credit One to discern that plaintiff’s ex-husband had named her as an authorized user without her permission. She also never explicitly asserted that she was disputing the report based on fraud. Instead, plaintiff provided two reasons that she believed the account was “not her account”: (1) she assumed it was opened fraudulently; or (2) it was posted in error. The court concludes that no reasonable factfinder could find, based on the meager and equivocal information provided, that Credit One should have understood that plaintiff was asserting fraud. See Scheel-Baggs v. Bank of Am., 575 F. Supp. 2d 1031, 1040 (W.D. Wisc. 2008) (holding that the consumer’s use of the word “fraud” in isolation did not render a furnisher’s investigation unreasonable when the other information the consumer provided was “scant” and provided the furnisher “no reason to conduct a more thorough investigation”); see also Westra v. Credit Control of Pinellas, 409 F.3d 825, 827 (7th Cir. 2005) (affirming summary judgment against an FCRA claim because the furnisher’s investigation was “reasonable given the scant information it received regarding the nature of [the consumer’s] dispute” and noting that had the consumer provided information “that the nature of the dispute concerned fraud, then perhaps a more thorough investigation would have been warranted” but “[g]iven the facts of [the] case, however, [the furnisher’s] verification of [the consumer’s] information was a reasonable procedure.” (emphasis added)). On these undisputed summary judgment facts, no reasonable jury could conclude that Credit One’s investigation of plaintiff’s dispute was an unreasonable one. Credit One employs procedures to investigate FCRA disputes. One of its contract employees reviewed plaintiff’s dispute. Credit One verified the accuracy of the information based on its records and the information plaintiff had provided in the ACDV form. And it confirmed plaintiff’s identification and listed her as an authorized user of the Account in its July 4, 2016 report to Equifax. By doing so, Credit One satisfied its obligations under FCRA section 1681s-2(b). For these reasons, the court grants summary judgment against plaintiff’s FCRA claim against Credit One.