In Dunkinson v. Citigroup Inc., 2012 WL 32573 (D.N.J. 2012), Judge Sheridan addressed within the context of FCRA, the FCBA, and the FDCPA a situation often foisted upon finance companies: a divorced husband and wife’s divorce degree allocates financial responsibility to one divorced party, and the non-obligor spouse seeks to bind the finance company to that decree. Judge Sheridan properly found that the inter-spousal agreement does not bind the finance company, who properly reported and collected against the non-obligor spouse. The facts were not atypical. In 1997, plaintiff Luann Dunkinson opened a joint Home Depot/Citibank credit card account with her then-husband, defendant Antonio Lameiras. In her complaint, Ms. Dunkinson characterizes the account as a “joint” account. Elsewhere, Ms. Dunkinson makes clear that the activation and use of the Account was the sole province of Mr. Lameiras. As part of a final judgment of divorce dated July 7, 1999, an interspousal agreement was incorporated into it and it was binding on the parties. Pursuant to the interspousal agreement, Mr. Lameiras was to remove Ms. Dunkinson from the Account as a secondary cardholder, pay the outstanding balance ($2,239), destroy the credit card associated with the Account, and refrain from incurring any additional charges on the Account for which Ms. Dunkinson could be liable. More than a decade later, Ms. Dunkinson learned Mr. Lameiras failed to cancel the credit card. Ms. Dunkinson claims that Mr. Lameiras continued to use the Account fraudulently, without her knowledge or consent, incurring a balance for which Ms. Dunkinson is now jointly liable. In her complaint, Ms. Dunkinson states that she learned of the amount outstanding in January 2010 when her daughter was applying for a student loan. Ms. Dunkinson further states that, prior to her discovery of Mr. Lameiras’ fraud in January 2010, she never received a notice or collection communication from Citibank. On December 14, 2010, Ms. Dunkinson filed this complaint against Citibank; Trans Union, Experian Information Solutions, Inc.; Oxford Collection Agency, Inc.; and Antonio Lameiras, under the FCRA, the FDCPA, and the FCBA, and additional state laws. Ms. Dunkinson sought damages and an injunction that absolves her of responsibility for all debt and interest on the Account and removes the negative trade history from her credit report. Ms Dunkinson’s complaint principally relies on the theory that the bank that opened the Account (Citibank), the company hired by Citibank to collect the debt (Oxford Collection Agency), and a pair of credit reporting agencies (Experian & Trans Union) are liable under federal statute for incorrectly including the Account in Ms. Dunkinson’s credit report after Ms. Dunkinson notified the companies of Mr. Lameiras’ fraud (January 2010). Notably, Ms. Dunkinson’s complaint does not allege that Citibank or any of the associated parties had any notice of the final judgment of divorce or the Interpersonal Agreement wherein Ms. Dunkinson was to be removed from the Account prior to January 2010.
Plaintiff’s allegations against Citibank and Trans Union under the Fair Credit Reporting Act must also fail. Plaintiff alleges that Citibank violated 15 U.S.C. § 1681s–2 by furnishing inaccurate information about a debt to credit reporting agencies and 15 U.S.C. § 1681s–2[b] for failing to conduct an investigation with respect to the disputed information, failing to report results of the investigation to consumer reporting agencies, and failing to modify or delete the dispute item of information. Compl. ¶¶ 45, 46. Plaintiff also alleges that Trans Union violated 15 U.S.C. § 1681 by terminating a credit investigation without a basis for the termination, committing “negligence” per se or an “intentional tort, per se” by failing to consider Plaintiff’s information in investigating the dispute, and failing to delete inaccurate information from Plaintiff’s file. Compl. ¶¶ 47–49. ¶ All of these allegations are premised on the argument that Plaintiff is not liable for the outstanding debt on the Account. See Compl. ¶¶ 12, 13, 43. However, it is clear from the pleadings that Plaintiff is responsible for the debt. Plaintiff admits that the Account was opened as a joint account, and Plaintiff admits that Citibank was not notified to close the Account until January 2010. Compl. ¶¶ 12, 20. Plaintiff attempts to evade this result by citing to the interspousal agreement, certifying that Plaintiff never used the Account after the divorce, and by likening the instant case to a case of identity theft. Opp’n Br. 8–9, Mar. 21, 2011. However, Plaintiff never alleges that Citibank was notified of the interspousal agreement before January 2010. Furthermore, Citibank is not bound by the terms of the interspousal agreement. See In Re Becker, 136 B.R. 113, 118 (Bankr.D.N.J.1992); Freda v. Commercial Trust Co., 570 A.2d 404, 414 (N.J.1990). Finally, Plaintiffs’ identity theft analogy is inappropriate. Under the statute, “unauthorized use” amounting to identity theft includes “use of a credit card by a person other than the cardholder who does not have actual, implied, or apparent authority for such use.” 15 U.S.C. § 1602(o). Here, Mr. Lameiras had such use. see also State Savings Bank v. Watts, No. 96APG06–809, 1997 WL 101658, at *2 (Ohio Ct.App., Mar. 4, 1997) (holding that ex-wife was properly held responsible for joint credit card account that she admitted having applied for). Since even under a favorable reading of the pleadings, Plaintiff may be responsible for the debt on the Account,FN2 Plaintiff has presented no reasonable claim that either Citibank or Trans Union violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act. See, e.g., Klotz v. Trans Union, LLC, 246 F.R.D. 208, 212–23 (E.D.Pa.2007).