In Brill v. TransUnion, 2015 WL 9095103, at *1-2 (W.D.Wis. 2015), Judge Crocker dismissed a FCRA claim against TransUnion arising out of a vehicle co-lessee’s claims that the primary lessee forged his signature on a lease extension and then defaulted on it. The facts, apparently, arising out of a failed relationship, are not all that uncommon.
On or about May 4, 2009, Brill and Kelly Pfeifer jointly leased a vehicle from the Smart Motors Toyota dealership in Madison, Wisconsin. Smart Motors immediately assigned this lease to Toyota Motor Credit Corporation (TMCC). The original lease term was 36 months, so the lease was scheduled to terminate on May 3, 2012. At some point before May 3, 2012, Brill lost contact with Pfeifer, who kept possession of the car. Unbeknownst to Brill, Pfeifer kept the vehicle after the original lease term expired on May 3, 2012. Brill did not sign any documents extending his lease obligations, but Trans Union continued to report Brill’s credit relationship with TMCC after the expiration of the original lease term. Apparently, and unbeknownst to Brill, Pfeifer had extended the lease with Toyota in both her name and Brill’s name for another year.
The Court found no FCRA claim could lie against the CRA because it could not resolve facts that inherently were within the possession of the creditor.
In such cases, courts have found that the proper target of the plaintiff’s claim is the creditor, which is in a much better position to determine the authenticity of its own records. See Carvalho, 629 F.3d at 892 (“We agree that reinvestigation claims are not the proper vehicle for collaterally attacking the legal validity of consumer debts”); Williams v. Colonial Bank, 826 F. Supp. 415, 418 (M.D. Ala. 1993) aff’d, 29 F.3d 641 (11th Cir. 1994) (“A credit reporting agency has no duty, as a part of its reinvestigation, to go behind public records to check for accuracy or completeness when a consumer is essentially collaterally attacking the underlying credit information.”); cf. Saunders v. Branch Banking and Trust Co. Of Virginia, 526 F.3d 142, 150 (4th Cir. 2008) (in lawsuit against a “furnisher,” court notes in dicta that claims against CRAs based on a legal dispute of an underlying debt raise concerns about collateral attacks because the creditor is not a party to the suit).. . . In each of these cases, the credit reporting agency had the means to correct the inaccuracies at issue by providing more complete information to the creditor or by acting more quickly. In Brill’s case, Trans Union did not have a duty to reinvestigate because it did not have the authority to determine whether the credit agreement was valid or the signature was a forgery. Accordingly, Brill can not state a claim against Trans Union for failing to conduct a reasonable reinvestigation under § 1681i. All of this being so, Brill’s amended complaint paints a woeful picture of a man who can’t buy a break. He’s in a personal relationship with Pfeifer that seems strong enough to bear the weight of a joint car lease. But things don’t work out and they split up; even so, Brill lets Pfeifer keep the car. What’s his reward? According to Brill, Pfeifer forges his signature on the lease renewal, then takes off with the car. Then, rubbing salt in the wound, TMCC reports that Brill is Pfeifer’s co-deadbeat. Brill denies any participation in the swindle and tries to persuade TMCC–and Trans Union–to recognize what he views as obvious differences between his real signature and the fake, but nobody will cut him any slack. From Brill’s perspective, this would include this court, which is dismissing his lawsuit against Trans Union. It’s not that the court lacks sympathy or empathy for Brill’s situation, but the avenues of relief available to Brill do not include an FCRA claim against Trans Union. The FCRA does not provide a basis to hold Trans Union liable for continuing to report TMCC’s determinations regarding Brill and the lease extension. The FCRA’s reasonable reinvestigation requirement does not impose a legal duty on Trans Union to consider Brill’s handwriting evidence and make its own determination that TMCC’s report was inaccurate.