Amour v. Collection Professionals, Inc., 2015 MT 150 (June 2, 2015) (Baker, J.) (5-0, aff’d)
Issue: (1) Whether the debt Amour owed to the GAL was regulated by the FDCPA; (2) whether the GAL was entitled to quasi-judicial immunity under the Montana Consumer Protection Act; and (3) whether the district court correctly awarded CPI $7,408.70 plus interest.
Short Answer: (1) No; (2) yes; and (3) yes.
Facts: Shannon Amour petitioned for dissolution in 2007. In 2008, the court entered an order naming Nancy Smith the GAL for Amour’s children. The court specified Smith’s duties, granted her immunity, and specified that the gross marital estate was responsible for paying her. Amour entered a contract with Smith agreeing to pay Smith $90/hour plus expenses. Smith billed Amour half of the account and Amour’s ex-husband half. Amour made some payments, but stopped paying in May 2010.
Smith assigned $6,975.60 in unpaid bills to CPI in November 2011. CPI notified Amour she owed $7,511.74, including interest. In January 2012, the dissolution court entered ordered that the individual debts to the GAL were solely the responsibility of the individuals, not of the marital estate.
CPI filed a complaint in justice court in March 2012. Amour filed a counterclaim exceeding the jurisdictional amount and the case was dismissed. Amour then filed in district court, alleging CPI violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by attempting to collect a false debt, that Smith committed defamation against Amour by falsely publishing that Amour owed a debt, and that Smith violated the MCPA. CPI counterclaimed for breach of contract and breach of a court order.
Procedural Posture & Holding: CPI and Smith moved for summary judgment. The district court granted Smith summary judgment in full, and CPI partial summary judgment, reserving the issue of damages due CPI. In July 2014, after CPI moved for summary judgment on damages, the court entered judgment for CPI in the amount of $7,408.70 plus interest. Amour appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.
Reasoning: (1) FDCPA regulates only the collection of debts that fall under the terms of the statute. In determining whether an obligation is a debt under the statute, the court must determine whether it arose from a consensual consumer transaction for goods or services. The district court held that Amour’s debt to Smith did not arise out of a consensual transaction. Amour argues that it did, based on the contract she and Smith entered. However, the contract followed the court order appointing Smith as GAL and directing that the marital estate would pay Smith. In its January 2012 order, the court assigned half of that debt to Amour personally. With or without the contract, Amour would have been under court order to pay for Smith’s services. Thus, the FDCPA does not apply.
(2) Amour alleged defamation and Montana Consumer Protection Act claims against Smith. The district court’s order appointing Smith as GAL stated she was an agent of the court, and granted her judicial immunity. The Supreme Court agrees that Smith, as a GAL, is entitled to quasi-judicial immunity under § 2-9-112(2) from Amour’s MCPA claim. It does not address whether Smith is immune to Amour’s defamation claim, as truth is an absolute defense to defamation. The undisputed evidence shows Smith is entitled to judgment on this claim, which shifted the burden to Amour to show a triable issue. Amour relies on her interrogatory responses stating the debt was false, but those responses were not signed. Her signed versions were submitted after the district court entered judgment, and will not be considered due to their untimeliness. There was therefore no evidence in the record raising a triable issue of fact, and summary judgment was proper.
(3) Because Amour did not sufficiently rebut the evidence of the amount of the debt she owed to Smith, summary judgment to CPI for $7,408.70 plus interest was proper.