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U.S. District Court Examines Fair Credit Reporting Act Claims and Repercussions of Failing to Engage in Discovery

Toriano A. Giddens v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc.
No. 14-570-GMS (United States District Court for the District of Delaware, November 19, 2015)

by Richard J. Medoff, Law Clerk
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

Available at:
http://www.ded.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions/gms/2015/november/14-570.pdf

In Toriano A. Giddens v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc., a case involving a plaintiff’s allegations that a credit reporting agency violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., and defamed him by inaccurately reporting accounts in his credit report and failing to take proper corrective action, the United States District Court for the District of Delaware concluded that the plaintiff’s failure to engage in the discovery process resulted in a legal bar to his ability to prove the essential elements of any of his claims. Thus, Judge Gregory M. Sleet granted the credit reporting agency’s motion for summary judgment as to all claims.

By way of factual background, on April 8, 2014, pro se Plaintiff Toriano A. Giddens ("Giddens") filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware alleging that Defendant Experian Information Solutions, Inc. ("Experian") violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. ("FCRA") and defamed Giddens by inaccurately reporting accounts included in his credit report and failing to investigate disputes brought by him. Giddens asserted that Experian refused to investigate when he disputed his account records in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1681i(a), the FCRA provision which mandates that credit reporting agencies reasonably reinvestigate consumer disputes. Specifically, Giddens alleged that Experian falsely reported five (5) accounts included in his Chapter thirteen (13) bankruptcy as past due. Giddens further asserted that Experian's failure to properly reinvestigate hurt his credit score, decreased his chances of getting a mortgage loan, and caused him emotional distress, pain and suffering.

On May 22, 2014, prior to the Courts entry of a scheduling order and any party conference pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(f), Giddens emailed his First Set of Requests for Admissions to Experian. Experian objected to Giddens' requests as premature. On October 3, 2014, the Court entered a scheduling order setting April 3, 2015 as the discovery deadline and June 3, 2015 as the deadline to file summary judgment motions. On February 20, 2015, Experian served Giddens with its First Set of Requests for Admission, First Set of Interrogatories, and First Requests for Production. Experian's requests for admission asked Giddens to admit that Experian performed a reasonable investigation, that Experian followed reasonable procedures, and that Giddens was not defamed. Giddens failed to respond or object to any of Experian's discovery requests or to conduct his own discovery during the relevant time frame.

On June 3, 2015, Experian filed a motion for summary judgment. In its motion, Experian argued that it was entitled to the entry of summary judgment against Giddens on each of his claims because he failed to adduce facts that might prove the elements of his various claims during the discovery period. Experian noted that Giddens failed to serve any timely discovery requests on Experian, depose any Experian witness, or make initial disclosures pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(1), in order to establish the essential facts in his case. In addition, Experian contended that Giddens' failure to comply with the requirements of Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure resulted in his admission of facts that barred each of his claims as a matter of law.

The Court began its analysis by noting that because Giddens failed to respond to Experian's proper discovery request or otherwise engage in the discovery process, the Court deemed admitted the matters addressed in Experian's request for admissions. The Court concluded that those admissions resulted in a legal bar to Giddens' ability to prove the essential elements of his case, and thus, Experian was entitled to summary judgment in its favor. See Wright v. Equifax, Inc., 2015 WL 789271, at 4-5 (2015) (granting a motion for summary judgment against the plaintiff where he brought FCRA claims under nearly identical circumstances). The Court, however, still proceeded to specifically address each of Giddens' claims, and the impact of his failure to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, in turn.

First, Giddens claimed that Experian failed to conduct a reasonable reinvestigation. The Court explained that under the FCRA, in order for Giddens to establish that a reinvestigation was unreasonable, he must show that: (1) his credit file contained inaccurate information; (2) he notified Experian directly of the inaccurate information; (3) his dispute was not frivolous; (4) Experian failed to respond to his dispute; and (5) Experian's failure to respond caused Giddens to suffer actual damages. See 15 U.S.C. § 1681i(a)(1), (2), (4), (6). See also Cushman v. Trans Union Corp., 115 F.3d 220 (3d Cir. 1997).

The Court found that Giddens could not show that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to any element of his reasonable reinvestigation claim because he had not conducted discovery. The Court noted that while Giddens asserted that his Chapter thirteen (13) accounts were not up to date, he failed to present evidence that the data was not accurate. Therefore, the Court concluded that Giddens could not meet his burden and that Experian was entitled to summary judgment on Giddens’ reasonable reinvestigation claim.

Second, Giddens brought a claim under 15 U.S.C. § 1681e(b), which addresses dissemination of inaccurate reports. The Court explained that in order to succeed on a § 1681e(b) claim, Giddens was required to establish each of the following four (4) elements: (1) inaccurate information was included in his credit report; (2) the inaccuracy was due to Experian's failure to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy; (3) he suffered an injury; and (4) his injury was caused by the inclusion of the inaccurate entry. See Cortez v. Trans Union, LLC, 617 F.3d 688, 708 (3d Cir. 2010). Because Giddens failed to conduct any discovery into Experian's procedures, the Court concluded that Giddens could not establish any of the essential facts of his § 1681e(b) claim, and therefore, Experian was entitled to summary judgment.

Finally, Giddens claimed that he was defamed by Experian inaccurately reporting his account information. The Court explained that to prove defamation under Delaware law, a plaintiff must establish: (1) the existence of a defamatory communication; (2) that the communication was published to a third party; (3) that the communication refers to plaintiff; (4) that the communication is defamatory in character; and (5) injury. See Calloway v. Green Tree Servicing, 607 F. Supp. 2d 669, 675 (2009). Because Giddens failed to engage in discovery into his defamation claim in order to establish any of these essential facts, the Court concluded that no reasonable jury could find in favor of his claim for defamation.

For the above reasons, the Court granted Experian's motion for summary judgment as to all claims.


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