Melody Stoops (“Stoops”) is a Pennsylvania resident with 40 pre-paid cellular phones that she keeps in a shoe box, who makes a living filing Telephone Communications Practices Act (“TCPA”) lawsuits against unsuspecting financial institutions. Stoops v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82380, *30-32 (W.D. Pa. June 24, 2016).
Stoops selects Florida phone numbers for her scheme “[b]ecause there’s a depression in Florida’ where ‘people would be usually defaulting on their loans or their credit cards.’” Id. at *2. When unsuspecting financial institutions call Stoops using an Automatic Telephone Dialing System (“ATDS”) on one of her pre-paid phones looking for a debtor who previously had a Florida phone number, Stoops files TCPA lawsuits against the financial institutions.
So far, Stoops has sued the likes of Comenity Bank, Credit One, Navient, and Wells Fargo. Id. at *30. A Pennsylvania federal judge recently put a stop to Stoops’ career of suing unsuspecting financial institutions.
“The TCPA makes it unlawful ‘to make any call (other than for emergency purposes or made with prior express consent using any ATDS or an artificial or prerecorded voice … to any telephone number assigned to a … cellular telephone service.” Id. at *9-10. The problem that Stoops faced in her recent lawsuit against Wells Fargo is that she could not show that she had legal standing to sue Wells Fargo under the TCPA, which is a requirement in order to proceed with a lawsuit.
Under Article III of the United States Constitution, in order for Stoops to show that she had legal standing, Stoops had “to show that: [she] suffered an injury-in-fact, that is ‘concrete and particularized’ and ‘actual or imminent,’ and not merely conjectural or hypothetical;’ (2) [Wells Fargo’s] complained of conduct caused the injury; and it is likely, ‘as opposed to merely speculative,’ that a favorable decision by the court will redress the injury.” Stoops, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82380, *25-26.
Recently, the United States Supreme Court addressed the first prong of the three (3) part test. The Supreme Court found that for “for an injury to be particularized, it must affect the plaintiff in a personal and individual way.” Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540, 1548 (May 16, 2016)(internal citations omitted). Essentially, the Supreme Court concluded that a plaintiff must have suffered an actual or threatened injury to show that he or she has legal standing.
In the case at bar, the federal judge only addressed the first prong of the legal standing test and found that, “[b]ecause [Stoops] has admitted that her only purpose in purchasing her cell phones and minutes is to receive more calls, thus enabling her to file more TCPA lawsuits, she has not suffered an economic injury.” Stoops, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82380, *39. Applying the Spokeo decision to this case, Stoops could not show that she suffered an actual or threatened injury as a result of Wells Fargo’s TCPA violations. Therefore, Wells Fargo was entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.
Melody Stoops is not the only individual who makes a living filing lawsuits against unsuspecting financial institutions. The recent Supreme Court decision in Spokeo requires a court to consider whether a plaintiff suffered an actual or threatened injury in order to have legal standing. The Spokeo decision should decrease the amount of frivolous lawsuits filed against financial institutions, collection agencies, credit bureau reporting agencies, and other entities that are in regular contact with consumers.
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