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Barnes v. Conn Appliances, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Jackson Division

February 15, 2018

LAWANDA BARNES PLAINTIFF
v.
CONN APPLIANCES, INC. DEFENDANT

          ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          HENRY T. WINGATE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         BEFORE THIS COURT is the Defendant, Conn Appliances, Inc.'s (hereinafter referred to as “Conn”) Motion for Summary Judgment filed on April 28, 2017. [Docket no. 69]. By its motion, Conn asks this court to grant it summary judgment under Rule 56[1" name= "FN1" id="FN1">1] of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff herein alleges in her complaint that Conn is liable to her in damages because Conn, over her objection, utilized an Automatic Telephone Dialing System which repeatedly called plaintiff over six-hundred (600) times seeking to persuade plaintiffs to satisfy a retail debt. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act[2] (hereinafter referred to as “TCPA”) protects an objecting consumer from telephonic communications from creditors made by use of an Automatic Telephone Dialing System. The Act, however, says Conn, is inapplicable here because plaintiff waived the protection of the TCPA under the terms of the retail contract at issue. See In re Rules and Regulations Implementing the TCPA of 1991, Declaratory Ruling and Order, 30 F.C.C. Rcd. 7961, 8002 (¶ 76) (Jul. 10, 2015); Skinner v. Bluestem Brands, Inc., No. 3:14-CV-256-CWR- FKB, 2015 WL 4135269, at *2 (S.D.Miss. July 8, 2015).

         The Plaintiff, Lawanda Barnes (hereinafter referred to as “Barnes”), contrariwise says that her son, Iassac Barnes (hereinafter referred to as “Iassac”), is the “consumer” here, not her, because he signed the contract with Conn and possibly provided her phone number to Conn, but definitely without her permission. Since she did not sign the contract, says Barnes, she could not have given consent under that contract for Conn harassingly to contact her in violation of the TCPA. Moreover, adds Barnes, she emphatically objected to the plethora of calls and even warned Conn that she was contemplating a lawsuit against Conn.

         As above mentioned, the juridical focus of this lawsuit falls upon the TCPA, a federal enactment. As such is the case, this court has subject matter jurisdiction under Title 28 U.S.C. § 1331[3], federal question jurisdiction. See Mims v. Arrow Financial Svcs., LLC, 565 U.S. 368 (2012)[4].

         Also above mentioned is the enabling procedural engine which drives this court's present inquiry - a motion for summary judgment. This motion has its foundation in Rule 56 F. R. Civ. P. The jurisprudence created by this rule is uncomplicated. Summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The movant has the initial burden of showing that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 17');">477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). When determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, this court must examine “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ” to determine indeed whether genuine disputes exist as to any material facts and whether the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. McDonald v. Entergy Operations Inc., 2005 WL 2474701, at *3 (S.D.Miss. Apr. 29, 2005) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)).

         The court must view the facts, evidence and all inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Rogers v. Bromac Title Servs., L.L.C., 755 F.3d 347, 350 (5th Cir. 2014). “Summary judgment can be granted only if everything in the record demonstrates that no genuine issue of material fact exists. It is improper for the district court to ‘resolve factual disputes by weighing conflicting evidence . . . since it is the province of the jury to assess the probative value of the evidence.'” McDonald, 2005 WL 2474701, at *3 (quoting Kennett-Murray Corp. v. Bone, 622 F.2d 887, 892 (5th Cir. 1980)).

         “A genuine dispute as to a material fact exists ‘if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Rogers, 755 F.3d at 350 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). “Summary judgment is also improper where the court merely believes it unlikely that the non-moving party will prevail at trial.” McDonald, 2005 WL 2474701, at *3 (citing National Screen Serv. Corp. v. Poster Exchange, Inc., 305 F.2d 647, 651 (5th Cir. 1962)). “[C]onclusory allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic arguments have never constituted an adequate substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial.” Id. (citing TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir.2002); SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093');">10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir.1997).

         This court now turns to an examination of the law. The TCPA occupies a special place in protecting consumers from harassment on the telephone from overzealous merchants. Now, let's review the factual offerings of the parties. The cast of characters here are primarily Barnes; her son Iassac; and Mitchell DeAngelo, a Conn employee. Barnes and Iassac admit that Barnes was present when Barnes went to the Conn store and picked a bedroom suite for purchase, signed the credit application and contract that are at the core of the controversy here. Barnes did not sign any documents, nor promise to make any payments to Conn at that time. Conn provided the bedroom suite for Iassac. He failed to make any payments. After some months, utilizing a telephone number for Iassac, Conn began calling that certain phone number as the point of contact listed on the contract and credit application. The parties dispute how Conn obtained the number and who placed that number on the contract and credit application. Barnes answered the phone. She said the telephone number was hers, not Iassac's. If the conversation had stopped there, this lawsuit would not have developed; instead, Conn again called, searching for Iassac. Barnes later made some ambiguous statements. Several times she stated that they knew they (she and Iassac) owed the money and that they would pay as soon as possible. Barnes even attempted unsuccessfully to make payments a few times, but was unable to complete the endeavor because her credit card company refused the charges. Even so, she told Conn that “they” wanted the bedroom suite and would not return the bedroom suite to Conn. Finally, aggrieved, Barnes told Conn not to call her telephone number anymore.

         Conn admits to calling Barnes' telephone number over six-hundred (600) times, with the majority of the telephone calls having been placed after Barnes claims she told Conn to stop calling her.

         This court held two (2) hearings on Conn's Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket no. 69]: one on October 18, 2017; and one on October 31, 2017. During the second hearing, this court ordered the parties to submit supplemental briefs on the issue of whether Barnes had ratified Iassac's contract. That contract waived the protection of the TCPA. The provision in question recites as follows:

Consent to telephone/text message/email contact: For each telephone number you provide to Seller (either directly or by placing a call directly to us), you consent and authorize us to place telephone call to you at that number, such consent expressly includes authorization for Seller (and/or Seller's affiliates and/or agents) to send text messages and/or place telephone calls to cellular or landline telephone numbers using pre-recorded or artificial voice messages, as well as calls made by an automatic dialing system. Similarly, for each email address you provide to Seller, you authorize Seller to send emails to you at that address regarding your account.

         [Docket no. 69-1, P. 2]. The parties submitted their supplements during November 2017. See [Docket nos. 86, 87, and 88].

         Contract ratification falls under Mississippi's well-established jurisprudence:

Contract ratification has the following elements for proof: Ratification does not arise by operation of law; rather, “[a] person ratifies an act by (a) manifesting assent that the act shall affect that person's legal relations, or (b) conduct that justifies a reasonable assumption that the person so consents.”

Northlake Dev. L.L.C. v. BankPlus, 60 So.3d 792, 797 (Miss. 2011). Accordingly, a jury must determine, inter alia, whether: Barnes manifested assent to Conn's continued contacts; and/or whether Barnes had conducted herself in such a way that Conn could reasonably rely on the assumption that she consented to the terms of the contract at issue.

         After reviewing the submissions of the parties, the arguments of counsel, and the relevant jurisprudence, this court is persuaded that a genuine issue of material fact exists whether Barnes ratified Iassac's contract with Conn. Accordingly, a finder of ...


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