A federal judge in Florida Tuesday granted class certification to a case brought by a consumer against a medical debt collection agency over a message left in the plaintiff’s voicemail. The consumer is seeking damages under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).
The case also names the original creditor, a hospital in this case, citing vicarious liability under the TCPA.
Stephen Manno, the proposed class representative, received medical treatment in the emergency room at Memorial Hospital Pembroke. While at Memorial, Manno was treated by the hospital’s agent, an attending physician of Inphynet, the hospital’s operator. During the admissions process, Manno filled out paperwork and provided a cellular telephone number to the hospital. Manno claims that he did not expressly consent to use of the telephone number for debt collection purposes.
Medical services obtained from Inphynet are billed through a billing company, Health Care Financial Services (HCFS) and are referred to Healthcare Revenue Recovery Group (HRRG) for collection if the bill is not paid. All of the debts that HRRG collects for Inphynet are medical debts.
Manno did not pay for the services he received at Memorial, the debt went into default, and was referred to HRRG for collection. HRRG, in an effort to collect the hospital debt owed to Inphynet, called Manno using the telephone number he provided during the emergency room admissions process. The telephone number was in the name of his girlfriend, now wife, Shantal Surprenant.
On June 17, 2010, HRRG, on behalf of Inphynet, allegedly left the following prerecorded voicemail message for Manno in which it failed to identify itself as a debt collector:
“This is HRRG calling. We look forward to helping you. Please return our call at 1-800-984-9115. Thank you.”
This was allegedly the standard message HRRG was using in June of 2010 to contact consumers.
So Manno sued HRRG and Inphynet on June 15, 2011. He sought class action certification for the suit claiming that the conditions were right for such a ruling.
U.S. District Judge Robert N. Scola Jr. agreed with Manno on Tuesday, ruling that the class met the prerequisites for certification.
The class includes all Florida residents for whom HRRG left a telephone message in an attempt to collect a debt, but failed to disclose that it was a message from a debt collector. Excluded from the class are people who gave their express prior consent to call their cell phones prior to the placement of the calls.
The case is Stephen M. Manno, et al. v. Healthcare Revenue Recovery Group LLC, et al. in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.