In Ramones v. AR Res., Inc., No. 19-62949-CIV-SCOLA/SEITZ (S.D. Fla. Apr. 8, 2022), the court refused to set aside an award of punitive damages based on violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, but it reduced the jury’s award from $700,000 to $450,000.
The case arose out of a dispute concerning medical debts incorrectly included on the credit reports of plaintiff Francisco Javier Perez Ramones. The plaintiff’s 83-year-old father incurred numerous medical bills placed in collections with defendant AR Resources, Inc. (ARR). ARR reported 19 of these accounts as belonging to the son. Ramones challenged the validity of the debts with Trans Union and Experian on 31 separate occasions, and when the reporting was not corrected, he filed suit against ARR, asserting that the debt collector failed to conduct reasonable dispute investigations in violation of Section 1681s-2(b) of the FCRA.
During the proceedings, Ramones presented evidence showing that ARR’s investigators never reviewed the customer message fields related to the disputes and verified the erroneous information despite the fact that Ramones has a different name, a different Social Security number, and a different date of birth than his father. Based on this evidence, the court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Ramones as to liability. The case proceeded to trial on damages only, and the jury awarded Ramones $80,000 in actual damages and $700,000 in punitive damages.
After trial, the court denied ARR’s renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, as well as and its alternative motion for a new trial, finding that Ramones has submitted sufficient evidence to support the jury’s award of actual damages. Further, with regard to punitive damages, the court held that an award of $700,000 was appropriate because ARR’s conduct — which included a standard policy of continuing to report information as accurate even when it observed discrepancies as to the consumer’s identity — “was highly reprehensible as [ARR] was, at best, callous, in the manner that it processed customer’s disputes.” Nevertheless, the court determined that because the $700,000 awarded was 8.75 times the actual damages, the size of the award exceeded the amount permitted in the Eleventh Circuit. After reviewing similar cases within the circuit, the court reduced the award to $475,000, which represents a ratio of 5.9 to 1 of punitive to actual damages.