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Naranjo v. Cherrington Firm, LLC

United States District Court, D. Utah

January 23, 2018

CRISTIAN NARANJO, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CHERRINGTON FIRM, LLC, and LACEY CHERRINGTON, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS COUNT II OF PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT

          Jill N. Parrish United States District Court Judge

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Cristian Naranjo filed suit against the Cherrington Firm, LLC and Lacey Cherrington (collectively, “Cherrington”). Cherrington is engaged in the business of debt collection. Cherrington allegedly attempted to and did collect from Naranjo amounts in excess of what Naranjo actually owed. Naranjo claims that Cherrington's debt-collection practices violated (1) the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), and (2) the Utah Consumer Sales Protection Act (“UCSPA”). Cherrington has moved to dismiss Naranjo's UCSPA claim on the grounds that debt collection is governed by a more specific statute, the FDCPA. The Court finds this argument meritless and therefore denies the motion.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Cherrington contends that Naranjo's UCSPA claim is barred because a more specific federal law, the FDCPA, governs debt collection. Cherrington states, “Utah law is clear that a claim under the UCSPA is barred when the conduct at issue is ‘governed by other, more specific law.'” But Cherrington misunderstands Utah law.

         Under Utah law, courts must construe legislative enactments to “give effect to the legislature's underlying intent.” Millett v. Clark Clinic Corp., 609 P.2d 934, 936 (Utah 1980). The “primary goal when construing statutes is to evince ‘the true intent and purpose of the Legislature [as expressed through] the plain language of the Act.'” Hall v. Utah State Dept. of Corrections, 24 P.3d 958, 963 (Utah 2001) (quoting Jensen v. Intermountain Health Care, Inc., 679 P.2d 903, 906 (Utah 1984)). As such, when two statutory provisions conflict, the provision that is more specific in its application governs over the more general provision. Id.; Pugh v. Draper City, 114 P.3d 546, 549 (Utah 2005).

         In Carlie v. Morgan, 922 P.2d 1, 6 (Utah 1996), the Utah Supreme Court held that the UCSPA did not provide a remedy because the Utah Fit Premises Act spoke directly to the alleged violations whereas the UCSPA did not. Tenants claimed that the owner of their apartment building and the building manager violated the UCSPA because the apartment building was closed due to health code violations. Id. at 2. Although the UCSPA “focuses generally on deceptive and unconscionable sales practices, ” the Fit Premises Act “provides specific remedies to residential tenants whose rental units become uninhabitable due to violations of health and safety standards.” Id. at 6. Thus, the court held that plaintiff could not rely on the UCSPA because “[s]pecific statutes control over more general ones.” Id. (citing State v. Lowder, 889 P.2d 412, 414 (Utah 1994)).[1]

         In a later case, Berneike v. CitiMortgage, Inc., 708 F.3d 1141, 1150 (10th Cir. 2013), the Tenth Circuit applied Carlie to hold that the UCSPA did not provide a remedy because other state law (Utah's Mortgage Lending and Servicing Act) more specifically regulated the subject matter of the case, mortgage loan servicing. The plaintiff had also brought a claim under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”), a federal consumer protection statute that regulated mortgage servicing. Id. at 1143. But the court did not rely on the existence of more specific federal law to hold that the UCSPA did not provide a remedy. See Id. at 1150. The UCSPA analysis focused solely on state law. Id.

         In Thomas v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. 2:13-cv-686, 2014 WL 657394, at *3 (D. Utah Feb. 20, 2014), the court held that the UCSPA did not provide a remedy because the wrongful conduct alleged by the plaintiff was governed by a more specific federal statute, the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The court first looked to Utah Code § 13-11-22(1)(a), which provides that the UCSPA “does not apply to . . . an act or practice required or specifically permitted by or under federal law, or by or under state law.” The court then cited Carlie and Breneike for the proposition that a plaintiff cannot bring claims under the UCSPA when those claims “are governed by any other state or federal law.” Thomas, 2014 WL 657394, at *3 (emphasis added).

         The holding in Thomas is wrong for two reasons. First, neither Berneike nor Carlie stands for the proposition that UCSPA does not provide a remedy when the alleged acts are governed by more specific federal law. Both cases looked to more specific state law to conclude that the UCSPA did not provide a remedy. In fact, in Breneike, the court ignored the fact that there was more specific federal law, RESPA, which regulated the alleged wrongful conduct. Second, § 13-11-22(1)(a) speaks only to situations where state or federal law “require[s] or specifically permit[s]” the alleged wrongful conduct. It does not speak to a situation where both federal and state laws prohibit certain conduct.[2] Moreover, the holdings in Carlie and Breneike were not based on § 13-11-22(1)(a), contrary to what the Thomas court seems to suggest; neither case mentions § 13-11-22(1)(a).

         In the most recent case cited by Cherrington, West v. C.J. Pressman Co., No. 2:16-cv-75, 2017 WL 4621611, at *7 (D. Utah Oct. 13, 2017), the court held that plaintiffs failed to allege a UCSPA claim because the alleged wrongful conduct fell squarely within the Federal Wiretap Act and the Utah Interception of Communication Act (collectively defined in the case as the “Wiretap Acts”). The court was not clear as to whether it would have reached the same conclusion if it relied solely on the Federal Wiretap Act:

This conduct falls squarely within the Wiretap Acts. Thus, because the more specific Wiretap Acts control over the more general UCSPA, [plaintiff's] claim for violation of the UCSPA is DISMISSED.

Id. (footnotes omitted). Thus, West provides little guidance to the case at hand in which Cherrington relies solely on federal law to argue that a UCSPA claim is barred.

         Here, Naranjo's UCSPA claim is not barred by the FDCPA. Both Carlie and Berneike spoke to situations where UCSPA claims were improper due to more specific state law. The rule enunciated in Carlie seeks to maintain consistency between state statutes. See Lowder, 889 P.2d at 414. This gives effect to the Utah legislature's underlying intent. Millett, 609 P.2d at 936. For instance, if the Utah legislature has spoken specifically to a topic, its decision on that topic should not be undermined by a general legislative enactment, such as the UCSPA. But Carlie does not stand for the proposition that UCSPA claims are barred when there is more specific federal law that is consistent with ...


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