JEFFERSON CITY – A Missouri Supreme Court judge has reversed a lower court’s decision to dismiss a debt collection case against an attorney for LifeSmile Dental Care.
In an April 17 decision, Judge Patricia Breckenridge reversed the circuit court’s decision, saying it “erred in sustaining” a motion by LifeSmile Dental Care’s attorney Dennis J. Barton III to dismiss Keith Jackson's Fair Debt Collections Act (FDCPA) claim. Breckenridge also said the court “erred” in dismissing Jackson’s Missouri Merchandising Practices Act claim.
“Mr. Jackson’s FDCPA claim was not barred by the one-year statute of limitations, and he sufficiently alleged Mr. Barton’s collection actions were ‘in connection with’ the sale of LifeSmile’s dental services for the purposes of his MMPA claim,” she said in her opinion.
Judges George W. Draper III, Mary R. Russell and Laura Denvir Stith concurred. In his dissenting opinion, Judge Paul C. Wilson said the circuit court was correct in dismissing Jackson’s MMPA claim.
The case stemmed from a lawsuit Jackson filed against LifeSmile Dental Care and Barton. The complaint alleged Barton’s debt collection actions violated the FDCPA and the MMPA. The allegations came after Barton’s attempts to collect payment Jackson reportedly owed for dental services performed in June 2011 and April 2012.
After insurance, Barton was responsible for a total of $355.80. LifeSmile agreed to extend credit and allow Jackson to pay the charges over a period of time. He didn’t enter a written agreement, but paid off the balance in April 2012.
In June 2012, LifeSmile began sending Jackson collection letters saying he owed $184.20. It had also began charging him a $35 monthly late fee. In September 2013, Barton filed a collection lawsuit alleging Jackson received dental services valued at $485.52, plus interest, which remained due.
Jackson subsequently filed a FDCA lawsuit against Barton. But the circuit court dismissed the FDCPA claim, saying it “was barred by the one-year statute of limitations.”
The court also dismissed his MMPA claim on the grounds Barton’s “collections activities were not ‘in connection with’ the sale of LifeSmile’s dental services” and no borrower-lender relationship existed between Barton and Jackson.
Breckenridge, however, found Jackson identified three violations that occurred within a year of him filing his FDCPA claim.
“An FDCPA violation is not time-barred simply because it restates or relates back to assertions made in a debt collection action that is beyond the one-year statute of limitations, Breckenridge said in her opinion.
Breckenridge also found a relationship existed between LifeSmile’s sale of dental services to Jackson and Barton’s collection actions, saying the fact Barton didn’t become involved in the transaction until after the services were performed “is of no consequence.”
“Mr. Barton’s efforts to collect payment were an attempt to complete the sale transaction and, therefore, were ‘in connection with’ the sale,” she said. “The circuit court’s judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded.”