Law School Case Brief
Reyelts v. Cross - 968 F. Supp. 2d 835 (N.D. Tex. 2013)
A plaintiff may recover actual damages for mental anguish under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C.S. § 1692k(a)(1); the Texas Debt Collection Practices Act, Tex. Fin. Code Ann. § 392.403(a)(2); and the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, Tex. Bus. & Com. Code Ann. § 17.50(b)(1). Actual damages recoverable under the FDCPA include not only out-of-pocket expenses, but also damages for personal humiliation, embarrassment, mental anguish, and emotional distress. To recover such damages, the plaintiffs must introduce direct evidence of the nature, duration, and severity of the mental anguish, thus establishing a substantial disruption in the plaintiffs' daily routine. The evidence must show a high degree of mental pain and distress that is more than mere worry, anxiety, vexation, embarrassment, or anger. There must also be proof that the knowing, unconscionable action or course of action was a producing cause of the mental anguish.
In or around May 2011, hail damaged the roof on the home of plaintiffs Gerald and Beatriz Reyelts. Soon after, defendant a representative of defendant Lon Smith & Associates, Inc. and A-1 Systems, Inc. d/b/a Lon Smith Roofing and Construction ("Lon Smith") visited the Reyelts' home and offered its roofing services, including assessment of the damage to the Reyelts' roof caused by the hail. After assessing the damage to the roof, Lon Smith recommended to Beatriz that the Reyelts replace the roof on their home. On June 27, 2011, Beatriz signed an Agreement that Lon Smith had prepared and furnished to her that day. The contract price in the Agreement was $ 14,775.48, and as part of the Agreement, Beatriz initialed and signed a "Change Order," which purported to require the Reyelts to pay an additional $ 1,176 for alleged upgrades. Beatriz signed the Agreement relying upon Lon Smith's representations, including the representations and promises set forth in the Agreement. By signing the Agreement, Beatriz purportedly authorized her insurance company and/or mortgage company to make payment for completed repairs directly to Lon Smith. At all times relevant to the case at hand, Lon Smith was aware that the Reyelts' roof was covered by a homeowners insurance policy insured by Farmers Insurance Group ("Farmers"), which insured the Reyelts' property for losses caused by events such as hail. However, Lon Smith did not reach an agreement nor attempt to reach an agreement with Farmers regarding the price for the repairs to the Reyelts' roof. After construction was complete, Beatriz tendered payment in the amount of $1,176; however, Lon Smith sent Beatriz a demand letter for the balance allegedly owed under the Agreement. When Beatriz communicated with Farmers, she discovered that Lon Smith never communicated with it. After receiving several demand letters from Lon Smith, and after Lon Smith undertook debt collection proceedings to recover the amount allegedly owed, the Reyelts obtained the assistance of counsel, and filed suit against Lon Smith Defendants and others in federal district court, arguing that they sustained damages due to defendants' conduct.
Did the Reyelts suffer damages as a result of defendants' conduct?
The court held that as a proximate cause of defendants' conduct, the Reyelts sustained damages, including economic damages as well as severe mental distress and anguish. The court noted that according to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C.S. § 1692 et seq., damages included damages for personal humiliation, embarrassment, mental anguish, or emotional distress.
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