Heard in the Court of Appeals March 4, 2014.
Robeson County. No. 12 CVS 3092.
Jordan Price Wall Gray Jones & Carlton, by Paul T. Flick and Lori P. Jones, for Plaintiff.
The Law Office of Benjamin D. Busch, PLLC, by Benjamin D. Busch, for Defendants.
ERVIN, Judge. Judges MCGEE and STEELMAN concur.
Appeal by defendants from orders entered 23 April
2013 and 5 August 2013 by Judge Thomas H. Lock in Robeson County Superior Court.
Defendants Jimmie and Trudy Locklear appeal from orders dismissing the counterclaims that they had attempted to assert against Plaintiff and denying their motion seeking to have the order dismissing their
counterclaims set aside. On appeal, Defendants contend that they have standing to pursue their claims under the North Carolina Debt Collection Act on the grounds that they occupy the status of " consumers" as that term is used in the relevant statutory provisions. After careful consideration of Defendants' challenge to the trial court's order in light of the record and the applicable law, we conclude that the trial court's order should be reversed and that this case should be remanded to the Robeson County Superior Court for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
I. Factual Background
A. Substantive Facts
On 28 February 1998, Marvin and Mertice Locklear executed a Manufactured Home Retail Installment Contract and Security Agreement under which they purchased a manufactured home from Ted Parker Home Sales, Inc. According to the provisions of the contract between the parties, Ted Parker was authorized to repossess the manufactured home in the event that any act constituting a default as defined in the agreement occurred, including any failure to make the required monthly payments in a timely manner. Subsequently, Ted Parker assigned its rights under the contract to a pool serviced by Plaintiff.
By November 2004, Marvin and Mertice Locklear had both died, with Mertice Locklear having survived Marvin Locklear by approximately five years. Defendant Jimmie Locklear received a partial interest in the manufactured home that Marvin and Mertice Locklear had purchased from Ted Parker by virtue of the residuary clause contained in Mertice Locklear's will. Although Mertice Locklear's will was admitted to probate, the estate administration process was never completed. On 31 October 2012, Defendant Jimmie Locklear qualified as the collector of Mertice Locklear's estate.
Defendants took possession of the manufactured home used to secure the original debt in 2004 and used it as their principal residence. Although Plaintiff was aware that Defendants had begun to occupy the manufactured home, it did not provide Defendants with an opportunity to assume the underlying debt or take any other action to make Defendants liable on the obligation created under the original contract between Marvin and Mertice Locklear and Ted Parker and knew that Defendants, as compared to Mertice Locklear's estate, were not personally obligated to make the payments required under the original contract. As a result, the monthly statements that Plaintiff sent to the residence were addressed to " Mertice Locklear C/O Jim and Trudy Locklear."
On or about 12 September 2011, Plaintiff sent Defendants a document discussing a deferral of the monthly payments required under the original agreement that included language to the effect that the document had been transmitted to Defendants as part of " an attempt to collect a debt." After entering into a deferral agreement with Plaintiff, Defendants made the required payments prior to the payment applicable to January 2012 in a timely manner.
On or about 12 June 2012, an agent of Plaintiff called Defendant Jimmie Locklear on his cell phone during work hours despite the fact that Plaintiff had previously been advised not to attempt to contact Defendant Jimmie Locklear while he was at work. Instead of answering this phone call, Defendant Jimmie Locklear immediately terminated the call in compliance with his employer's strict prohibition against ...