from Barbour Circuit Court (CV-14-900025)
Cash Holdings, LLC ("Complete Cash"), appeals a
judgment entered by the Barbour Circuit Court on a jury
verdict in favor of Lola Mae Powell.
and Procedural History
case arises out of Complete Cash's repossession of
Powell's 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche truck based on a forged
title-pawn agreement. Complete Cash lends money to consumers
by the use of deferred-presentment agreements and vehicle
title pawns. Complete Cash is also a pawnbroker, as that term
is defined in Ala. Code 1975, § 5-19A-2(4), which
states, in pertinent part:
"Any person engaged in the business of lending money on
the security of pledged goods left in pawn, or in the
business of purchasing tangible personal property to be left
in pawn on the condition that it may be redeemed or
repurchased by the seller for a fixed price within a fixed
period of time."
October 1, 2011, Vakeela Brown, Powell's granddaughter,
went to a Complete Cash storefront in Eufaula. Brown, without
Powell's knowledge or permission, forged Powell's
signature on two deferred-presentment agreements to borrow a
total of $300 ($150 under each of the deferred-presentment
agreements). Renata Green, an employee of Complete Cash and
the manager of the Complete Cash store in Eufaula, signed the
deferred-presentment agreements on behalf of Complete Cash.
Under the terms of each of the deferred-presentment
agreements, Complete Cash agreed to lend "Powell"
$150 ($300 total) on October 1, 2011, and, in exchange,
"Powell" agreed to present to Complete Cash two
personal checks, each in the amount of $176.25 ($352.50
total), which Complete Cash would hold until the presentment
date of October 31, 2011. On the presentment date, Complete Cash
would cash Powell's personal checks, which would satisfy
"Powell's" obligation to Complete Cash. In
order to satisfy this condition of the deferred-presentment
agreements, Brown stole two personal checks from Powell and
forged Powell's signature on those checks. Of course,
Powell was not obligated to make repayment under the
deferred-presentment agreements because it is undisputed that
Brown forged Powell's signature on the
deferred-presentment agreements and on the personal checks
given to Complete Cash.
addition to being the manager of the Complete Cash store,
Green was also a friend of Brown's and knew Powell
personally. Green knew that Brown had forged Powell's
signature on the deferred-presentment agreements and on
Powell's personal checks. Brown testified that, at some
time thereafter, she and Green decided to pawn the title to
Powell's truck and to split the money procured from
pawning the title. As a result, Brown testified that she and
Green stole the title to Powell's truck to pawn it.
October 27, 2011, Brown went to the Complete Cash store and
forged Powell's signature on an agreement with Complete
Cash entitled "Alabama Pawn Ticket" ("the
title-pawn agreement"). Green signed the title-pawn
agreement on behalf of Complete Cash. Under the terms of the
title-pawn agreement, Complete Cash agreed to lend
"Powell" $2, 352.50, and "Powell" agreed
to give Complete Cash a security interest in the title to the
truck as collateral securing the amount borrowed. Powell also
agreed to repay the amount borrowed plus a "finance
charge" of $294.06, for a total repayment of $2, 646.56,
on November 26, 2011. The title-pawn agreement also permitted
the repayment period to be extended for 30-day periods. The
title-pawn agreement stated that the truck would become the
property of Complete Cash if "Powell" failed to
repay the amount owed under the terms of the title-pawn
testified that Green satisfied the deferred-presentment
agreements using some of the money Brown and Green had
procured under the title-pawn agreement.
the title-pawn agreement was executed, from October 27, 2011,
until August 24, 2013, 19 payments were made on the
title-pawn agreement totaling $2, 133.75; the amount of the
payments varied from $5 to $450. Ashley Newman, an employee
of Complete Cash and Green's supervisor, testified that
such a repayment history was not unusual for accounts held by
Complete Cash. Brown testified that she "may have come
in [to the Complete Cash store] and did [sic] one or two [of
the payments], but the other[ payments] were made by
[Green]." However, Green's employment with Complete
Cash was terminated in August 2013 based on Green's
failure to "collect a certain percentage a month."
Newman testified that Green's employment was terminated
because Green was "not doing her job." Newman
further testified that the termination of Green's
employment was not related to her fraudulent activity in
regard to Powell; in fact, Newman testified that Complete
Cash had no knowledge that Green had been engaged in any
fraudulent activity at the time her employment was
terminated. After Green's employment with Complete Cash
was terminated, Green quit making payments on the title-pawn
agreement; no payments were made on the title-pawn agreement
after August 24, 2013.
September 23, 2013, based on the fact that Powell had
defaulted on the title-pawn agreement, Complete Cash sent its
repossession agent, D&T Custom Automotive, LLC
("D&T"), a "repossession packet"
requesting that D&T repossess Powell's truck.
January 27, 2014, D&T repossessed Powell's truck. The
same day, Jerome Anthony Rogers, Powell's nephew, drove
Powell to the Complete Cash store to understand why Complete
Cash had repossessed Powell's truck. Upon arriving at the
Complete Cash store, Powell and Rogers spoke with April
Scott, an employee of Complete Cash and the manager of the
Complete Cash store who had been hired to replace Green.
Scott agreed to speak with her supervisor about the matter.
was Scott's supervisor. Newman testified that Scott spoke
with her about Powell's account. Newman testified that,
upon learning that Powell alleged that the title-pawn
agreement had been created fraudulently, she thoroughly
reviewed Powell's account. Newman testified that she
found no signs of fraud with the title-pawn agreement.
Specifically, Newman testified that the fact that Complete
Cash actually had the title to Powell's truck naming
Complete Cash as a lienholder and the payment history on the
account indicated to her that the title-pawn agreement was
not the result of fraudulent activity.
February 18, 2014, Powell's counsel sent Complete Cash a
letter demanding that Powell's truck be returned to
Powell. In the demand letter, Powell's trial counsel
informed Complete Cash that Powell's signature had been
forged by Brown on the title-pawn agreement. Powell's
trial counsel also requested that someone from Complete Cash
contact him to discuss the matter further.
days after Powell's counsel sent the demand letter,
Brandi Jackson, the manager of Complete Cash's legal
department, telephoned Powell's counsel. Jackson
testified that she informed Powell's counsel that
Complete Cash had investigated Powell's account and
determined that there was no fraudulent activity concerning
the title-pawn agreement.
February 27, 2014, Powell sued Complete Cash asserting claims
of replevin, detinue, trespass to chattels, conversion,
negligence, and wantonness. On June 4, 2014, Powell filed an
amended complaint, adding D&T and Green as defendants and
asserting numerous claims against Complete Cash, D&T, and
Green. In addition to the claims Powell asserted against
Complete Cash in her original complaint, Powell asserted that
Complete Cash had violated the Alabama Pawnshop Act, §
5-19A-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975, that Complete Cash had
violated the Deceptive Trade Practices Act, § 8-19-1 et
seq., Ala. Code 1975 ("the DTPA"), that Complete
Cash had violated 15 U.S.C. § 1692f(6) of the Fair Debt
Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq.
("the FDCPA"), and asserted claims of fraudulent
suppression and civil conspiracy. Powell asserted against
D&T and Green claims of conversion, negligence,
wantonness, fraudulent suppression, and civil conspiracy.
18, 2014, Complete Cash filed an answer to Powell's first
amended complaint, cross-claims against Green, and a
third-party complaint against Brown.
October 16, 2014, Complete Cash filed motions for default
judgments against Brown and Green based on their failure to
respond to the claims asserted against them by Complete Cash.
On October 20, 2014, the trial court granted Complete
Cash's motions for default judgments against Brown and
Green but did not assess damages.
17, 2015, Powell filed a motion for a summary judgment. On
the same day, Complete Cash also filed a motion for a summary
judgment or, in the alternative, for a partial summary
judgment. On August 5, 2015, Complete Cash filed an amended
motion for a summary judgment.
August 17, 2015, just before the trial began, the trial court
heard oral argument on the parties' summary-judgment
motions. The trial court entered a summary judgment for
Complete Cash on Powell's fraudulent-suppression and
civil-conspiracy claims. The trial then commenced on the
remaining claims against Complete Cash.
close of Powell's case-in-chief, Complete Cash filed a
motion for a judgment as a matter of law ("JML") as
to Powell's remaining claims, challenging each claim with
specificity. Concerning Powell's claim that Complete Cash
had violated § 1692f(6), Complete Cash argued that the
FDCPA did not apply because, it argued, Complete Cash was not
a "debt collector" as that term is defined in the
FDCPA. The trial court entered a JML for Complete Cash on
Powell's claims of detinue, trespass, violation of the
Alabama Pawnshop Act, and Powell's claim that Complete
Cash had violated the DTPA; the trial court denied Complete
Cash's motion as to ...