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Ramsay v. Sawyer Property Management of Maryland, LLC

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

May 31, 2013

KHARYN RAMSAY, Plaintiff,
v.
SAWYER PROPERTY MANAGEMENT OF MARYLAND, LLC and JEFFREY TAPPER, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RICHARD D. BENNETT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Kharyn Ramsay brings this class action lawsuit against Defendants Sawyer Property Management of Maryland LLC and Jeffrey Tapper, alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692 et seq., the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act ("MCDCA"), Md. Code Ann., Com. Law, §§ 14-201 et seq., and the Maryland Consumer Protection Act ("MCPA"), Md. Code Ann., Com. Law, §§ 13-101 et seq. Defendants have filed separate Motions to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint (ECF Nos. 14 & 17) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court has reviewed the parties' submissions and finds that no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2011). For the reasons that follow, Defendant Sawyer Property Management of Maryland LLC's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 14) and Defendant Jeffrey Tapper's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 17) are GRANTED, and Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (ECF No. 15) is DISMISSED. Specifically, Plaintiff's Fair Debt Collection Practices Act claim is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE and Plaintiff's state law claims under the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act and Maryland Consumer Protection Act are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

BACKGROUND

In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations in a plaintiff's complaint must be accepted as true, and those facts must be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999).

I. The Parties

Plaintiff Kharyn Ramsay ("Plaintiff") resides in Baltimore County, Maryland. Pl.'s Am. Compl. ¶ 9. Defendant Sawyer Property Management of Maryland ("Sawyer Property") is a rental and property management company serving various landlords in the state of Maryland, including the landlord of a property called "Gwynn Oaks I" in Baltimore County. Sawyer Property's Supp. Mem. 1, ECF No. 14-1. Plaintiff was a tenant at "Gwynn Oaks I" and defaulted on her rent payments. See Pl.'s Am. Compl. ¶ 10. Sawyer Property hired Defendant Jeffrey Tapper ("Tapper"), who is both an attorney and a licensed collection agent in Maryland, to collect delinquent rent from Plaintiff and other tenants in default. See id. at 2-3.

II. Enforcement of a Judgment under Maryland Rule 3-633

In order to describe Tapper's collection activities with regard to Plaintiff, it is important to set out the relevant law. Rule 3-633 of the Maryland Rules of Civil Procedure governs the process by which a judgment creditor may enforce a judgment. When a judgment debtor fails to pay a judgment, the creditor may obtain a court order seeking an oral examination of the debtor before a Maryland District Court. See Md. Code Ann. Civ. P. § 3-633(b). To request an oral examination, the creditor files a "DC/CV 32" order request form[1] with a Maryland District Court. Id. Once the Maryland District Court Judge signs the form, it becomes a court order that the creditor serves on the debtor to compel an appearance before the court. Id.

If the debtor does not appear for the court-ordered oral examination, the creditor may then file a "DC/CV 33" order request form.[2] See Md. Code Ann. Civ. P. § 3-633(c). As with the DC/CV 32 request form, once the District Court Judge signs the DC/CV 33 form it becomes a court order that the creditor must serve on the debtor. Id. This order directs the debtor to appear before the court and show cause for her failure to appear for the court-ordered oral examination. Id. If the debtor fails to appear before the court a second time, the creditor may request that the court issue an "Attachment for Contempt, " which directs a peace officer to place the debtor under arrest and deliver the debtor to a judicial officer to set a bond. See Md. Code Ann. Civ. P. § 3-633(b) ("[F]ailure to appear may result in the person served being held in contempt.").

III. Allegations of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint

In the present case, Sawyer Property obtained a state court judgment of $1, 540.84 against Plaintiff for failure to pay rent. See Pl.'s Am. Compl. Ex. C. Though Plaintiff does not dispute the validity of this debt, she did not pay it, prompting Sawyer Property to retain Tapper's services. See Sawyer Property's Supp. Mem. 2-3, ECF No. 14-1. On August 5, 2011, Tapper filed a DC/CV 32 order request form with the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore County. See Pl.'s Am. Compl. Ex. C. The District Court approved Tapper's request and directed Plaintiff to appear before the court for an oral examination. Id. After Plaintiff failed to appear for the examination, Tapper filed a DC/CV 33 form, which the District Court again approved. See Pl.'s Am. Compl. Ex. D. After Plaintiff failed to appear before the District Court a second time, the District Court issued an "Attachment of Contempt, " which directed the Sheriff's Office of Baltimore County to arrest her. See Sawyer Property's Supp. Mem. 3. The Sheriff's Office arrested Plaintiff on August 23, 2011. Pl.'s Am. Compl. ¶ 37. After a two-hour period of custody, the Sheriff's Office released Plaintiff on her own recognizance. Id.

On September 13, 2012, Plaintiff filed the initial Complaint in this Court arising out of Tapper's actions. On November 7, 2012, Plaintiff submitted an Amended Complaint, which seeks damages for Defendants' alleged violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act ("MCDCA"), and the Maryland Consumer Protection Act ("MCPA"). Id. The acts underlying Plaintiff's three causes of action arise from Tapper's alleged modification of the DC/CV 32 and DC/CV 33 court orders. See Pl.'s Am. Compl. ¶¶ 28, 32. Specifically, she points to the following language that Tapper stamped on the orders: "THIS COMMUNICATION IS FROM A DEBT COLLECTOR. IT IS AN ATTEMPT TO COLLECT A DEBT AND ANY INFORMATION OBTAINED WILL BE USED FOR THAT PURPOSE."[3]

Plaintiff alleges that Tapper intended both to mislead Plaintiff into believing that the court orders were instead communications from a debt collector and to cause her to fail to comply with the orders. Id. ¶¶ 35, 36. In her first and third causes of action, Plaintiff asserts that Tapper violated section 1692e of the FDCPA and section 13-301(1) of the MCPA, both of which prohibit false and misleading representations made by collection agents. See 15 U.S.C. § 1692e; Md. Code Ann., Com. Law, § 13-101(8). In her second cause of action, Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated section 14-202(8) of the MCDCA, which prohibits debt collectors from attempting to enforce rights that they do not have. Id. ¶ 129. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the MCDCA prohibited Tapper's collection of Plaintiff's debt, because Sawyer Property is not a licensed collection agency in Maryland.[4] Plaintiff declares that Defendants' conduct has resulted in damages in excess of forty-one million dollars across three putative subclasses.[5]

After the original Complaint was filed on September 13, 2012, Tapper submitted a Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 13). Plaintiff then filed an Amended Complaint (ECF No. 15) on November 7, 2012, and Tapper filed another Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 17), which incorporates the arguments from his original motion. Sawyer Property filed a Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 14) Plaintiff's original Complaint on October 31, 2012, and has since moved to incorporate that motion against Plaintiff's Amended Complaint.[6] See Sawyer Property's Reply 1, ECF No. 21.

Upon review of these motions, this Court finds that Plaintiff has not stated a claim under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. With no remaining federal law at issue in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, this Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over her Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act and the Maryland Consumer Protection Act claims. Accordingly, Defendant Sawyer Property Management of Maryland LLC's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 14) and Defendant Jeffrey Tapper's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 17) are GRANTED, and Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (ECF No. 15) is DISMISSED. Specifically, Plaintiff's FDCPA claim is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE and Plaintiff's MCDCA and MCPA claims are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. Defendant Jeffrey Tapper's original Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 13) is rendered MOOT by this Memorandum Opinion.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) is "to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006).

The Supreme's recent opinions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), "require that complaints in civil actions be alleged with greater specificity than previously was required." Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). The Supreme Court's decision in Twombly articulated "[t]wo working principles" that courts must employ when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. First, while a court must accept as true all the factual allegations contained in the complaint, legal conclusions drawn from those facts are not afforded such ...


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