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SunTrust Mortgage, Inc. v. United States

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

October 8, 2013

SUNTRUST MORTGAGE, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Richard D. Bennett, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff SunTrust Mortgage, Inc. (“Plaintiff”) has filed this action under the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201. Plaintiff seeks to establish the priority of its mortgage over a tax lien in favor of the United States (“Defendant” or “Government”). Currently pending before this Court is the United States’ Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 14), made pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The parties’ submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2011). For the reasons that follow, the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

The Plaintiff sets forth the following facts in its Complaint. The Plaintiff is a mortgage lender who transacts business in Maryland. The claims in this case arise out of a loan made to non-party Antoinette H. Adams (“Adams”) for the purpose of consolidating and paying off the two then-existing mortgages on a parcel of real property located in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Adams owned the property jointly with her husband as tenants by the entireties. The two pre-existing mortgages on the property had been recorded in the land records of the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County on July 15, 2004. On March 15, 2006, a tax lien against Adams’s husband was filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County in favor of the Internal Revenue Service in the amount of $73, 463.82. On or about March 31, 2006, Adams’s husband transferred all his interest in the subject property to Adams. On the same day, the Plaintiff extended a loan of $412, 000.00 to Adams to pay off the two pre-existing mortgages on that property. Adams executed a Promissory Note and Deed of Trust granting the Plaintiff a first mortgage on the property, which was recorded the land records of the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County on May 23, 2006. A total of $394, 453.72 of the loan was used to satisfy the two pre-existing mortgages. Adams subsequently defaulted on the Note and the Deed of Trust.

The Plaintiff filed its Complaint (ECF No. 1) seeking a declaratory judgment and to quiet title to the property. The Plaintiff argues that, under the doctrine of equitable subrogation, the filing of the two pre-existing mortgages in 2004 gives its mortgage priority over the Government’s tax lien filed in 2006. The Defendant has moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 14.)

STANDARDS OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for lack of subject matter jurisdiction challenges a court’s authority to hear the matter brought by a complaint. See Davis v. Thompson, 367 F.Supp.2d 792, 799 (D. Md. 2005). If subject matter jurisdiction is challenged, the “party who sues the United States bears the burden of pointing to an unequivocal waiver of immunity.” Id. (quoting Williams v. United States, 50 F.3d 299, 304 (4th Cir. 1995)). To meet this burden, the plaintiff must allege facts upon which the court may base its jurisdiction. Id. (citing Crosten v. Kamauf, 932 F.Supp. 676, 679 (D. Md. 1996)).

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; therefore, “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) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted) (quoting Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999)). When ruling on such a motion, the court must “accept the well-pled allegations of the complaint as true, ” and “construe the facts and reasonable inferences derived therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). However, this Court “need not accept the legal conclusions drawn from the facts, and [ ] need not accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions or arguments.” Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 253 (4th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

The Supreme Court’s 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 deference. Id. (stating that “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice” to plead a claim). Second, a complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege a “plausible” claim for relief. Id. at 678-79 (“A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”).

ANALYSIS

The Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to state a plausible claim for which the United States has waived sovereign immunity. Therefore, the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss is denied.

I. The Proper Party Has Been Substituted

As an initial matter, this Court addresses the Defendant’s argument that because the Defendant named in the Complaint—“United States Department of the Treasury – Internal Revenue Service”—is not a suable entity, the Plaintiff’s Complaint must be dismissed. In the “United States’ Motion to Dismiss, ” however, the United States indicated that it did not object to being substituted as the Defendant in this case. Def.’s Mem., ECF No. 14-1 at 2. The Plaintiff filed a Motion to Substitute Parties (ECF No. 21), which this Court granted in an Order dated October 2, 2013 (ECF No. ...


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