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Puffinberger v. Commercion, LLC

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

January 10, 2014

THERESA PUFFINBERGER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMERCION, LLC and MARGOLIS, PRITZKER, EPSTEIN & BLATT, P.A. Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

STEPHANIE A. GALLAGHER, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Theresa Puffinberger filed this action against Defendants Commercion, LLC ("Commercion") and Margolis, Pritzker, Epstein & Blatt, P.A. ("MPEB") (collectively "Defendants"), alleging that the Defendants violated federal and state debt collection and consumer protection laws by attempting to collect a debt owed by Ms. Puffinberger. Now pending are three motions - Ms. Puffinberger's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to Liability Only on All Counts of the Complaint, the Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment, and Ms. Puffinberger's Motion to Strike the Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment. See ECF Nos. 34, 35, 37. I have considered the motions and replies thereto. No hearing is deemed necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2011). For the reasons stated herein, the motions will be denied in part and granted in part.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

The present action derives from two cases that Defendants allegedly filed against Ms. Puffinberger in Anne Arundel District Court in March, 2012. Defendant Commercion is a licensed collection agency and a client of Defendant MPEB, a law firm that pursues debt collection lawsuits on behalf of debt-buyers. See Compl. ¶ 13; Pritzker Dep. 35:15-21. On March 13, 2012, Commercion, by and through MPEB as counsel, filed a lawsuit against Ms. Puffinberger in Anne Arundel District Court seeking to collect $1, 741.48 owed on a credit card account.[1] See Pl.'s Resp. Ex. 1. On March 15, 2012, the Defendants contend that the district court requested an additional copy of the complaint, which the Defendants provided. See Defs.' Mot. Ex. 6. According to the Defendants, upon receiving a photocopy of the original complaint, the district court mistakenly opened a new case, which was docketed on March 23, 2012. Defs.' Mot. 12. The Defendants voluntarily dismissed the March 13, 2012 lawsuit, and the district court dismissed the March 23, 2012 lawsuit, claiming that it was barred by the statute of limitations.[2] The Defendants appealed the district court's ruling to the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, which affirmed the district court's decision that the March 23, 2012 lawsuit was filed beyond the limitations period.

On March 12, 2013, Ms. Puffinberger filed a three-count Complaint against the Defendants in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, alleging that the Defendants violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act ("MCDCA"), and the Maryland Consumer Protection Act ("MCPA") by: (1) calling her directly with knowledge that she was represented by an attorney, and threatening to intercept her tax returns, garnish her wages, and take titles to her vehicles; (2) attempting to collect a time-barred debt that lacked credibility; and (3) using incorrect contract documents from Chase Manhattan Bank in their complaint. See Compl. ¶¶ 64-87. The Defendants timely removed the action to this Court on April 26, 2013. See ECF No. 1. The parties agreed to proceed before a Magistrate Judge for all proceedings, and Judge Russell assigned this case to me pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Local Rule 301.4, on June 14, 2013. ECF No. 25.

II. Legal Standards

A. Summary Judgment

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that the Court must grant summary judgment "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A material fact is one "that might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law..." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute regarding a material fact is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. A party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of showing that there is no evidence to support the non-moving party's case, and must only show an absence of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). In response, the non-moving party must show that there is a genuine issue for trial. District Courts reviewing a motion for summary judgment "must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmovant." McLean v. Ray, 488 F.Appx. 677, 682 (4th Cir. 2012) (internal citations omitted). A court must decide whether there is a genuine issue for trial, "not... weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 242-43.

B. Judgment on the Pleadings

The Defendants have filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment. A court reviewing a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) applies the same standard applicable to motions made under Rule 12(b)(6). See Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). That is, the motion "should only be granted if, after accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true and drawing all reasonable factual inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor, it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim entitling him to relief." Id. at 244. A motion for judgment on the pleadings is converted into a motion for summary judgment if "matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). "Matters such as exhibits are outside the pleadings if a complaint's factual allegations are not expressly linked to and dependent upon such matters." Williams v. Branker, 462 F.Appx. 348, 352 (4th Cir. 2012).

The Defendants have attached a considerable number of exhibits to their motion. These exhibits include a credit card statement, briefs submitted to state court in the state court action, and affidavits. All of these exhibits have been reviewed and considered in reaching the decision herein. Therefore, the Defendants' motion is more appropriately considered as a motion for summary judgment. "When faced with cross-motions for summary judgment, the court must review each motion separately on its own merits to determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of law." Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516, 523 (4th Cir. 2003) (internal quotations omitted). The court must also "take care to resolve all factual disputes and any competing, rational inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing that motion." Id. (internal quotations omitted).

III. Analysis

A. Plaintiff's Motion to Strike the Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment

Ms. Puffinberger moves this Court to strike the Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment because it is untimely. See ECF No. 37. The Defendants do not dispute that their motion is beyond the applicable time for filing, according to the Court's Scheduling Order. In place of striking their motion as untimely, the Defendants argue that good cause exists to allow them ...


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