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Alston v. Equifax Information Services, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 11, 2014

KIMBERLY ANN ALSTON, Plaintiff,
v.
EQUIFAX INFORMATION SERVICES, LLC, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GEORGE L. RUSSELL, III, District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's, Kimberly Ann Alston, Motion to Strike Defendant Experian Information Solutions, Inc.'s Affirmative Defenses Pursuant to Rule 12(f) ("Motion to Strike") (ECF No. 25), and Defendant's, Dimensions Health Corporation d/b/a Prince George's Hospital Center ("DHC"), Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment ("Motion to Dismiss") (ECF No. 31). The questions before the Court are whether Experian's affirmative defenses should be stricken for failure to plead within the Twombly and Iqbal standards, and whether Ms. Alston's claims against DHC under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act and the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act are preempted by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The issues have been fully briefed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2011). For the reasons below, both Motions will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

In November 2006, Ms. Alston received treatment at Prince George's Hospital Center and was billed accordingly. DHC's Patient Financial Services division forwarded Ms. Alston's account to the United Collection Bureau, Inc. ("UCB"), DHC's contracted collections agency, on February 23, 2007.

At the time DHC forwarded the account, there allegedly was an outstanding balance of $299.30. UCB attempted to collect the debt, but Ms. Alston disputed the amount owed on three separate occasions.[2] On each occasion, UCB investigated Ms. Alston's claim and determined it was without merit. After attempting to collect on the debt for five years, UCB stopped collection attempts because the statute of limitations would bar any legal claim.

In the Complaint and her Opposition to the pending Motion, Ms. Alston alleges she satisfied the debt and confirmed that fact with DHC. She does not, however, specify in either the Complaint or her Opposition when the debt was satisfied. She further alleges she did not realize DHC was still claiming the debt until she viewed her credit report a number of years later. The Complaint avers Equifax and Experian inaccurately published the UCB account and, notwithstanding her disputes, verified the account without proper investigation.

On February 5, 2013, Ms. Alston filed suit against Equifax in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland, alleging, inter alia, violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA"), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681i(a)(1) & (a)(5)(A) (2012). (ECF No. 2). On March 27, 2013, Equifax removed the action to this Court. (ECF No. 1). After obtaining leave from the Court, Ms. Alston amended her Complaint, adding Experian as a Defendant. (ECF Nos. 10, 11). On August 12, 2013, Ms. Alston again sought leave from the Court to file a second amendment to her Complaint, which the Court granted on August 15. (ECF Nos. 20, 22). The Second Amended Complaint added DHC as a Defendant and alleged violations of the FCRA, 15 U.S.C. § 1681s-2(b)(1)(A), (D), & (E); the Maryland Consumer Protection Act ("MCPA"), Md. Code Ann., Com. Law § 13-301(14)(iii) (West 2014); and the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act ("MCDCA"), Md. Code Ann., Com. Law § 14-202(3) (West 2014). (ECF No. 20-2).

After Experian filed its Answer on September 11, 2013, Ms. Alston filed the pending Motion to Strike. (ECF Nos. 24, 25). DHC filed its Motion to Dismiss on October 16, 2013. (ECF No. 31). In the Opposition to DHC's pending Motion, Ms. Alston withdrew her FCRA claim as to DHC. (ECF No. 37). On January 2, 2014, pursuant to a stipulation agreement, the Court dismissed Ms. Alston's claims against Equifax with prejudice. (ECF No. 42).

II. DISCUSSION

A. Motion to Strike

1. Standard of Review

Ms. Alston moves to strike Experian's affirmative defenses pursuant to Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A "court may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). Although the court maintains wide discretion in determining whether to strike an affirmative defense, see Haley Paint Co. v. E.I. Du Pont De Nemours & Co , 279 F.R.D. 331, 336 (D.Md. 2012), "Rule 12(f) motions are generally viewed with disfavor because striking a portion of a pleading is a drastic remedy and because it is often sought by the movant simply as a dilatory tactic." Waste Mgmt. Holdings, Inc. v. Gilmore , 252 F.3d 316, 347 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting 5A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1380, 647 (2d ed. 1990)).

2. Analysis

The Court will grant Ms. Alston's Motion to Strike, but will also grant Experian leave to amend its affirmative defenses. Ms. Alston avers the Court must strike Experian's affirmative defenses because they fail to adhere to the pleading standards articulated in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Experian counters that the Twombly and Iqbal standards do not ...


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