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Henson v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 6, 2014

RICKY HENSON, et al. Plaintiffs,
v.
SANTANDER CONSUMER USA, INC., et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RICHARD D. BENNETT, District Judge.

This suit brought by Plaintiffs Ricky Henson, Ian Matthew Glover, Karen Paccouoloute, and Paulette House (collectively "Plaintiffs") against Defendants Santander Consumer USA, Inc. ("Santander"), NCB Management Services, Inc. ("NCB"), and Commercial Recovery Systems, Inc. ("CRS") concerns alleged violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. Pending before this Court are Defendant Santander's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) (ECF No. 8) and Defendants NCB and CRS's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) (ECF No. 10). The parties' submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is deemed necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2011). For the reasons stated herein, Defendant Santander's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 8) is GRANTED. Co-Defendants NCB and CRS's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 10) is GRANTED IN PART; specifically, the Motion is granted as to Defendant NCB only. With respect to Defendant CRS, this matter is stayed pending resolution of the bankruptcy proceedings against it, and the case will be administratively closed until that point.

BACKGROUND

This Court accepts as true the facts alleged in the Plaintiffs' Complaint. See Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., 658 F.3d 388, 390 (4th Cir. 2011). According to the Complaint, Plaintiffs each entered into Retail Installment Sale Contracts ("Contracts") with CitiFinancial Auto Credit, Inc., CitiFinancial Auto Corp., or CitiFinancial Auto, LTD (collectively "CitiFinancial Auto") for the purposes of financing motor vehicle purchases in the state of Maryland. Compl. ¶¶ 27-30, ECF No. 1. At some point after entering into the Contracts with CitiFinancial Auto, each Plaintiff failed to meet their payment obligations and defaulted. Id. at ¶ 32. CitiFinancial Auto subsequently repossessed and sold the Plaintiffs' motor vehicles, leaving a deficiency balance on the Plaintiffs' accounts. Id. at ¶¶ 33-37. A class action lawsuit ensued against CitiFinancial Auto in this Court, alleging that Citi had violated certain provisions of Maryland State law governing the repossession of motor vehicles. Id. at ¶¶ 38, 39; see Complaint, Thomas v. CitiFinancial Auto Credit, Inc., Civ. A. No. JKB-10-528 (D. Md. March 3, 2010), ECF No. 2. The parties ultimately entered into a settlement agreement approved by this Court on May 29, 2012 after conducting a fairness hearing, in which CitiFinancial Auto agreed to waive deficiency balances for class members.[1] Compl. ¶¶ 40-44. Class members also retained "any [potential] claims... that may be asserted against Santander Consumer USA Inc. or... any person or entities collecting on their behalf, arising from efforts to collect on Settlement Class Members' accounts." Id. at ¶ 46.

Plaintiffs contend that on or before December 1, 2011, Santander purchased the delinquent accounts from CitiFinancial Auto and was aware that the delinquent accounts were the subject of a class action lawsuit and settlement, which had been preliminarily approved. Id. at ¶ 48-50. After acquiring the delinquent accounts, Santander began efforts to collect debts originally owed to CitiFinancial Auto. Id. at ¶ 52. During these efforts Santander is alleged to have misrepresented (1) the amount of debt owed, and (2) its authority to collect such debt. Id. at ¶ 55.

After purchasing the delinquent accounts from CitiFinancial Auto, Plaintiffs aver that Santander hired Co-Defendants NCB and CRS to aid in the collection of debts it had acquired. Id. at ¶¶ 58, 70. With respects to NCB and CRS, Plaintiffs similarly contend that the Co-Defendants misrepresented the following during its collection efforts beginning on or about December 1, 2011: (1) the amount of debt owed, (2) its authority to collect such debt, and (3) the identity of the debt owner. Id. at ¶ 67, 75. There are no allegations that either NCB or CRS was aware of the class action lawsuit or settlement.

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." FED. R. CIV. P 8(a)(2). 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 Court'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 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); see also Wag More Dogs, LLC v. Cozart, 680 F.3d 359, 365 (4th Cir. 2012) ("Although we are constrained to take the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, we need not accept legal conclusions couched as facts or unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." (internal quotation marks omitted)).

Second, a complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege "a plausible claim for relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Under the plausibility standard, a complaint must contain "more than labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Although the plausibility requirement does not impose a "probability requirement, " id. at 556, "[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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; see also Robertson v. Sea Pines Real Estate Cos., 679 F.3d 278, 291 (4th Cir. 2012) ("A complaint need not make a case against a defendant or forecast evidence sufficient to prove an element of the claim. It need only allege facts sufficient to state elements of the claim." (emphasis in original) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)). In making this assessment, a court must "draw on its judicial experience and common sense" to determine whether the pleader has stated a plausible claim for relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. "At bottom, a plaintiff must nudge [its] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible to resist dismissal." Wag More Dogs, LLC v. Cozart, 680 F.3d 359, 365 (4th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted).

ANALYSIS

Defendants Santander, individually, (ECF No. 8) and NCB and CRS, jointly, (ECF No. 10) have filed Motions to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons herein, Defendant Santander's Motion (ECF No. 8) is granted. As to Defendants NCB and CRS, the Motion is granted with respect to the claims made against Defendant NCB. However, this matter is stayed as to Defendant CRS pending resolution of its bankruptcy proceedings.

I. "Debt Collector" Under the FDCPA

Plaintiffs have failed to "allege facts that make it plausible to believe that [Defendant Santander] is in fact a debt collector as defined by the FDCPA" sufficient to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Givens v. Citimortgage, Inc., PJM-10-1249, 2011 WL 806463, at *2 (D. Md. Feb. 28, 2011); Sparrow v. SLM Corp., RWT-08-00012, 2009 WL 77462, at *2 (D. Md. Jan. 7, 2009); see also Johnson v. BAC Home Loans Servicing, LP, 867 F.Supp.2d 766, 777 (E.D. N.C. Sept. 29, 2011) (noting that a court must determine whether the defendant is a "debt collector" as contemplated by the FDCPA before assessing whether "Plaintiffs have validly stated ...


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