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Alston v. Equifax Information Services, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 13, 2014

CANDACE E. ALSTON, Plaintiff,
v.
EQUIFAX INFORMATION SERVICES, LLC, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

THEODORE D. CHUANG, District Judge.

Before the Court in this Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA") case is Plaintiff Candace Alston's Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction. ECF No. 71. Alston seeks to have this Court enjoin Defendant Equifax Information Services, LLC ("Equifax") from reporting her Wells Fargo mortgage account as 120 days past due. In a July 25, 2014 Order, this Court denied the temporary restraining order ("IRO") and deferred decision on the preliminary injunction pending briefing by the parties. ECF No. 73. On November 3, 2014, the Court heard oral argument on the Motion. The remainder of the Motion is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons outlined below, the Motion fig a Preliminary Injunction is DENIED,

BACKGROUND

In November 2010, Alston obtained a mortgage from Monarch Bank that was subsequently sold to Wells Fargo Bank. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 9-10, 26(g), ECF No. 29. The terms of the loan required her to make monthly payments of approximately $812. Opp'n, Ex. A.1, ECF. No. 74-2. On June 30. 2011. Alston ordered her credit report from Equifax and discovered that it was "erroneously reporting" that she had not made a mortgage payment since January 2011 and that she was therefore $4, 057 in arrears. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 6-7. On July 12, 2011. Alston filed an online dispute with Equifax about the report of a delinquent mortgage. Id. ¶ 11. On August 11, 2011, Equifax responded and informed Alston that the "disputed information ha[d] been verified and/or updated. Id. ¶ 12.

At some point in August 2011. "Wells Fargo and Monarch Bank represented" to Alston that she was now $6, 492.24 in arrears on her mortgage. Mot. at 1. On or before August 22, 2011, Alston sent a cashier's check for $6, 492.24 payable to Monarch Bank to bring the account current. Id. at 1-2. Monarch endorsed the check and forwarded it to Wells Fargo. Id. at 2. According to Alston, Wells Fargo then instructed Equifax to report the mortgage account as "Current with no past due balance as of August 2011." Id.

On or around August 22, 2014, Alston asked Equifax to forward her a copy of its dispute resolution procedure. Am. Compl. ¶ 13. She included in that correspondence a copy of the $6, 492.24 payment she sent to Monarch. Id. At some point, after receiving no response to her letter, Alston sent Equifax a second letter repeating her request for a copy of its dispute resolution procedure. Id. ¶ 14. On November 9, 2011, Equifax sent Alston a "generic, form letter" explaining that Equifax "does not perform [its own] investigation but forwards the dispute for investigation by the furnisher, " in this case, Wells Fargo. Id. ¶ 15.

In November 2011, the Wells Fargo mortgage was transferred or sold and the account closed. See Mot., Ex. 1. That month, Alston again ordered her Equifax credit report and saw that Equifax was still reporting her mortgage as in arrears despite her August 2011 payment. Am. Compl. ¶ 16. As a result, on November 21, 2011. Alston submitted a second dispute letter to Equifax, enclosing with that correspondence another copy of her $6, 492.24 cashier's check to Monarch. Id. In a letter dated December 21, 2011, Equifax informed Alston that it had updated her credit report to reflect that her mortgage account (1) was not late in August 2011; (2) was 180 or more days past due in September 2011; (3) was 180 or more days past due in October 2011; (4) was closed in November 2011; and (5) was "120 days past due and transferred or sold." Id. ¶¶ 17(a)-(e).

On February 24, 2012, Alston ordered a third credit report from Equifax. Id. ¶ 18. That report continued to list her mortgage account as 120 days late for September and October 2011. Mot. at 2. On or about February 28, 2012, Alston resubmitted her dispute to Equifax, this time providing "substantially more detailed information" about her payment history, including several mortgage statements from Monarch. Am. Compl. ¶ 18. In a letter dated March 27, 2012, Equifax informed Alston that it had verified the accuracy of the report. Id. ¶ 19. Alston "quickly" responded with a letter reiterating her request for a description of Equifax's investigation process and emphasizing that she did not want a "generic" response, but rather one explaining exactly how Equifax had resolved her particular disputes. Id. ¶ 20. In response. Equifax again investigated the mortgage debt and reported to Alston that the account information had been "verified." Id. ¶ 21. On or near May 29, 2012, Alston reiterated her request for a specific description of Equifax's investigation policy. Id. ¶ 22. On June 4, 2012, Equifax provided Alston with a "general statement" of its investigations procedure. Id. ¶ 23. In a letter dated June 15, 2012, Equifax informed her that a further reinvestigation had verified that the Wells Fargo mortgage account belonged to Alston. Id. 1124.

On March 14, 2013, Alston filed suit in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County alleging that Equifax violated the FCRA and certain parts of Maryland's Miscellaneous Consumer Protection Provisions, Md. Code, Commercial Law, § 14-1201, et seq., based on its reporting of her mortgage account and what she characterized as its inadequate investigative procedures.[1] The case was removed to this Court on April 25, 2013.

As of June 2014, Equifax was reporting the "status" of the mortgage account as "Aver 120 days past due" with "no late payments for [A]ugust. [S]eptember, [and] [O]ctober 2011." Mot. at 2, Ex. 1. It was also reporting that the account had been "transferred/sold" in November 2011 and therefore that it had a balance of $0 and a past due amount of $0. Id.

On July 24, 2014. Alston filed a Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary injunction asking this Court to "enjoin the Defendant from reporting inaccurate information to Plaintiff's credit report." Mot. at Specifically, Alston seeks to enjoin Equifax from reporting that her mortgage was "over 120 days late." Id. at 4. According to Alston, her Motion is prompted by the fact that she "has identified a property that she would like to purchase." Id. at 2. She asserts that the allegedly inaccurate information on her credit report "will prevent [her] from obtaining a loan to purchase th[at] property, " Id. at 3. Alston concludes that "[o]nce another buyer purchases the property, [she] will never have the same opportunity to buy that property again." Id.

On July 25, 2014, this Court denied Alston's motion for a TRO because she had not satisfactorily established the possibility of imminent harm and deferred her motion for a preliminary injunction pending additional briefing by the parties. ECF No. 73. In its August 1, 2014 Response to Alston's Motion. Equifax asserts that injunctive relief is not available to private litigants under the FCRA and that the mortgage account information is accurate. ECF No. 74. On August 7. 2014, Alston filed a Reply to Equifax's response. ECF No. 77.

DISCUSSION

1. Availability of Injunctive Relief ...


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