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Henson v. Santander Consumer Usa, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 2, 2015

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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RICHARD D. BENNETT, District Judge.

This action was initially filed by the Plaintiffs in the aftermath of the settlement of an earlier action in this Court, Thomas v. CitiFinancial Auto Credit, Inc., Civ.A. No. JKB-10-528 (D. Md. March 3, 2010). That class action lawsuit resulted in a settlement agreement which provided that class members retained the right to make certain claims against Defendant Santander Consumer USA, Inc. ("Santander"), or other entities collecting on its behalf. In this action, the Plaintiffs brought claims under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq., against Defendant Santander, as well as Defendants NCB Management Services, Inc. ("NCB") and Commercial Recovery Systems, Inc. ("CRS"). This Court has previously entered a Memorandum Opinion (ECF No. 24) and Order (ECF No. 25) granting Santander's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 8) and granting NCB's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 10), but staying that Motion to Dismiss as to Defendant CRS, in light of its petition in bankruptcy.[1] Plaintiff Ricky Henson ("Henson") has filed the pending Motion for Reconsideration (ECF No. 26) with respect to the dismissal of this action as to Defendant NCB. Simultaneously, Henson and the remaining Plaintiffs[2] in this action filed a Motion for Entry of Final Judgment under Rule 54(b) ("Motion for Entry of Final Judgment") (ECF No. 27) as to this Court's dismissal of this action against Defendant Santander.

The pending Motions were fully briefed by both parties and no hearing is necessary under Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014).[3] For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff Henson's Motion for Reconsideration as to the dismissal of this action against Defendant NCB (ECF No. 26) is DENIED and Plaintiffs' Motion for Entry of Final Judgment as to the dismissal of this action against Defendant Santander (ECF No. 27) is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

The background facts of this action remain as set forth in this Court's Memorandum Opinion of May 6, 2014 (ECF No. 24). To summarize, 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. ¶ 32. CitiFinancial Auto subsequently repossessed and sold the Plaintiffs' motor vehicles, leaving a deficiency balance on the Plaintiffs' accounts. Id. ¶¶ 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. ¶¶ 38, 39; see Complaint, Thomas v. CitiFinancial Auto Credit, 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.[4] 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. ¶ 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. ¶¶ 48-50. After acquiring the delinquent accounts, Santander began efforts to collect debts originally owed to CitiFinancial Auto. Id. ¶ 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. ¶ 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. ¶¶ 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. ¶¶ 67, 75. There are no allegations that either NCB or CRS was aware of the class action lawsuit or settlement.

STANDARDS OF REVIEW

A. Motion for Reconsideration

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not expressly recognize motions for "reconsideration." Instead, Rule 59(e) authorizes a district court to alter, amend, or vacate a prior judgment, and Rule 60 provides for relief from judgment. See Katyle v. Penn Nat'l Gaming, Inc., 637 F.3d 462, 471 n.4 (4th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 132 S.Ct. 115 (2011). As this Court explained in Cross v. Fleet Reserve Ass'n Pension Plan, Civ. No. WDQ-05-0001, 2010 WL 3609530, at *2 (D. Md. Sept. 14, 2010):

A party may move to alter or amend a judgment under Rule 59(e), or for relief from a judgment under Rule 60(b). See Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) & 60(b). A motion to alter or amend filed within 28 days of the judgment is analyzed under Rule 59(e); if the motion is filed later, Rule 60(b) controls. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e); MLC Auto., LLC v. Town of S. Pines, 532 F.3d 269, 280 (4th Cir. 2008); In re Burnley, 988 F.2d 1, 2-3 (4th Cir. 1992).

(footnote omitted). In this case, Plaintiff Henson timely filed, for purposes of Rule 59(e), his Motion for Reconsideration after this Court entered its order dismissing all claims against NCB. Henson's Motion will thus be considered under Rule 59(e) only.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has repeatedly recognized that a final[5] judgment may be amended under Rule 59(e) in only three circumstances: (1) to accommodate an intervening change in controlling law; (2) to account for new evidence not available at trial; or (3) to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice. See, e.g., Gagliano v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., 547 F.3d 230, 241 n.8 (4th Cir. 2008). Moreover, "[t]he district court has considerable discretion in deciding whether to modify or amend a judgment." Id. Such motions do not authorize a "game of hopscotch, " in which parties switch from one legal theory to another "like a bee in search of honey." Cochran v. Quest Software, Inc., 328 F.3d 1, 11 (1st Cir. 2003). In other words, a Rule 59(e) motion "may not be used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or present evidence that could have been raised prior to entry of judgment." Pac. Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat'l Fire Ins. Co., 148 F.3d 396, 403 (4th Cir. 1998) (quoting 11 Wright, et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 2810.1, at 127-28 (2d ed. ...


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