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Mostofi v. Midland Funding, LLC

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

July 2, 2015

REZA MOSTOFI
v.
MIDLAND FUNDING, LLC, ET AL.

Zarnoch, Berger, Nazarian, JJ.

OPINION

Nazarian, J.

Reza Mostofi appeals from the decision of the Circuit Court for Montgomery County to dismiss his Second Amended Complaint against Midland Funding, LLC ("Midland Funding"), Midland Credit Management, Inc. ("Midland Credit"), and Lyons, Doughty & Veldhuis, P.C. ("Lyons") (collectively, the "appellees") with prejudice.[1] Mr. Mostofi alleged that the appellees committed violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (the "FDCPA") and analogous state statutes in the course of purchasing consumer credit card debt Mr. Mostofi had incurred, attempting to collect that debt, and suing (successfully) to reduce that debt to judgment in an earlier case (the "collection case"). We agree with the circuit court that Mr. Mostofi cannot attack that judgment collaterally, and we affirm its decision to dismiss this case.

I. BACKGROUND

On November 12, 2012, Lyons brought the collection case in the District Court of Maryland for Montgomery County against Mr. Mostofi and on behalf of its clients, Midland Funding and Midland Credit. The complaint alleged that Mr. Mostofi owed $4, 506.82 on a credit card account with Chase Bank, N.A. ("Chase"), and that Midland Funding had purchased the debt from Chase. Although the record does not contain a transcript, Mr. Mostofi's Notice of Intent to Defend raised the two arguments he asserts here: that he "is not indebted to [Midland Funding] as alleged" and that Midland Funding "does not have standing to sue." It is less clear whether he articulated these arguments at the hearing in the district court. But there is no dispute that the district court entered judgment for Midland Funding and Midland Credit in the amount of $4, 506.82, plus costs, on July 26, 2013.

It is equally undisputed that Mr. Mostofi appealed the judgment to the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, where the case was heard de novo on October 31, 2013. Again, Mr. Mostofi challenged Midland Funding's standing to sue him, and he offered evidence that, he argued, demonstrated that the debt belonged to Washington Mutual, if to anyone:

MR. MOSTOFI: [Y]our honor, what you're looking at is a statement from Washington Mutual.
THE COURT: I understand that.
MR. MOSTOFI: And it has the same account number that [counsel] alleges was Chase card.
THE COURT: Okay.
MR. MOSTOFI: And my point is that if this wasn't a Washington Mutual I wouldn't have a statement saying that it was a Washington Mutual card.
THE COURT: Okay.
MR. MOSTOFI: So at some point, apparently, allegedly, it transferred from Washington Mutual to Chase, but there is no bill of sale showing that occurred. And in order for them to show standing and the fact that they are the rightful owner, they need to show the proper chain of assignments.

Lyons offered affidavits from Midland Funding employees to prove that it owned the debt, and Mr. Mostofi sought to cross-examine the affiants. It appears that the court rejected this request, and, in any event, that the affiants were not present. Mr. Mostofi also disputed the amount owed, and identified what he claimed were inconsistencies between statements about amounts owed as principal or interest. Lyons attempted to demonstrate that the debt was accurate by calling Mr. Mostofi to the stand and asking him details about several of the charges, with mixed success.

Based on the evidence, the circuit court ruled from the bench, and stated on the record that it ultimately disbelieved Mr. Mostofi and credited documents that Midland Funding offered into evidence but are not part of the record here:

The court has had an opportunity-has received into evidence [Midland Funding's] Exhibit Number 1, which is a document which contains voluminous references to this account, the Chase account, with [Mr. Mostofi's] name and account number on it, with multiple charges that [Mr. Mostofi] has testified he doesn't have any specific recollection of having used, which begs credulity at a minimum.
The court is satisfied that [Midland Funding] has met its burden, and proven that they are the owner of the debt and the court will enter judgment in favor of [Midland Funding] in the amount of . . . $4, 506.82 plus costs.

Mr. Mostofi moved to set aside or vacate the judgment on December 5, 2013. The record here does not reveal a ruling on that motion or whether Mr. Mostofi appealed the judgment; the appellees proffer that the motion was denied and that Mr. Mostofi did not appeal.[2] Regardless, there is no dispute that the judgment in the collection case became, and for our purposes is, final.

Mr. Mostofi filed the Complaint in this case on November 27, 2013, before he filed his motion to set aside or vacate the judgment in the collection case. He amended the Complaint twice, and the Second Amended Complaint named Midland Funding, Midland Credit, and Lyons as defendants. As before, in the Complaint he contends that Midland Funding does not own his debt and that the amount allegedly owed was false. He complained that he had been deprived of the opportunity to cross-examine Midland Funding's affiants-whom he characterized as "trial witnesses"-in violation of his due process rights. He argued that because Midland Funding did not own the debt, lacked standing to sue him and that the judgment in the collection case was void. And he alleged that Midland Funding and Midland Credit's assertions that they owned the debt, and the amount of the debt-as well as Lyons's prosecution of the case on these grounds- constituted "false, deceptive, or misleading representations, " through which the appellees violated the FDCPA, the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act, and the Maryland Consumer Protection Act.

Midland Funding, Midland Credit, and Lyons all moved to dismiss. Midland Funding and Midland Credit argued that Mr. Mostofi's claims were barred by res judicata and collateral estoppel, and that in the alternative, he had failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted. Lyons asserted that it had never been served in this case, and as such, filed its Motion before the Second Amended Complaint.

The circuit court held a hearing on the Motions on July 16, 2014. Counsel for Lyons proffered that he had brought the firm's receptionist, who was not authorized to receive service on its behalf, and who would testify that the sheriff who allegedly served Lyons incorrectly left the papers with her instead. When pressed, Mr. Mostofi said that he would "accept [Lyons's] word for it." Although he asked for another opportunity to serve Lyons, the court granted Lyons's Motion to Dismiss. The court then heard argument from Midland Funding and Midland Credit, and rebuttal from Mr. Mostofi, focusing particularly on the res judicata and collateral estoppel effects of the judgment in the collection case. Ultimately, the court held that to the extent Mr. Mostofi stated claims, [3] they were barred:

[A]pplying the relevant Maryland standard, I am persuaded of two things. One[:] the matters that [Mr. Mostofi] in this case seeks to relitigate [were] either actually raised or should have been raised in the [the collection case], and whether respectfully the decisions [the court] made were correct or incorrect-I don't need to analyze that. What I need to analyze is, and I have, what was presented to [the court] and what [it] decided. That [it] issued a judgment which is now final by virtue of the fact that no timely petition was filed to the Court of Appeals for writ of certiorari. In addition to that, having reviewed the case law by my federal colleagues-Judge Day, the Fourth Circuit, and other magistrate judge opinions- I choose to agree with their reasoning about what one has to plead in terms of the elements of the claims of the federal statute or statutes at issue.
. . . So for those reasons, plus the reasons set out largely by Midland in their papers and as supplemented by counsel's argument, Madam [Clerk], the Motion is granted. The Second Amended Complaint is dismissed with prejudice and without leave to amend.

Mr. Mostofi filed a timely notice of appeal.

II. DISCUSSION

Mr. Mostofi raises four questions ...


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