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Alston v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 31, 2016

TROY ALSTON, Plaintiff, pro se,
v.
EXPERIAN INFORMATION SOLUTIONS, INC., et al., Defendants.

          Troy Alston, Plaintiff, Pro Se.

          Experian Information Solutions, Inc., Defendant, represented by Meredith Sarah Campbell, Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy and Ecker PA, Sandy David Baron, Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy and Ecker PA & Joy Einstein, Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy and Ecker.

          Equifax Information Services LLC, Defendant, represented by Nathan Daniel Adler, Neuberger Quinn Gielen Rubin and Gibber PA.

          Trans Union LLC, Defendant, represented by Henry Mark Stichel, Gohn Hankey Stichel & Berlage LLP & Robert J. Schuckit, Schuckit & Associates, P.C..

          Williams & Fudge, Inc., Defendant, represented by Bradley Todd Canter, The Law Offices of Ronald S Canter LLC.

          George Mason University, Defendant, represented by Susanne Harris Carnell, Lorenger and Carnell PLC.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PETER J. MESSITTE, District Judge.

          Pro se plaintiff Troy Alston has brought suit against five Defendants in connection with a university class enrollment fee he says he does not owe. Against Defendants George Mason University ("GMU"), which offered the class, and Williams & Fudge, Inc. ("W&F"), an alleged debt collector, he says that W&F's attempt to collect his purported $162 "delinquent" debt to GMU violated the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act, § 14-202 and the Maryland Consumer Protection Act, § 13-301. Against W&F only, Alston also brings a claim under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692e. Against three credit reporting agencies, Experian Information Solutions, Inc. ("Experian"), Trans Union LLC ("Trans Union"), and Equifax Information Services LLC ("Equifax"), Alston alleges that their reporting that this "debt" was delinquent as well as subsequent conduct violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FRCA") 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq.

         Three Defendants have moved to dismiss the suit: GMU, Experian, and Trans Union. For the reasons that follow, the Court will GRANT GMU's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction, and will DISMISS WITH PREJUDICE Alston's claims against it. The Court will also GRANT the Motions to Dismiss of Experian and Trans Union, and DISMISS WITHOUT PREJUDICE all claims against them.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Alston states in his Amended Complaint that in the fall or winter of 2012, he enrolled in a course at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia, but then withdrew from the course. Am. Compl. ¶ 6. Because his withdrawal was purportedly "timely, " GMU was supposed to forego the course enrollment fee. Id. ¶¶ 7, 14.

         However, at some point in 2014, Defendant W&F, which Alston describes as a "debt collector that focuses its business in the recovery of education-related receivables, " id. ¶ 3, began to contact him regarding his "delinquent" GMU debt, which W&F stated was $162. Id. ¶ 8. Alston disputes that this was the amount of the class enrollment fee, which he says was $125, not $162. Id. ¶ 14. When Alston contacted W&F to question its "legal authority" to collect this debt at all, the company's representative purportedly told him: "[the debt's] reporting on your credit so obviously we have some type of authority to do something." The representative also purportedly indicated that the debt was reported by three credit reporting agencies-Defendants Trans Union, Experian, and Equifax. Id. ¶ 10.

         Alston states that, after unsuccessfully disputing the debt with W&F, he "submitted his dispute" to the three credit reporting agency Defendants. Id. ¶ 12. He "explained that he did not owe the debt to GMU because he cancelled his enrollment in time to have the enrollment fee dropped, " and that the class enrollment fee was $125, not $162. Id . ¶¶ 13-14. Equifax responded by "sending Plaintiff its reinvestigation results, which stated that the collection account was deleted from his Equifax credit file." Id. ¶ 16. While Alston notes that both Experian and Trans Union deleted the "delinquency" from his credit report, neither is alleged to have sent him the results of their reinvestigation. Id. ¶ 18. As to all three credit reporting agencies, Alston alleges that the reinvestigation they conducted in response to his dispute was "nothing more than forwarding notice of Plaintiff's dispute to W&F and blindly accepting and reporting the results of the W&F investigation results." Id. ¶¶ 17, 19.

         Further, says Alston, "upon information and belief, the Defendants provided inaccurate and/or incomplete credit reports to numerous entities, including but not limited to: 1st Financial Bank USA, credits and/or debt collectors associated with his student loans." Id. ¶ 20.

         On this basis, Alston brings his suit. The first three counts are against W&F for attempting to collect on the disputed $162 class enrollment fee debt: (1) Count 1, Violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692e; (2) Count 2, Violation of the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act, § 14-202; and (3) Count 3, Violation of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act, § 13-301. He also brings Counts 2 and 3 against GMU, based on the theory that respondeat superior makes GMU liable for the actions of its agent, W&F, rather than for any specific debt collection activity by the University.

         In Count 4, Violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA"), Alston alleges that the three credit reporting agencies failed to employ reasonable procedures to ensure maximum accuracy in their credit reports, failed to conduct a reasonable reinvestigation to determine whether the disputed information was accurate, and failed to notify him of the results of the reinvestigation as required by 15 U.S.C. § 1681i(a).

         Alston originally filed suit in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, ECF No. 2, but Trans Union removed the case to this Court in a timely fashion, ECF No. 1, which brought the entire case to federal court. After Experian filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, ECF No. 25, Alston did not respond but instead filed an Amended Complaint. ECF No. 27. While both W&F and Equifax filed Answers to Alston's Amended Complaint, ECF Nos. 15, 30, Experian and Trans Union filed Motions to Dismiss. ECF Nos. 32, 37. Alston filed a Response to both Trans Union's and Experian's Motions to Dismiss. ECF Nos. 40, 45. Trans Union and Experian both filed replies. ECF Nos. 43, 45.

         Alston filed a Motion for Order of Default as to GMU, ECF No. 36, which opposed the motion and filed its own Motion to Dismiss on the basis that it had never been properly served. ECF No. 51. GMU also cited a number of other grounds for dismissal, including lack of subject matter jurisdiction, lack of ...


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