United States District Court, D. Maryland
CANDACE E. ALSTON, Plaintiff,
EQUIFAX INFORMATION SERVICES, LLC, Defendant.
THEODORE D. CHUANG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Candace E. Alston has filed suit against Defendant Equifax
Information Services, LLC ("Equifax") based on its
reporting on Alston's Equifax credit report of a Wells
Fargo mortgage account and a Discover credit card account,
and based on Equifax's reinvestigation into those
accounts in response to Alston's disputes. Pending before
the Court are Alston's Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment and Equifax's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment.
Having reviewed the briefs and submitted materials, the Court
finds no hearing necessary. See D. Md. Local R.
105.6. For the reasons set forth below, Alston's Motion
for Partial Summary Judgment is DENIED, and Equifax's
Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.
The Wells Fargo Mortgage
Mortgage Servicing and Payments
November 12, 2010, Alston obtained a mortgage loan from
Monarch Bank ("Monarch") in the amount of $102,
212.00 for a property located at 7929 Mandan Road, Unit 304,
in Greenbelt, Maryland. On November 16, 2010, the resulting
Deed of Trust, made out to Monarch, was recorded in the
Prince George's County Circuit Court Land Records. In a
document dated November 12, 2010, the date she signed the
original loan documents, Alston unilaterally executed a rider
to the Deed of Trust ("Rider"). The Rider included
the following provision:
Any offset or claim which Borrower has now or in the future
against Lender shall relieve Borrower from making payments
due under the Note and this Security Instrument or performing
the covenants and agreements secured by this Security
Rider, Prince George's County Land Records, Book 32280 at
On December 29, 2010, Alston had a copy of the original Deed
of Trust and her unilateral Rider recorded in the county land
records, annotating the original Deed with the note
"re-record to add deed of trust rider."
Id. at 487.
December 16, 2010, Monarch sold Alston's mortgage to
Wells Fargo. In a letter dated December 17, 2010, Monarch
informed Alston that the first payment on her mortgage was
due on January 1, 2011, that her loan was being transferred
to Wells Fargo, that she should begin remitting payments to
Wells Fargo beginning on February 1, 2011, and that any
payments due before that date should be remitted to Monarch.
In a letter dated December 27, 2010, Wells Fargo informed
Alston that her mortgage had been transferred from Monarch,
that the transfer would become effective on February 1, 2011,
and that beginning on that date, she should remit her
mortgage payments to Wells Fargo. At some point "well
before" January 20, 2011, Monarch shipped the original
promissory note underlying the mortgage to Wells Fargo.
Equifax Mot. Summ. J. ("Equifax Mot.") Ex. 4H at
19-20, ECF No. 114-14. Although Alston's mortgage had
been sold to Wells Fargo, the promissory note
("Note") was mistakenly endorsed to Bank of
America. By July 2011, that error was corrected, and the Note
was endorsed to Wells Fargo.
December 2010, Alston began to send her $811.53 monthly loan
payments to Monarch, the first of which was due in January
2011. Each of the payments that she sent was annotated with
the land records book and page number corresponding to the
Deed of Trust and unilateral Rider that Alston had executed.
Early checks expressly indicated that cashing the check
constituted acceptance of the terms of the Rider. Later
versions contained only the land records book and page
number. Monarch returned those checks to Alston, informing
her that they would not accept any such conditional payments.
As a result, Alston had a past due balance with Monarch for
the January 2011 payment. Although Wells Fargo took over
servicing of Alston's mortgage on February 1, 2011,
Monarch continued to send Alston billing statements through
April 2011 because of her overdue January 2011 balance.
August 4, 2011, Alston submitted to Monarch a cashier's
check for $6, 492.24, representing eight monthly payments of
$811.53. The check was made payable to "Monarch
Mortgage, Deed of Trust Book 32280, pp. 487-504, " the
land deed entry that included Alston's unilateral Rider.
Alston Mot. Summ. J. ("Alston Mot.") Ex. 14 at 5,
ECF No. 112-16. Alston also annotated the payment coupon with
"Deed of Trust Book 32280, pp. 487-504."
Id. Rather than returning the cashier's check to
Alston, Monarch endorsed it and forwarded it to Wells Fargo.
Wells Fargo refused to accept the check.
Alston was disputing Wells Fargo's ownership of her
mortgage. Beginning on January 20, 2011, Alston sent a series
of letters to Wells Fargo demanding evidence that Wells Fargo
was entitled to enforce the promissory note relating to her
mortgage. Wells Fargo repeatedly responded with assurances
that it was the valid servicer of her loan, and on multiple
occasions it sent her copies of the Note and Deed of Trust,
including, in July 2011, a copy of the Note that had a proper
endorsement to Wells Fargo.
September 7, 2011, Wells Fargo demanded that Monarch
repurchase the loan, asserting that the sale of the loan to
Wells Fargo violated various representations, including a
representation that the loan did not involve fraud. Wells
Fargo explained to Monarch that Alston had refused to submit
any unconditional payments on the loan, continued to
challenge Wells Fargo's right to service the loan, and
had executed a deed and rider that "attempt[ed] to
change the loan terms." Equifax Mot. Ex. 4J at 2-3, ECF
No. 116-16. Monarch conceded that it was "becoming
increasing [ly] clear that the borrower may have obtained the
loan with the intention of not repaying it" and agreed
to the repurchase. Id. at 2. The loan was officially
transferred back to Monarch on October 28, 2011, along with
Alston's August 2011 cashier's check., .
this period, Wells Fargo reported Alston's mortgage as
delinquent. Specifically, Wells Fargo reported that each
monthly payment from April 2011 to October 2011 was past due,
with the exception of the August 2011 payment. In August
2011, after Alston's cashier's check had been
forwarded to Wells Fargo from Monarch, Wells Fargo reported
the account as current.
February 2011 to October 2011, when Wells Fargo was the
servicer of Alston's loan, Alston sent no payments to
Wells Fargo. All payments Alston sent to Monarch during this
period were conditioned on acceptance of the terms of her
Disputes with Equifax
30, 2011, Alston ordered her credit report from Equifax, a
consumer reporting agency ("CRA"), and discovered
that it was reporting that she had a delinquent mortgage
account with Wells Fargo. On July 17, 2011, Alston filed an
online dispute about the account in which she asserted that
"Wells Fargo does not own or service my account."
Alston Mot. Ex. 17, ECF No. 112-19; see Id. Ex. 13,
ECF No. 112-15 (list of disputes). In response, Equifax sent
an "Automated Consumer Dispute Verification"
("ACDV") to Wells Fargo in which it stated that
Alston was asserting that "Wells Fargo does not own or
service my account" and requested that Wells Fargo
verify the account information. Alston Mot. Ex. 17. Wells
Fargo verified that Alston had a mortgage account with it and
indicated that Equifax should modify its report to reflect
that she became delinquent on that account beginning in
February 2011 and that she was currently 150 days past due.
On August 11, 2011, Equifax mailed Alston the results of its
investigation, then continued to report the Wells Fargo
account as delinquent.
letter dated August 22, 2011, Alston informed Equifax that
she did not agree with the results of its reinvestigation and
asked Equifax to send her a description of the procedure it
used to reinvestigate the accuracy of the Wells Fargo
account. She included in that correspondence a copy of the
Note, payable to Monarch; a July 18, 2011 mortgage statement
from Monarch indicating that she owed a balance of $6, 492.24
on her mortgage; a mortgage payment coupon for Monarch
annotated with "Deed of Trust Book 32280, pp.
487-504;" and a copy of the August 4, 2011 cashier's
check, with the same annotation, payable to Monarch Mortgage
in the amount of $6, 492.24. Alston Mot. Ex. 14 at 5, ECF No.
112-16. Equifax received that letter on August 26, 2011. In
response, Equifax sent an ACDV to Wells Fargo reporting that
Alston was asserting that "Wells Fargo is neither the
owner nor the servicer" of her mortgage. Alston Mot. Ex.
18, ECF No. 112-20. Wells Fargo responded by verifying the
account and indicating that Equifax should modify its
reporting to indicate that, under Alston's "Account
Status, " the account had been "180 days or more
past the due date, " but that under "Payment
Rating, " Alston was then current on the account.
Id. Equifax asserts that it mailed the results of
this reinvestigation to Alston on September 20, 2011; Alston
claims that she never received any responsive correspondence
letter dated November 9, 2011, Equifax responded to
Alston's request for a description of its reinvestigation
procedures. That letter stated that "we first review and
consider any relevant information" submitted in
connection with the dispute. Alston Mot. Ex. 24, ECF No.
112-26. Equifax then "[o]ften" forwards the dispute
to the furnisher of the information "for review and
investigation." Id. If the disputed item is a
public record, Equifax instead locates "the most recent
filing associated with the disputed information" using
procedures "prescribed by the source of the
information." Id. Equifax noted that it might
use a vendor to track down any such public records. Once
Equifax has updated information, whether from a furnisher or
from public records, it makes deletions or changes to a
credit report, as appropriate.
letter dated November 21, 2011, Alston disputed Equifax's
reporting of the Wells Fargo account for the third time. She
noted that Equifax had not provided her the information about
its reinvestigation procedures that she had requested in her
August letter. She asserted that as a result of Equifax's
allegedly erroneous reporting, she was having difficulty
getting a car loan, and that the Wells Fargo account was
"the only negative account on my credit report."
Alston Mot. Ex. 15 at 1, ECF No. 112-17. She again asked that
Equifax send her a description of its reinvestigation
process. Included with the letter were a "Statement
Regarding August Payment" in which Alston explained that
she was tendering her payments to Monarch Bank, rather than
to Wells Fargo, because Wells Fargo had failed to
"produce sufficient documentation to legally enforce the
note, " as well as the billing statement and
cashier's check paperwork she had included with her
August 2011 letter. Id.
response, on November 29, 2011, Equifax sent a third ACDV to
Wells Fargo, this one noting that Alston "states that in
the month of Aug[ust, ] Monarch received a cashier cheque of
6492 dollar[s] for Wells Fargo and still the account reports
a balance owed of 7303 dollar[s] or more." Alston Mot.
Ex. 19, ECF No. 112-21. Equifax also noted that Alston had
provided a copy of a cashier's check numbered 7000816204
and dated August 4, 2011. Wells Fargo responded by
instructing Equifax to modify its report to reflect that
Alston's account had been transferred and that her
Payment Rating should reflect that she was 180 or more days
past due on the account. In a letter dated December 21, 2011,
Equifax informed Alston of the results of its
reinvestigation, notifying her that it had updated its report
to reflect that her Wells Fargo mortgage account had been
transferred or sold and that as of October 2011, it was 180
days past due.
February 24, 2012, Alston again pulled her Equifax credit
report and saw that Equifax was reporting her Wells Fargo
account as 150 days past due in July 2011, current in August
2011, and 180 days past due in September and October 2011,
and that the account was transferred or sold in November
2011. In a letter dated February 28, 2012, Alston lodged a
fourth dispute with Equifax about its reporting of the Wells
Fargo mortgage. In that letter, she noted that while her
Wells Fargo account was being reported as delinquent, her
Monarch mortgage account was "currently" being
reported as "PAYS AS AGREED." Alston Mot. Ex. 16 at
1, ECF No. 112-18. She asserted that Equifax was also
erroneously reporting an overlap in the Wells Fargo and
Monarch accounts. She enclosed with the letter the Monarch
mortgage payment coupons for December 2010, January 2011,
March through October 2011, December 2011, and January 2012.
Each coupon had certain payment information, either the
amount due, the payment due date, or both, redacted from its
face. Alston again included the original promissory note,
made out to Monarch, a copy of her 2011 Mortgage Interest
Statement from Monarch, and a loan amortization schedule from
March 7, 2012, Equifax sent an ACDV to Wells Fargo stating
that Alston asserted that the account information was
"inaccurate" and asking Wells Fargo to "verify
complete ID and account information." Wells Fargo sent
back the same report that it had sent in response to
Alston's November 2011 dispute, indicating that
Alston's account had been transferred or sold, and that
she had been 180 or more days delinquent. In a letter dated
March 27, 2012, Equifax sent Alston the results of its
reinvestigation, in which it indicated that it had
"verified that this item belongs to you." Alston
Mot. Ex. 28 at 1, ECF No. 112-30.
letter dated April 2, 2012, Alston took issue with the
reinvestigation results and asked Equifax to provide her with
"an actual description of how the March 2, 2012 dispute
was processed, " rather than the generic description of
its reinvestigation procedures provided in Equifax's
November 9, 2011 letter. Alston Mot. Ex. 22, ECF No. 112-24.
Specifically, she asked Equifax to inform her whether (1) it
had read the documents she included with her dispute, (2) it
had forwarded those documents to Wells Fargo, and (3) it had
taken "independent investigative steps" or whether
it had "just rel[ied] on Wells Fargo." Id.
Equifax received Alston's letter on April 6, 2012 and, in
response, undertook another reinvestigation of the Wells
Fargo account. On April 25, 2012, Wells ...