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Alston v. Equifax Information Services, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 22, 2016

CANDACE ALSTON, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
EQUIFAX INFORMATION SERVICES, LLC, EXPERIAN INFORMATION SOLUTIONS, INC, TRANSUNION, LLC, and WELLS FARGO BANK, NAT'L ASSOC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Candace Alston has filed a class action complaint alleging violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA"), 15 U.S.C. §§1681-1681x (2012). Pending before the Court are Motions to Dismiss filed by each of the four Defendants, Equifax Information Services, Inc. ("Equifax"), Experian Information Solutions, Inc. ("Experian"), Trans Union, LLC ("Trans Union"), and Wells Fargo Bank, Nat'l Assoc. ("Wells Fargo"). Having reviewed the complaint and the briefs, the Court finds no hearing necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Motions to Dismiss are GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         On November 12, 2010, Alston obtained a mortgage from Monarch Bank ("Monarch") to purchase property located at 7929 Mandan Road in Greenbelt, Maryland. Although Wells Fargo informed her that it had acquired the servicing and ownership of the loan, the promissory note was endorsed to Bank of America. Skeptical of Wells Fargo's claims, Alston sent her mortgage payments to Monarch, but Monarch did not process her payments, with one exception. In August 2011, Alston sent Monarch a cashier's check for $6, 492.24, representing her outstanding mortgage balance. Monarch endorsed the check and forwarded it to Wells Fargo.

         During this period, Wells Fargo reported Alston's mortgage account as delinquent, with the exception of August 2011, which it reported as "paid." Am. Compl. ¶ 16, ECF No. 26. The following month, September 2011, Wells Fargo reported the account as 180 days delinquent. Wells Fargo continued to report the account in this manner through the beginning of 2014.

         Beginning in January 2011, Alston began to dispute Wells Fargo's right to service her loan. In July 2011, she began to dispute Wells Fargo's reporting of her mortgage as past due. These disputes formed the basis of Alston v. Wells Fargo, No. TDC-13-3147, in which, as relevant here, Alston sued Wells Fargo for an FCRA violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1681s-2. On February 26, 2016, this Court granted summary judgment to Wells Fargo on that claim. Alston bases her present claims against Wells Fargo on the same facts that served as the basis for that prior lawsuit.

         Also during this period, Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union relied on and repeated Wells Fargo's reporting on Alston's mortgage account. Beginning in 2011, Alston filed a series of disputes with each of these consumer reporting agencies ("CRAs"), and she continued to dispute their reporting of the Wells Fargo mortgage account into 2015. Alston's 2011 and 2012 disputes with Equifax about the Wells Fargo mortgage formed part of the basis for Alston v. Equifax, No. TDC-13-1230, in which, as relevant here, Alston sued Equifax for FCRA violations of various subsections of 15 U.S.C. § 1681e and § 1681L On September 21, 2016, this Court granted summary judgment to Equifax on those claims.

         Alston's 2011 to 2013 disputes with Trans Union and Experian about the Wells Fargo mortgage are the basis for another pending case in this Court, Alston v. Trans Union and Experian, No. TDC-14-1180, in which Alston alleges violations of various subsections of § 1681e and § 1681i. That case has been in discovery since May 13, 2014. Alston also used her 2011 to 2013 disputes with Experian, as well as an April 2014 dispute, as the basis for Alston, et al. v. Experian, No. TDC-14-3957, in which Alston asserted additional claims under the FCRA and also sought to proceed with her claims as a class action. On March 3, 2016, this Court dismissed Alston's claims in that case as barred by the doctrine of claim splitting. Alston bases her present lawsuit on the CRAs' continued reporting in 2014 and 2015 of the Wells Fargo mortgage account as delinquent and their responses to her continued disputes of that reporting.

         On September 14, 2015, Alston filed this suit pro se against Wells Fargo, Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union in the Circuit Court of Maryland for Prince George's County, alleging violations of various subsections of the FCRA. Defendants removed the action to this Court on November 2, 2015. On November 24, 2015, in response to Motions to Dismiss filed by Defendants, Alston amended her Complaint, this time through counsel. Alston styles her Amended Complaint as a class action and alleges five causes of action: (1) a violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1681s-2(b) by Wells Fargo; (2) a violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1681e(a) by Wells Fargo and Equifax; (3) a violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1681e(b) by Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union; (4) a violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1681i(a) by Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union; and (5) a class action claim for a violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1681i(b) by Equifax and Trans Union. Each Defendant has filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Alston has filed responsive briefing to each Motion. As part of her Response to Trans Union's Motion to Dismiss, Alston filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to her claims against Trans Union.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Legal Standard

         To defeat a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the complaint must allege enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim is plausible when the facts pleaded allow "the Court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Legal conclusions or conclusory statements do not suffice. Id. The Court must examine the complaint as a whole, consider the factual allegations in the complaint as true, and construe the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of Comm 'rs of Davidson Cty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005).

         II. Wells Fargo and Equifax

         Wells Fargo urges dismissal of Alston's present claims based on the doctrine of claim splitting, arguing that the claims she raises in this case all could have been asserted in Alston v. Wells Fargo, No. TDC-13-3147. Equifax urges dismissal of Alston's individual and class claims on the theory that she cannot collaterally attack the validity of the Wells Fargo mortgage through an FCRA claim and further seeks dismissal of the class claim based on Alston's failure to satisfy various requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. Although Equifax does not expressly argue that Alston's present claims are duplicative of her prior litigation, it does assert that "the only difference between [Alston's] First Case and this case is that [Alston] added class allegations and ...


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