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Jackson v. Early Warning

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 13, 2016

AINSWORTH C. JACKSON, Plaintiff, pro se
v.
EARLY WARNING, et. al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PETER J. MESSITTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Ainsworth C. Jackson (Jackson), pro se, has sued Early Warning Services, LLC (Early Warning), Equifax Information Services, LLC (Equifax), Trans Union, LLC (Trans Union), and Experian Information Solutions, Inc. (Experian). His Original Complaint contended that Defendants, all consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), had violated provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq., the Truth-in-Lending Act (TILA), 15 U.S.C. § 1601, et seq., the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), 15 U.S.C. § 1666, et seq., the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq., the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act (MCDCA), Md. Code Ann., Com. Law, § 14-201, et seq., and the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (MCPA), Md. Code Ann., Com. Law § 13-101, et seq. He also sued for common law defamation.

         Following an initial round of Motions to Dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court, on February 5, 2016, issued a Memorandum Order and Opinion dismissing with prejudice all of Jackson's claims except those based on the FCRA and defamation. See Mem. Op. and Order, ECF Nos. 41, 42. The Court, however, granted Jackson an opportunity to file an Amended Complaint to fortify his FCRA and defamations claims with appropriately specific factual allegations. See Mem Op. at 6-7. Jackson subsequently filed a Motion in Response to the Court's Order, ECF No. 43, which the Court treated as a Supplement to the Complaint. See Mem. Order, ECF No. 44. Trans Union thereafter filed an answer, ECF No. 45, Early Warning filed a Renewed Motion to Dismiss or, in the alternative, a Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 46, and both Equifax and Experian filed Motions to Dismiss, ECF Nos. 47, 48. Jackson filed a single response in opposition, ECF No. 50, and Early Warning, Equifax, and Experian each filed replies, ECF Nos. 52, 53, 54.

         For the following reasons, Trans Union's, [1] Early Warning's, Equifax's, and Experian's Motions to Dismiss (ECF Nos. 33, 46, 47, and 48) are GRANTED.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The Original and Supplemental Complaints vaguely assert that Defendants failed to verify the accuracy of their reporting with respect to certain of Jackson's credit accounts, and that these failures negatively impacted his credit rating, thus denying him the opportunity to open up a checking account and obtain credit. See Compl., ECF No. 2; Suppl. Compl, ECF No. 43. He seeks $25, 000 in damages. See Compl. While the Complaints are largely devoid of material factual allegations, the Court has been able to glean certain basic facts from the filings submitted in connection with the Motions to Dismiss.[2]

         CRAs are defined as “companies that collect information and provide reports on consumers that are used to decide whether to provide consumers credit, insurance, or employment, and for other purposes.” Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), List of Consumer Reporting Agencies, CFPB (January 14, 2015, 2:30 p.m.), http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201501cfpblist-consumer-reporting-agencies.pdf. All Defendants collected information about Jackson's credit history and reported that information to financial institutions, and qualify as CRAs. See Compl. 2-3.

         In 2013 and 2014, Jackson says he reviewed credit reports prepared by Defendants and identified eight inaccuracies. See Suppl. Compl. 1-3; Pl.'s Mot. Strike as Sham and False Defendant Experian's Mot. Dismiss (Pl.'s Mot. Strike Experian's Mot.) 2-3, ECF No. 25; Pl.'s Mot. Strike as Sham and False Defendant Early Warning's Mot. Dismiss (Pl.'s Mot. Strike Early Warning' Mot.) 1-2, ECF No. 32; Pl.'s Mot. Strike as Sham and False Defendant Trans Union's Mot. Dismiss (Pl.'s Mot. Strike Trans Union's Mot.) 1-2, ECF No. 38. According to Jackson, the reports included accounts that did not belong to him and accounts that were closed and/or paid off in full. See Suppl. Compl. 1-3. Jackson alleges that he disputed some of these inaccuracies by contacting the companies on numerous occasions and demanding that they verify whether certain of his credit accounts were accurately reported, and whether certain credit accounts listed in each report even belonged to him. See Pl.'s Mot. Strike Experian's Mot. 2-3; Pl.'s Mot. Strike Early Warning's Mot. 1-2; Pl.'s Mot. Strike Trans Union's Mot. 1-2. He does not indicate whether his supposed contacts were purely oral, as opposed to written, with whom he spoke, what he said, or when. Jackson says he lodged some of these disputes with Defendants directly, and took up others with the furnishers of the information. See Suppl. Compl. According to Jackson, his credit reports do not reflect these disputes. Id.

         II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Jackson filed a Complaint on March 13, 2015 in the District Court of Maryland for Prince George's County. See Compl. The case was removed by Experian to this Court on April 28, 2015. Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1. Jackson alleged that Defendants violated a variety of state and federal statutes, as well as committed common law defamation. See Compl. In a Memorandum Order and Opinion, the Court dismissed with prejudice five of Jackson's claims, but gave him the opportunity to file an Amended Complaint with respect to his FCRA and defamation claims.

         The Court held that the Complaint was insufficient to meet the requirements of Rule 8 because it contained only “unsupported, conclusory allegations.” Id. Nevertheless, the Court was able to infer that Jackson's FCRA allegations related to 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681e(b), 1681g, and 1681i. Concluding that Jackson had failed to plead his claims under § 1681e(b) and § 1681i in sufficient detail, the Court instructed him to re-plead those claims or face dismissal. Id. at 10. Specifically, the Court held that “the Complaint fail[ed] to specify what information was inaccurately reported and by which Defendants.” Id. (emphasis added). Additionally, the Court had trouble discerning how, according to Jackson, Defendants had violated § 1681g, and directed him to flesh out this claim. Id. at 11. As for Jackson's defamation claim, the Court held that, “the Complaint contains only conclusory allegations that defamatory statements were made at some point by one, possibly all the Defendants.” Id. at 13. Accordingly, it suggested that Jackson address this deficiency. Id.

         On March 3, 2016, Jackson filed a “Motion in Response to Court's February 5, 2016 Order.” In a Memorandum Order on March 18, 2016, the Court directed the Clerk to docket this “Motion” as a Supplement to the Complaint. Subsequently, Early Warning filed a Renewed Motion to Dismiss or, in the alternative, a Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 46, and both Equifax and Experian filed Motions to Dismiss, ECF Nos. 47, 48. Trans Union filed an answer, ECF No. 45, to the Supplemental Complaint. However, the Court will consider Trans Union's Motion to Dismiss the Original Complaint, ECF No. 33.

         All four Defendants assert that the Complaint fails as a matter of law to plead intelligible facts as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) or to state a cause of action pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) and should be dismissed for those reasons.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) prescribes “liberal pleading standards, ” requiring only that a plaintiff submit a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that [he] is entitled to relief.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Supplementing Rule 8(a), Rule 8(d), however, states that “[e]ach allegation must be simple, concise, and direct.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d).

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). This standard requires “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although a court will accept factual allegations as true, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice.” Id. Indeed, the court need not accept legal conclusions couched as factual allegations or “unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” E. Shore Markets, Inc. v. J.D. Associates Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). In the end, the complaint must contain factual allegations sufficient to apprise a defendant of “what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         While federal courts are obliged to liberally construe a pro se litigant's claims in applying the above analysis, this requirement “does not transform the court into an advocate.” United States v. Wilson, 699 F.3d 789, 797 (4th Cir. 2012) (internal quotations and citations omitted). The Fourth Circuit has noted that “[w]hile pro se complaints may ‘represent the work of an untutored hand requiring special judicial solicitude, ' a district court is not required to recognize ‘obscure or extravagant claims defying the most concerted efforts to unravel them.'” Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990) (quoting Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1277 (4th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1088 (1986)).

         Defendants challenge the sufficiency of Jackson's Complaint as a matter of law. First, they argue that the Complaint should be dismissed wholesale because it remains an impermissible shotgun pleading, failing on its face to comply with the requirements of Rule 8(a)(2). Def. Trans Union's Mot. Dismiss, 4-5, ECF No. 33, Early Warning's Mot. Dismiss 5-6, ECF No. 46; Def. Equifax's Mot. Dismiss 4, ECF No. 47, Def. Experian's Mot. Dismiss 4, ECF No. 48. Further, to the extent that the allegations in the Complaint are at all intelligible, Defendants contend that they fail to state a claim for relief under Rule 12(b)(6). Def. Trans Union's Mot. Dismiss 6-14, Def. Early Warning's Mot. Dismiss 6-12, Def. Equifax's Mot. Dismiss 4-7, Def. Experian's Mot. Dismiss 5-11. The Court ...


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