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Webber v. State

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 10, 2017

PAULA WEBBER, Individually and as Trustee of the Miah Family Foundation Trust, Plaintiffs,
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Paula Webber, individually and as trustee of the Miah Family Foundation Trust, (“plaintiff” or “Webber”) filed this action seeking to challenge a foreclosure action pending against her in the Circuit Court of Maryland for Anne Arundel County. She alleges several causes of action, including violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq. (ECF No. 1.)[1]

         Currently pending before the Court is defendant Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.'s Motion to Dismiss (“Defendant's Motion”) (ECF No. 20). The parties' submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 20) is GRANTED, and this case is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         BACKGROUND

         The facts giving rise to plaintiffs' Complaint and the pending Motion are set forth in this Court's Memorandum Opinion dated June 3, 2016 in Rosenberg, et al v. Webber, RDB-15-3014 (ECF No. 32) and are incorporated herein by reference.

         In the instant case, plaintiff filed an emergency motion to stay the related state court proceedings on November 9, 2016. (ECF No. 7.) This motion was denied by Memorandum Order, as plaintiff failed to satisfy the standard for the issuance of a temporary restraining order.

         Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed all other named defendants by a motion dated December 28, 2016. (ECF No. 43.) The Court granted plaintiff's voluntary dismissal on January 4, 2017. (ECF No. 44.) Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. is the sole remaining defendant in this case.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) is “to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006); see also Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 165-66 (4th Cir. 2016). The sufficiency of a complaint is assessed by reference to the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)(2), which provides that a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

         To survive a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain 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); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009). Under the plausibility standard, a complaint must contain “more than labels and conclusions” or a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see Painter's Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716 F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2013).

         In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court “‘must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint'” and must “‘draw all reasonable inferences [from those facts] in favor of the plaintiff.'” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); see Houck v. Substitute Tr. Servs., Inc., 791 F.3d 473, 484 (4th Cir. 2015). While a court must accept as true all the factual allegations contained in the complaint, legal conclusions drawn from those facts are not afforded such deference. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (“[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice” to plead a claim); see A Society Without a Name v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 346 (4th. Cir. 2011).

         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)).

         ANALYSIS

          I. Plaintiff's Claims are Barred as Res Judicata

          Res judicata, like collateral estoppel, is an affirmative defense for which the defendant bears the burden of establishing. Theune v. U.S. Bank, N.A., 2013 WL 5934114, *3 (D. Md. Nov. 1, 2013) (citing Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th Cir. 2007)). As the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has explained,

It follows therefore, that a motion to dismiss filed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), which tests the sufficiency of the complaint, generally cannot reach the merits of an affirmative defense . . . . But in the relatively rare circumstances where facts sufficient to rule on an affirmative defense are alleged in the complaint, the defense may be reached by a motion to dismiss filed under Rule 12(b)(6). This principle only applies, however, if all facts necessary to the affirmative defense appear on the face of the complaint.

Goodman, 494 F.3d at 464 (internal citations omitted; emphasis in original).

         Res judicata, also known as claim preclusion, “bars a party from relitigating a claim that was decided or could have been decided in an original suit, ” Laurel Sand & Gravel, Inc. v. Wilson, 519 F.3d 156, 161 (4th Cir. 2008), and “bars a cause of action adjudicated between the same parties or their privies in a prior case.” Jones v. SEC, 115 F.3d 1173, 1178 (4th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted). To assert a defense of res judicata, a defendant must establish: “(1) a final judgment on the merits in a prior suit, (2) an identity of the cause of action in both the earlier and later suit, and (3) and identity of parties or their privies in the two suits.” Id.

         The subject Complaint is one such “relatively rare circumstance[]” where facts sufficient to rule on an affirmative defense clearly appear on the face of the complaint. The gravamen of plaintiff's Complaint was considered and ultimately rejected by the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, Maryland in its Ratification Order. A consideration of the affirmative defense of res judicata is thus proper at this stage.

         The Ratification Order satisfies the elements of res judicata and further precludes Webber's Complaint in this case. First, the parties are the same. Webber was the named defendant in the Foreclosure Action. Although Wells Fargo is not the plaintiff in the Foreclosure Action (it was a defendant in the Third-Party Complaint filed therein), Wells Fargo as the mortgage note holder and/or servicer is in privity with the foreclosure plaintiffs, the substitute trustees. See Jones v. HSBC Bank USA, N.A., 444 Fed.App'x. 640, 644 (4th Cir. 2011). Second, both the Foreclosure Action and the Complaint relate to the same factual and legal circumstances: the validity of the Webber's mortgage and deed of trust. And third, there is a final judgment because a “Circuit Court's ratification order is a final judgment on the merits of the foreclosure.” McCreary v. Benificial Mortg. Co. of Md., 2011 WL 4985437, at *3 (D. Md. Oct. 18, 2011).

         The Complaint in this case is expressly “predicated by the events and acts of defendants resulting in an imminent threat of wrongful foreclosure.” (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 2.) The elements of res judicata, as set forth above, are satisfied. Thus, Webber's Complaint attempts intrude upon the ...


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