United States District Court, D. Maryland
PAULA WEBBER, Individually and as Trustee of the Miah Family Foundation Trust, Plaintiffs,
STATE OF MARYLAND, et al., Defendants.
Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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).
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
I. Plaintiff's Claims are Barred as Res
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
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).
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.
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.
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).
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