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Buchanan v. State

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 31, 2017

PHILIP D. BUCHANAN, pro se, Plaintiff,
STATE OF MARYLAND, et al., Defendants.


          Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge

         Pro se plaintiff Philip D. Buchanan (“plaintiff” or “Buchanan”) has filed this action against a series of defendants for damages based on the alleged publication of false credit information about him. (Complaint, ECF No. 1 at 15, 17.) While plaintiff's original Complaint does not expressly identify the statute, later filings by plaintiff (ECF Nos. 27, 60, 72) refer to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq., as the legal basis for his claims.[1] As plaintiff's claims appear to be based on a federal statute, this Court's jurisdiction is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.[2]

         Plaintiff named ten (10) defendants in his original Complaint: the State of Maryland, the Comptroller of Maryland, Gayle M. Davis, Investment Retrievers, Experian, Trans Union, Equifax, AFNI, Inc., AT&T Inc., and Lexis Nexis. (ECF No. 1.) Several of those defendants now move to dismiss plaintiff's claims on the grounds that plaintiff has failed to state a plausible claim against them.[3] Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Other defendants assert that this Court does not properly exercise jurisdiction over them and, thus, must dismiss plaintiff's claims against them.[4] Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). In addition, several defendants ask the Court to strike what have been docketed as plaintiff's amended complaints because plaintiff did not obtain defendants' or this Court's permission before filing the amendments.[5] Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). Finally, one defendant requests that plaintiff provide more information about his allegations.[6] Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e).

         The parties' submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). As set forth in detail below, plaintiff shall be given a final opportunity to amend his complaint, though certain parties shall be dismissed from this case.


         Pro se plaintiff Philip D. Buchanan filed a Complaint in July 2016 against ten (10) defendants alleging that defendants harmed his credit and limited his earning potential on account of the reporting of erroneous debts on his credit reports. (ECF No. 1 at 15-16.) The Complaint refers to three separate debts which Buchanan alleges were erroneously reported against him. (Id.)

         First, Buchanan alleges that the State of Maryland, through the Comptroller of Maryland and its agent defendant Gayle M. Davis, erroneously reported a state tax lien against him in the amount of $1979.00. (ECF No. 1 at 15.) Plaintiff alleges that the State of Maryland reported the lien to Lexis Nexis, and that Lexis Nexis reported the lien to Trans Union. (Id.) Plaintiff further alleges that the lien was later reported to Equifax, and, later yet, to Experian, “in which it remains currently, 9 years later.” (Id.) Attached to the Complaint is a letter dated April 25, 2013 from the Comptroller of Maryland to “Credit Reporting Agency” stating that the lien issued against Buchanan was vacated and withdrawn on August 16, 2011. (ECF No. 1-1 at 1.) Second, plaintiff alleges that AT&T “reported the Erroneous debt in 2012” and sold the “Erroneous Debt to AFNI, Inc. in 2014.” (Id. at 16.) The Complaint later specifies that the allegedly erroneous debt amounted to $370.00. (Id. at 17.) Buchanan alleges that AFNI, Inc. “reported Erroneous debt to Equifax in 2014” and that “Equifax re-inserts Erroneous debt.” (Id. at 16.) Third, Buchanan alleges that defendant Investment Retrievers “[r]eported another invaled [sic] debt from NMAC to Equifax, and Experian.” (ECF No. 1 at 16.) Buchanan appears to allege that the way in which this debt was reported was in error. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that all defendants were “grossly negligent” in their reporting, resulting in a loss of earnings potential and a continuing, adverse impact on his “personal, business, and financial life.” (ECF No. 1 at 17.)

         Following service of plaintiff's Complaint, several defendants filed timely motions to dismiss; the credit reporting agency defendants (“CRAs”), Trans Union, Equifax, and Experian, initially filed answers; and Lexis Nexis Risk Solutions, Inc. filed a motion for a more definite statement. Plaintiff then filed an “Addendum” disputing certain arguments raised by defendants. (ECF No. 27.)

         While the Motions to Dismiss were pending and without seeking leave of court, plaintiff filed what was docketed as an amended complaint on November 7, 2016. (ECF No. 60.) Plaintiff attached a series of exhibits to the ‘amended complaint', including a copy of his Experian credit report, dated June 25, 2015. (Id. at 6.) Several defendants then moved and/or renewed their motions to dismiss the ‘amended complaint'. While this latest round of motions was pending, plaintiff filed what was construed as a second amended complaint, again without seeking leave of court. (ECF No. 72.) The filing of the ‘second amended complaint' prompted several defendants to file motions to strike plaintiff's latest submission.


         I. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1)

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for lack of subject matter jurisdiction challenges a court's authority to hear the matter brought by a complaint. See Davis v. Thompson, 367 F.Supp.2d 792, 799 (D. Md. 2005). This challenge under Rule 12(b)(1) may proceed either as a facial challenge, asserting that the allegations in the complaint are insufficient to establish subject matter jurisdiction, or a factual challenge, asserting “that the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint [are] not true.” Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). A plaintiff carries the burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction. Lovern v. Edwards, 190 F.3d 648, 654 (4th Cir. 1999). With respect to a facial challenge, a court will grant a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction “where a claim fails to allege facts upon which the court may base jurisdiction.” Davis, 367 F.Supp.2d at 799. Where the challenge is factual, “the district court is entitled to decide disputed issues of fact with respect to subject matter jurisdiction.” Kerns, 585 F.3d at 192. “[T]he court may look beyond the pleadings and ‘the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint and view whatever evidence has been submitted on the issue to determine whether in fact subject matter jurisdiction exists.'” Khoury v. Meserve, 268 F.Supp.2d 600, 606 (D. Md. 2003) (citation omitted). The court “may regard the pleadings as mere evidence on the issue and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.” Velasco v. Gov't of Indon., 370 F.3d 392, 398 (4th Cir. 2004); see also Sharafeldin v. Md. Dept. of Pub. Safety & Corr. Servs., 94 F.Supp.2d 680, 684-85 (D. Md. 2000).

         II. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)

         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 ...

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