United States District Court, D. Maryland
JESSICA GARNER, Individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated Plaintiff
CLAIMASSIST, LLC, et al. Defendants.
L. Hollander United States District Judge.
Garner, plaintiff, individually and on behalf of all others
similarly situated, initiated a class action against
defendants ClaimAssist, LLC (“ClaimAssist”);
Credit Control Services, Inc. (CCS); and CCS Financial
Services, Inc. (CCS Financial),  alleging violations of the
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA” or
“Act”), as amended, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et
seq. ECF 1. According to plaintiff, ClaimAssist, CCS,
and CCS Financial operate, in effect, as a single entity. ECF
1, ¶¶ 6, 7.
particular, Garner alleges that ClaimAssist is a debt
collector that violated the FDCPA because it made false
representations and used deceptive or misleading means to
attempt to collect a debt from a consumer. She relies,
inter alia, on a letter dated April 28, 2015, sent
by ClaimAssist to plaintiffs tort lawyer, asserting that a
hospital lien had been lodged against plaintiff on behalf of
Northwest Hospital. Id. ¶¶ 11, 12, 27, 28;
answered the suit. ECF 8 (ClaimAssist); ECF 9 (CCS; CCS
Financial). Thereafter, they filed a Motion for Judgment on
the Pleadings (ECF 20), which is supported by a Memorandum of
Law. ECF 21 (collectively, “Motion”). Garner
opposes the Motion (ECF 26, “Opposition) and defendants
have replied. ECF 27 (“Reply”).
Motion is fully briefed and no hearing is required to resolve
it. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that
follow, I shall deny the Motion.
is a limited liability company, formed under the laws of
Delaware, with its principal office in Newton, Massachusetts.
ECF 1, ¶ 5. It “holds itself out, in publicly
available documents, as providing ‘recovery
services' (i.e., debt collection services)
‘for the health care industry.'” Id.
According to the Complaint, customer service representatives
of Claim Assist “actively negotiate and settle
outstanding alleged debt amounts on behalf of” its
“medical provider clients.” Id.
ClaimAssist is publicly identified as a CCS company that is
“‘proven to maximize overall
recoveries.'” Id. Indeed, ClaimAssist
“touts itself ‘as a leader in recovering Revenue
Cycle Funds.'” Id.
CSS Financial are Delaware corporations that maintain their
principal offices in Newton, Massachusetts. Id.
¶ 6, ¶ 7. CSS “is the owner and
manager” of ClaimAssist and “in that capacity
directs and/or is legally responsible for the acts and
omissions of ClaimAssist, LLC . . . .” Id. CCS
Financial is the manager of ClaimAssist and, “in that
capacity directs and/or is legally responsible for the acts
and omissions of ClaimAssist.” Id. According
to plaintiff, CCS Financial and/or ClaimAssist
“improperly disregard corporate formalities and
effectively operate a single ‘CCS' . . . .”
Id. Hereafter, unless the context indicates
otherwise, I shall refer to defendants collectively as
FDCPA case is rooted in the events of May 16, 2014, when
Garner was involved in a motor vehicle accident in Baltimore.
Id. ¶ 9 (the “Collision”). From the
scene of the Collision, “Garner was transported via
ambulance to Northwest Hospital, ” where she received
medical treatment. Id. ¶ 10. As a result,
Garner incurred a debt to Northwest Hospital (the
“Hospital” or “NWH”). Id. In
connection with the Collision, Garner retained a lawyer,
Michael Greene, to represent her in a tort case. Greene now
represents Garner in the FDCPA action.
April 28, 2015, ClaimAssist sent Greene a letter.
Id. ¶ 11; see ECF 1-1
(“Letter”). Page one of the Letter provides, ECF
1-1 at 1:
Dear MR GREEN [sic], The attached is a copy of the lien in
which [sic] NORTHWEST HOSPITAL has filed with BALTIMORE CITY
This is to inform you that we statutorily attach a hospital
lien to any funds that an injured patient may receive as
reimbursement as a result of an accident or injury.
Title 16 S16-601 is the Maryland Statute providing the legal
means of insuring payment of the injured person's
hospital bill. The lien is filed when the possibility exists
that other persons, firms or corporations may be liable for
damages caused to the patient.
An example would be if a person was injured in an automobile
accident and an insurance company was expected to cover the
related hospital expenses, the hospital would file a lien to
insure that they would be paid out of any recovered funds.
The patient and/or person or company who appear on the lien
is provided a copy of said lien by certified mail.
Please let me know if you have any questions about this
two of the Letter is titled “NOTICE AND CLAIM OF
HOSPITAL LIEN.” ECF 1-1 at 2. A facsimile of page two
of the Letter is included below.
Letter reflects, page two includes, inter alia,
Garner's name and address, and provides that Garner was
admitted to the Hospital on May 16, 2014, and discharged from
the Hospital on the same date. ECF 1-1 at 2. Further, it
indicates: “Amount due [to NWH] for care for $801.16.
Letter identifies NWH as the “Claimant Hospital”
and Raja Khoury, who signed page one of the Letter on behalf
of ClaimAssist, as the “Executive Officer or Agent of
Hospital.” Id. The Letter also includes the
following statement, id.:
The above named hospital pursuant to laws of the State of
Maryland in such cases made and provided, does hereby claim a
lien upon any and all causes of action, suits, claims,
counter-claims, or demands for damages accruing to the
patient named herein, or to the legal representative of such
patient, on account of injuries giving rise to such causes of
action and which necessitated his or her hospitalization, for
its customary charges for hospital care and treatment of the
above named injured patient in the sum hereinabove claimed to
addition, the Letter provides, id.: “No other
responsible parties identified at this time.”
to plaintiff, the Letter inaccurately stated that she owed
$801.16 to NWH. ECF 1, ¶ 12. Garner does not seem to
dispute that a debt was owed to the Hospital. Rather, she
claims that she had “health insurance (and/or other
contractual / legal relationship) with Aetna insurance . . .
and U.S. Medicare . . . .” and the Hospital and
ClaimAssist were legally required to process the bill for
hospital services consistent with NWH's agreements with
Aetna and Medicare. Id. According to plaintiff, the
bill had not been processed as of April 28, 2015.
Id. Therefore, “the alleged debt amount of
$801.16 was plainly false, inaccurate, deceptive, and/or
misleading (including by being not certain, and known to be
Standard of Review
have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Under Rule 12(h)(2)(B), a defendant may
assert “failure to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted” in a Rule 12(c) motion. And, a Rule 12(c)
motion “for judgment on the pleadings” may be
filed “[a]fter the pleadings are closed, ” so
long as it is “early enough not to delay trial.”
A motion under Rule 12(c) is “assessed under the same
standard that applies to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.”
Walker v. Kelly, 589 F.3d 127, 139 (4th Cir. 2009)
(citing Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231,
243 (4th Cir. 1999)); see also McBurney v.
Cuccinelli, 616 F.3d 393, 408 (4th Cir. 2010).
defendant may test the legal sufficiency of a complaint by
way of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Goines v.
Valley Cmty, Servs, Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 165-66 (4th Cir.
2016); McBurney v. Cuccinelli, 616 F.3d 393, 408
(4th Cir. 2010), aff'd sub nom. McBurney v.
Young, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 1709 (2013); Edwards
v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999).
A Rule 12(b)(6) motion constitutes an assertion by a
defendant that, even if the well-pleaded allegations are
true, the complaint fails as a matter of law “to state
a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Whether a
complaint states a claim for relief is assessed by reference
to the pleading requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). It
provides that a complaint must contain a “short and
plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief.” The purpose of the rule is to
provide the defendants with “fair notice” of the
claims and the “grounds” for entitlement to
relief. Bell Atl., Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
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.”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; see Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009) (“Our decision in
Twombly expounded the pleading standard for
‘all civil actions' . . . .” (citation
omitted)); see also Hall v. DirecTV, LLC, F.3d ___,
No. 15-1857, 2017 WL 361065, at *4 (4th Cir. Jan. 25, 2017).
But, a plaintiff need not include “detailed factual
allegations” in order to satisfy Rule 8(a)(2).
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Moreover, federal pleading
rules “do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for
imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim
asserted.” Johnson v. City of Shelby, U.S.
___, 135 S.Ct. 346, 346 (2014) (per curiam).
the rule demands more than bald accusations or mere
speculation. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see
Painter's Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716 F.3d 342,
350 (4th Cir. 2013). If a complaint provides no more than
“labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” it
is insufficient. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Rather,
to satisfy the minimal requirements of Rule 8(a)(2), the
complaint must set forth “enough factual matter (taken
as true) to suggest” a cognizable cause of action,
“even if . . . [the] actual proof of those facts is
improbable and . . . recovery is very remote and
unlikely.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (internal
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 Semenova v. Maryland Transit
Admin., 845 F.3d 564, 567 (4th Cir. 2017); Belmora
LLC v. Bayer Consumer Care AG, 819 F.3d 697, 705 (4th
Cir. 2016); Houck v. Substitute Tr. Servs., Inc.,
791 F.3d 473, 484 (4th Cir. 2015); Kendall v.
Balcerzak, 650 F.3d 515, 522 (4th Cir. 2011), cert.
denied, 565 U.S. 943 (2011). But, a court is not
required to accept legal conclusions drawn from the facts.
See Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986).
“A court decides whether [the pleading] standard is met
by separating the legal conclusions from the factual
allegations, assuming the truth of only the factual
allegations, and then determining whether those allegations
allow the court to reasonably infer” that the plaintiff
is entitled to the legal remedy sought. A Society Without
a Name v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 346 (4th. Cir. 2011),
cert. Denied, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 1960 (2012).
general, courts do not “resolve contests surrounding
the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of
defenses” through a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Edwards
v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999).
The purpose of the rule is to ensure that defendants are
“given adequate notice of the nature of a claim”
made against them. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555- 56
(2007). 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).”
Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th
Cir. 2007) (en banc); accord Pressley v. Tupperware Long
Term Disability Plan, 533 F.3d 334, 336 (4th Cir. 2009);
see also U.S. ex rel. Oberg v. Penn. Higher Educ.
Assistance Agency, 745 F.3d 131, 148 (4th Cir. 2014).
However, because Rule 12(b)(6) “is intended [only] to
test the legal adequacy of the complaint, ”
Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v.
Forst, 4 F.3d 244, 250 (4th Cir. 1993), “[t]his
principle only applies . . . if all facts necessary to the
affirmative defense ‘clearly appear[ ] on the face of
the complaint.'” Goodman, 494 F.3d at 464
(quoting Forst, 4 F.3d at 250) (emphasis added in
limited exceptions, a court may consider documents outside
the complaint, without converting the motion to dismiss to
one for summary judgment. Goldfarb v. Mayor & City
Council of Baltimore, 791 F.3d 500, 508 (4th Cir. 2015).
In particular, a court may properly consider documents that
are “explicitly incorporated into the complaint by
reference and those attached to the complaint as exhibits . .
. .” Goines, 822 F.3d at 166 (citations
omitted); see U.S. ex rel. Oberg, 745 F.3d at 136
(quoting Philips v. Pitt Cty Memorial Hosp., 572
F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009)); Anand v. Ocwen Loan
Servicing, LLC, 754 F.3d 195, 198 (4th Cir. 2014);
Am. Chiropractic Ass'n v. Trigon Healthcare,
Inc., 367 F.3d 212, 234 (4th Cir. 2004), cert.
denied, 543 U.S. 979 (2004); Phillips v. LCI
Int'l Inc., 190 F.3d 609, 618 (4th Cir. 1999).
“before treating the contents of an attached or
incorporated document as true, the district court should
consider the nature of the document and why the plaintiff
attached it.” Goines, 822 F.3d at 167 (citing
N. Ind. Gun & Outdoor Shows, Inc. v. City of S.
Bend, 163 F.3d 449, 455 (7th Cir. 1998)). “When
the plaintiff attaches or incorporates a document upon which
his claim is based, or when the complaint otherwise shows
that the plaintiff has adopted the contents of the document,
crediting the document over conflicting allegations in the
complaint is proper.” Goines, 822 F.3d at 167.
Conversely, “where the plaintiff attaches or
incorporates a document for purposes other than the
truthfulness of the document, it is inappropriate to treat
the contents of that document as true.” Id.
plaintiff included the Letter as an exhibit to the Complaint.
And, the claims in the Complaint are based upon the content
of the Letter. ECF 1 ¶ 11. The Letter is integral to the
Complaint, and there is no dispute as to its authenticity.
See ECF 20; ECF 21. Consequently, I may consider the
Overview of the FDCPA
enacted the FDCPA in 1977 (see Pub. L. 95-109, 91
Stat. 874 (1977)) to protect consumers from debt collectors
who engage in “abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt
collection practices, ” to “insure that those
debt collectors who refrain from using abusive debt
collection practices are not competitively disadvantaged, and
to promote consistent State action to protect consumers
against debt collection abuses.” 15 U.S.C. §
1692(e); see Jerman v. Carlisle, McNellie, Rini, Kramer
& Ulrich LPA, 559 U.S. 573, 576 (2010); United
States v. Nat'l Fin. Servs., Inc., 98 F.3d 131, 135
(4th Cir. 1996). The statute is concerned with “rights
for consumers whose debts are placed in the hands of