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Alston v. Transunion, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 27, 2017

CANDACE E. ALSTON, Plaintiff,
v.
TRANSUNION, LLC and EXPERIAN INFORMATION SOLUTIONS, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION.

          THEODORE D. CHUANG United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Candace E. Alston has filed suit under the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA"), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1681x (2012), against Defendants Transunion, LLC ("Transunion") and Experian Information Solutions, Inc. ("Experian") based on their reporting of Alston's Wells Fargo mortgage account as delinquent and their allegedly unreasonable reinvestigation into that account's status in response to Alston's disputes. Pending before the Court is Defendants' Joint Motion for Summary Judgment. Having reviewed the submitted materials, the Court finds no hearing necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6 (2016). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         The factual background of this case is set forth in detail in the Court's Memorandum Opinion denying Alston's Motion for a Preliminary Injunction and her Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. See Alston v. Transunion, No. TDC-14-1180, 2014 WL 6388338 at *l-6 (D. Md. Nov. 13, 2014). Additional facts and procedural history are provided below as necessary.

         DISCUSSION

         In her Complaint, Alston alleges that Defendants each erroneously relied "on the bare, unsupported statements of Wells Fargo" when reporting Alston's mortgage account as delinquent and continued to rely solely on Wells Fargo's information despite disputes that Alston filed with both credit reporting agencies ("CRAs") challenging the accuracy of that information. Compl. ¶ 19, ECF No. 2. Based on these assertions, Alston claims that Transunion and Experian violated two provisions of the FCRA: 15 U.S.C. § 1681e(b) and 15 U.S.C. § 1681i(a)(1).

         Transunion and Experian now seek summary judgment on the grounds that Alston's claims fail under the doctrine of collateral estoppel, because this Court has previously ruled that the reporting of Alston's Wells Fargo account was accurate, such that Alston's FCRA claims necessarily fail because inaccuracy of credit report information is an element of those claims.

         I. Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), the Court grants summary judgment if the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In assessing the Motion, the Court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all justifiable inferences in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 411 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

         The nonmoving party has the burden to show a genuine dispute of material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). "A material fact is one that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Spriggs v. Diamond Auto Glass, 242 F.3d 179, 183 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Anderson, Ml U.S. at 248) (internal quotation marks omitted). A dispute of material fact is only "genuine" if sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party exists for the trier of fact to return a verdict for that party. Anderson, Ml U.S. at 248-49.

         II. Collateral Estoppel

         Collateral estoppel, also known as issue preclusion, is a subset of the doctrine of res judicata. In Re Microsoft Corp. Antitrust Litig., 355 F.3d 322, 326 (4th Cir. 2004). Res judicata mandates that "once a matter-whether a claim, an issue, or a fact-has been determined by a court as the basis for a judgment, a party against whom the claim, issue, or fact was resolved cannot relitigate the matter." Id. at 325. In particular, collateral estoppel provides that a party may not relitigate an issue previously resolved in litigation if the following requirements are satisfied: (1) the issue in the pending litigation is the same as the one previously litigated, (2) the issue was actually resolved in the prior litigation, (3) the issue resolved was necessary to the judgment in the prior proceeding, (4) the judgment in the prior proceeding is final and valid, and (5) the party to be estopped had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in the prior proceeding. Id. at 326. Collateral estoppel bars relitigation of a previously decided issue "even if the issue recurs in the context of a different claim." Taylor v. Sturgell, 553 U.S. 880, 892 (2008).

         Here, Defendants contend that all of these requirements are satisfied as to a critical issue for Alston's present claims: whether the reporting of Alston's Wells Fargo mortgage account as delinquent was accurate. They argue that Alston has already litigated and lost on the question of accuracy as part of a related case, Alston v. Wells Fargo, No. TDC-13-3147, in which Alston alleged that Wells Fargo violated the FCRA by inaccurately reporting to CRAs such as Transunion and Experian that her mortgage account was delinquent. In that case, this Court granted summary judgment to Wells Fargo after finding that Wells Fargo's reports that Alston's mortgage account was delinquent were accurate. Alston v. Wells Fargo, No. TDC-13-3147, 2016 WL 816733 at *10 (D. Md. Feb. 26, 2016) ("[T]he information that Wells Fargo provided to credit reporting agencies was not 'inaccurate.'"). Alston's appeal of this Court's grant of summary judgment was dismissed on March 14, 2017.

         Defendants correctly argue that all five elements of collateral estoppel have been satisfied. In Wells Fargo, this Court squarely decided that Wells Fargo's reporting of Alston's mortgage account as delinquent was accurate because the evidence established that Wells Fargo was entitled to collect payments from Alston during the period of reported delinquency and because, during that period, Alston made no legal payments on the mortgage. Wells Fargo, 2016 WL 816733 at *9 ("Because none of the payments that Alston made were legally valid, Wells Fargo's reporting of that account as delinquent. . . was completely accurate."). Thus, the issue of the accuracy of the credit reporting was previously litigated and resolved. In Wells Fargo, the resolution of the question of accuracy was necessary to this Court's determination that Wells Fargo was entitled to summary judgment. Id. at *10. The judgment in that case ...


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