United States District Court, D. Maryland
Catherine C. Blake, United States District Judge
plaintiff, Eric Schuster, has sued the defendant, SLM
Corporation, (“SLM”), claiming that SLM
negligently allowed his daughter to use him as a co-signer on
seven student loan agreements without his consent. He also
requests that the court enter a declaratory judgment
clarifying his relationship to the seven loans. SLM has moved
to dismiss these claims. The court will grant SLM's
claim arises out of seven loan agreements, amounting to $114,
600, that the plaintiff's daughter entered and to which
she included the plaintiff as a co-signer without his
consent. (Am. Compl., ECF No. 3, ¶ 5-26). SLM allegedly
approved these loans without verifying that Schuster had
agreed to co-sign them. (Id. at ¶ 27). Schuster
discovered his loan liability only after he was contacted by
SLM for payment. (Id. at ¶ 28).
now invokes the court's diversity jurisdiction to sue SLM
alleging that it negligently approved his daughter's
loans without verifying the authenticity of his
co-signature.SLM moves to dismiss the claim under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) arguing that because it does not owe a
duty to Schuster it could not have committed negligence and,
even if a duty did exist, SLM was not the proximate cause of
his injuries. (Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 5).
survive a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations of a
complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief
above the speculative level on the assumption that all the
allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in
fact).” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted). “To
satisfy this standard, a plaintiff need not
‘forecast' evidence sufficient to prove the
elements of the claim. However, the complaint must allege
sufficient facts to establish those elements.”
Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir.
2012) (citation omitted). “Thus, while a plaintiff does
not need to demonstrate in a complaint that the right to
relief is ‘probable, ' the complaint must advance
the plaintiff's claim ‘across the line from
conceivable to plausible.'” Id. (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). And the plaintiff
typically must do so by relying solely on facts asserted
within the four corners of his complaint. Zak v. Chelsea
Therapeutics Intern., Ltd., 780 F.3d 597, 606-07 (4th
argues that Schuster's case should be dismissed because
it did not owe a duty to protect Schuster from fraud and,
even if it did, it was not the proximate cause of
Schuster's injury. Because this case arises under the
court's diversity jurisdiction it must look to Maryland
law for governing negligence principles.
Maryland law, a plaintiff alleging negligence must prove four
elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages. Balfour
Beatty Infrastructure, Inc. v. Rummel Klepper & Kahl,
LLP, 451 Md. 600, 610 (2017). Generally, whether a duty
exists turns on an examination of “the nature of the
harm likely to result from a failure to exercise due care and
. . . the relationship that exists between the
parties.” Id. at 611 (internal quotations
omitted). In cases in which there are “no safety
concerns and the risk [is] purely economic, ” Maryland
courts have “refrained from finding a tort duty absent
. . . an intimate nexus.” Id. at 614 (internal
intimate nexus exists if there is contractual privity or its
equivalent or some “linking conduct” between a
defendant bank and a plaintiff. Id. at 620. Although a
contractual relationship will satisfy the standard, banks do
not typically owe a duty to their customers beyond whatever
contractual relationship might bind them. Spaulding v.
Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 714 F.3d 769, 778-79 (4th Cir.
2013). Indeed, “[c]ourts have been exceedingly
reluctant to find special circumstances sufficient to
transform an ordinary contractual relationship between a bank
and its customer into a fiduciary relationship or to impose
any duties on the bank not found in the loan
agreement.” Id. at 778 (quoting Parker v.
Columbia Bank, 568 A.2d 521, 532 (Md. Ct. Spec. App.
case of non-customers, by contrast, courts apply the
“well-established rule . . . that a bank . . . does not
owe a duty to a non-customer with whom it has no direct
relationship” absent special circumstances.
Nat'l Grange Mut. Ins. Co. v. Verizon's Benefits
Ctr., 541 F.Supp.2d 745, 749-50 (D. Md. 2008); see
also Eisenberg v. Wachovia Bank, 301 F.3d 220, 226 (4th
Cir. 2002) (considering North Carolina law); Iglesias v.
Pentagon Title & Escrow, LLC, 51 A.3d 51, 67-68 (Md.
Ct. Spec. App. 2012). A close relationship and reliance on a
bank's “exercise of due care, ” if a bank
“knew or should have known of the plaintiff's
reliance” on its conduct, are both circumstances that
may give rise to an intimate nexus. Balfour, 451 Md.
makes two arguments to support the existence of a duty on the
part of SLM to protect him from fraud. First, he argues that
SLM owed him a duty because both parties are members of a
prior loan agreement, which Schuster did consent to co-sign,
and that, because of this previous agreement, SLM should have
recognized that the new email address and phone number his
daughter provided for him on the fraudulent loan agreements
were phony. And second, he claims that SLM owed him a duty
because it had ...