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Walker v. Trans Union, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

October 24, 2017

JAMAL G. WALKER, Plaintiff,
v.
TRANS UNION, LLC[1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Paul W. Grimm United States District Judge.

         Pending is Plaintiff Jamal G. Walker's Notice of Voluntary Dismissal, ECF No. 34, in which he seeks to dismiss his claims against Defendant Trans Union, LLC (“Trans Union”) without prejudice. Also pending is the Motion to Dismiss that Trans Union filed, ECF No. 31, seeking dismissal of Mr. Walker's claims against it with prejudice for failure to state a claim.[2]Because Trans Union already filed an answer to Mr. Walker's Complaint and Amended Complaint, ECF Nos. 11 and 13, and does not stipulate to the dismissal without prejudice, this case “may be dismissed at the plaintiff's request only by court order, on terms that the court considers proper.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a)(2). Accordingly, I construe Mr. Walker's Notice of Voluntary Dismissal as a motion to dismiss. See id.; Fed.R.Civ.P. 1.

         Dismissal clearly is appropriate, as both parties have requested it. The question is whether dismissal should be with prejudice. If this case is dismissed without prejudice without having resolved Trans Union's pending Motion (which, if granted, could result in dismissal with prejudice), then the effect could be unfairly prejudicial to Trans Union. Therefore, Mr. Walker's Motion to Dismiss is denied so that I may reach the merits of Trans Union's Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). And, because Mr. Walker fails to state a claim, despite notice from Trans Union of alleged deficiencies and repeated amendments to his pleadings, it would be futile for him to bring these claims again in a separate lawsuit. Therefore, Trans Union's Motion to Dismiss is granted, and this case is dismissed with prejudice.

         Procedural Background

         Mr. Walker originally filed suit in the District Court for Prince George's County, Maryland, claiming defamation and violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq., and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. ECF No. 2. He also filed an Amended Complaint in state court, ECF No. 12-1, before Trans Union removed the suit to this Court, ECF No. 1. Trans Union filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, ECF No. 21, to which Walker never responded. Because Walker's earlier pleadings met state, but not federal, pleading requirements, I denied the motion and directed Walker to file a Second Amended Complaint that complied with the pleading requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8. May 8, 2017 Ltr. Order, 1, ECF No. 25.

         Mr. Walker filed a letter on May 15, 2017, ECF No. 26, which I construe as a Second Amended Complaint. In it, he retained only his claims under the FCRA. Trans Union filed a pre-motion conference request, seeking leave to file a motion to dismiss. ECF No. 27. I provided Mr. Walker with yet another opportunity to amend, this time in response to the deficiencies identified in Trans Union's pre-motion letter, and I set a briefing schedule for Trans Union's proposed motion. ECF No. 29. Mr. Walker filed another letter on July 7, 2017, describing his FCRA claims. ECF No. 30. Thereafter, Trans Union filed the pending Motion to Dismiss, treating the July 7, 2017 letter as a Third Amended Complaint. The Clerk sent a copy of Trans Union's Motion to Mr. Walker. ECF No. 32. Mr. Walker did not challenge the treatment of his July 7, 2017 letter as the operative complaint, or otherwise oppose Trans Union's Motion. Instead, he filed his Notice of Voluntary Dismissal.

         Voluntary Dismissal

         Standard of Review

         Rule 41(a)(2)'s purpose “is freely to allow voluntary dismissals unless the parties will be unfairly prejudiced.” Davis v. USX Corp., 819 F.2d 1270, 1273 (4th Cir.1987); see also Lang v. Manufacturers & Traders Tr. Co., 274 F.R.D. 175, 182 (D. Md. 2011) (quoting Davis). To that end, the rule “permits the district court to impose conditions on voluntary dismissal to obviate any prejudice to the defendants which may otherwise result from the dismissal without prejudice. The district court must focus primarily on protecting the interests of the defendant.” Davis, 819 F.2d at 1273 (citations omitted). Thus, the general rule is that “[a] plaintiff's motion to voluntarily dismiss a claim [without prejudice] should not be denied absent plain legal prejudice to the defendant, ” Ellett Bros., Inc. v. U.S. Fid. & Guar. Co., 275 F.3d 384, 388 (4th Cir.2001), or “substantial prejudice to the defendant, ” Andes v. Versant Corp., 788 F.2d 1033, 1036 (4th Cir.1986). A Rule 41(a)(2) dismissal without prejudice “is generally granted where the only prejudice the defendant will suffer is that resulting from a subsequent lawsuit.” O'Reilly v. R.W. Harmon & Sons, Inc., 124 F.R.D. 639, 639 (W.D. Mo. 1989).

         The Court applies a “non-exclusive, multi-factor test” to “assess[] . . . the propriety of allowing a Rule 41(a)(2) dismissal [without prejudice].” Wilson v. Eli Lilly & Co., 222 F.R.D. 99, 100 (D. Md. 2004); see also Lang, 274 F.R.D. at 182. The factors include: “(1) the opposing party's effort and expense in preparing for trial; (2) excessive delay or lack of diligence on the part of the movant; (3) insufficient explanation of the need for a dismissal; and (4) the present stage of litigation.” Wilson, 222 F.R.D. at 100.

         Discussion

         Although discovery has not begun and the parties have not started to prepare for trial, Trans Union undoubtedly has incurred expenses briefing its motions and responding to Mr. Walker's motion. Mr. Walker did not respond to the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, nor did he respond to the Motion to Dismiss, other than independently seeking dismissal of his claims. This shows either a lack of diligence or a tacit awareness of the lack of merits of his claims. And, in requesting that the Court dismiss his case, he did not provide a sufficient explanation of why the case should be dismissed, simply stating that he would like to “have the opportunity to further prepare for the next time [he] file[s] against Transunion [sic] if necessary.” Pl.'s Mot. 1.

         Moreover, Trans Union's Motion to Dismiss currently is pending and Mr. Walker's Notice of Voluntary Dismissal, filed in lieu of an opposition to Trans Union's Motion, appears to be an effort to avoid resolution of that Motion. Further, to date, Mr. Walker has had two opportunities to amend his pleadings in this Court, first in response to the alleged deficiencies in his state court pleadings, identified in Trans Union's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, and then in response to the deficiencies in his Second Amended Complaint, identified in Trans Union's pre-motion conference request. And, as noted, he now asks that I dismiss “this case without prejudice so that [he] may have the opportunity to further prepare for the next time [he] file[s] against Transunion [sic] if necessary.” Pl.'s Mot. 1. Filing a second lawsuit against Trans Union on these same facts would be tantamount to amending his pleadings for a third time in this Court (and a fifth time overall). Serial failures to amend a complaint to address specifically identified pleading deficiencies, coupled with a failure to respond to the merits of a motion to dismiss should not be rewarded with a dismissal without prejudice, enabling yet another lawsuit at some future time. To do so would impose unfair prejudice on Trans Union.

         And, although Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a) does not “place[] [a] specific limit on the number of times a court may grant a party leave to amend, ” it also does not “require a court to keep giving a party repeated chances to amend.” Steven S. Gensler, Fed.R.Civ.P. Rules & Commentary 288- 89 (2011). When “a party is granted leave to amend but fails to address the problem, that party should not be surprised when the court does not give it a third or fourth chance.” Id. Additionally, when “an amended complaint is challenged as insufficient, ” as Trans Union did in its Rule 12(b)(6) motion, “the plaintiff should not assume that the court will allow the plaintiff to test the sufficiency of the amended complaint and then get another chance to replead if the amended complaint is found deficient.” Id. Plaintiff has received detailed explanations from Trans Union regarding the deficiencies of his pleadings twice. If he has not yet stated a claim, he should not expect yet another opportunity to amend in response to these challenges, which a dismissal without prejudice would afford him. See id.; see also Glaser v. Enzo Biochem, Inc., 464 F.3d 474, 480 (4th Cir. 2006) (concluding that “the district court did not abuse its discretion in ruling that the plaintiffs' many opportunities to present their claim warranted denial of the motion to amend, ” where “Plaintiffs had an ...


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