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Papadopoulos v. EagleBank

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

December 21, 2017

VAN PAPADOPOULOS, Plaintiff,
v.
EAGLEBANK, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Van Papadopoulos brings this action against Defendants EagleBank and its employees, Mark Dietz and Liza Punt, (collectively, "EagleBank Defendants"). Stacy Talbott. and the Law Office of Stacy Talbott. LLC (collectively. "Talbott Defendants") alleging state common law and statutory claims following Plaintiffs termination from EagleBank. EagleBank Defendants removed the case to this Court on August 2. 2017. ECF No. 1. Now pending before the Court is Plaintiffs Motion for Remand. ECF No. 25, which includes a request for attorneys' fees. A hearing was conducted on November 1, 2017. Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons, Plaintiffs Motion to Remand is granted, but Plaintiff's request for attorneys" fees is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff was an employee of EagleBank from April 2014 until March 31. 2017. when EagleBank terminated his employment. ECF No. 2 ¶ 10. Starting in 2015. Plaintiff became involved in a protracted family law matter in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, and as a result of the family law matter. EagleBank. as Plaintiffs employer, was responsible for withholding a portion of Plaintiffs wages for spousal and child support payments. Id. ¶¶ 14-15. As the family law matter progressed. Plaintiff continued to litigate against his former spouse regarding the maximum dollar amount that EagleBank could withhold from Plaintiffs pay, with Plaintiff arguing that such payments were capped at 55% of his pay regardless of whether that payment was sufficient to satisfy his $6, 500 per month support obligation. Id. ¶¶ 17. 34. Plaintiffs former spouse was represented by Talbott Defendants. During the course of the litigation. EagleBank received a subpoena deuces tecum from Talbot Defendants and had to appear at a March 24. 2017 hearing to obtain guidance from the Circuit Court as to the proper percentage to withhold from Plaintiffs wages. Id. ¶¶ 31. 34. Shortly after the March 24 hearing. EagleBank Defendants terminated Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 37. Plaintiff alleges that he was terminated because he asserted his legal rights in the ongoing family law matter in order to protect his income from excessive withholding. Id. ¶ 35.

         Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a two-count Complaint in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County on June 30, 2017. bringing Maryland common law claims of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy against EagleBank Defendants (Count I) and tortuous interference with economic relations against Talbott Defendants (Count II). ECF No. 2. In his wrongful discharge claim. Plaintiff alleged that EagleBank Defendants' decision to terminate him contravened the public policy embodied in Subchapter II of the Consumer Credit Protection Act ("CCPA"), 15 U.S.C. §§1671 el seq. ECF No. 2 ¶¶ 43-44. EagleBank Defendants, with consent from Talbott Defendants, removed the case to this Court on August 2, 2017, arguing that adjudication of Plaintiff s wrongful discharge claim turns on construction of the CCPA, thus supporting federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. ECF No. 1 ¶ 6-7. Plaintiffs Motion to Remand followed. ECF No. 25.[2]

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Defendants removed this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b). which provides that "[a]ny civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction founded on a claim or right arising under the Constitution, treaties or laws of the United Slates shall be removable without regard to the citizenship or residence of the parties." Therefore, removal is proper if the Court could have originally exercised federal question jurisdiction over Plaintiff's complaint. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question jurisdiction exists over all civil actions that "arise under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States''). The burden of establishing federal jurisdiction is placed on the party seeking removal, and all doubts are resolved in favor of remand. Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994).

         "In determining whether a plaintiffs claim arises under federal law. we apply the well-pleaded complaint rule, which holds that courts "ordinarily .. . look no further than the plaintiffs [properly pleaded] complaint in determining whether a lawsuit raises issues of federal law capable of creating federal-question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.'" Pinney v. Nokia. Inc., 402 F.3d 430. 442 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing Ouster v. Sweeney, 89 F.3d 1156. 1165 (4th Cir. 1996)). If federal law creates Plaintiff's claim, then removal is proper. Muicahey, 29 F.3d at 151. If federal law does not create Plaintiffs claim, there is only federal jurisdiction when Plaintiffs claim raises "a federal issue, actually disputed and substantial, which a federal forum may entertain without disturbing any congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities." Grable & Sons Metal Products, Inc. v. Dorm, 545 U.S. 308. 314 (2005). Thus, "a defendant seeking to remove a case in which state law creates the plaintiffs cause of action must establish two elements: (1) that the plaintiffs right to relief necessarily depends on a question of federal law, and (2) that the question of federal law is substantial." Dixon v. Cohurg Dairy. Inc.. 369 F.3d 811.816 (4th Cir. 2004). While Federal courts may exercise federal question jurisdiction over state law claims that "turn on substantial questions of federal law" and require the "experience, solicitude, and hope of uniformity that a federal forum offers." Grable 545 U.S. at 312, this represents a "special and small category" of federal question jurisdiction. Empire Healthchoice Assurance., Inc. v. McVeigh, 547 U.S. 677, 699 (2006).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff, in Count 1 of his Complaint, alleges that EagleBank Defendants wrongfully discharged him against public policy embodied by the CCPA. While Plaintiff does not bring a claim under the CCPA itself, this federal statute is the sole source of public policy supporting his wrongful discharge claim. ECF No. 25-1 at 2-3.[3] Thus. Defendants argue that Plaintiffs wrongful discharge claim depends on questions of federal law that are substantial, including whether the CCPA provides a private right of action, which would bar Plaintiffs wrongful discharge claim under Maryland common law. and whether the CCPA sets forth a sufficiently clear mandate of public policy related to Plaintiffs discharge. ECF No. 26 at 5-6. Therefore, the Court must determine whether Plaintiffs wrongful discharge claim implicates "a federal issue, actually disputed and substantial." Grable, 545 U.S. at 314.

         A. Private Right of Action in CCPA

         To state a claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy under Maryland law. Plaintiff must show that he was discharged, that the basis for his discharge violated a clear mandate of public policy, and that there is a nexus between his conduct and EagleBank's decision to discharge him. Verbal v. Giant of Md, LLC. 204 F.Supp.3d 837, 843 (D. Md. 2016) (citing Wholey v. Sears Roebuck. 370 Md. 38, 50-51 (2002)). However, "because the purpose of the tort is to 'provide a remedy for otherwise unremedied violations of public policy." the tort is not viable if the statutes that establish the public policy at issue "already provide an adequate and appropriate civil remedy for the wrongful discharge.'" Perry v. Dillon's Bus Service. Inc., No. ELH-16-3207. 2017 WL 2537011, at *11 (D. Md. June 9. 2017) (citing Porlerfield v. Mascari II. Inc., 374 Md. 402. 423 (2003)) (emphasis in Perry). Thus, as an initial matter, the viability of Plaintiffs wrongful discharge claim depends on whether the CCPA provides a private right of action.[4] If it does. Plaintiffs claim for wrongful discharge cannot survive. It would appear on the surface, therefore, that Plaintiffs right to relief depends on a question of federal law.

         But the Court must still determine whether the issue is substantial. As a starting point, a review of the CCPA itself indicates that while enforcement of the statute's provisions is to be made by the Secretary of Labor. 15 U.S.C. § 1676. there is no express provision providing a private right of action. Additionally, a number of courts have considered the issue and a clear majority have determined that the CCPA does not provide a private right of action.

         For example, in Western v. Hodgson, the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia determined that a private right of action for violations of § 1673 was "neither provided for nor contemplated by Congress in enacting [the CCPA]" and dismissed the plaintiffs' suit. 359 F.Supp. 194. 201 (S.D. W.V. 1973). On review, the Fourth Circuit upheld the dismissal because the plaintiffs did not present facts showing that they were entitled to relief under the CCPA. but "refrain[ed] from either reaching the question or expressing any view as to whether a private action may be maintained under the wage garnishment provisions of the [CCPA]." 494 F.3d 379, 380 (4th Cir. 1974). Although the Fourth Circuit has not resolved the issue, a review of other circuits reveals a consensus that no such private cause of action exists. See LeVick v. Skaggs Companies, Inc.,701 F.2d 777, 779 (9th Cir. 1983) ("[u]pon examination of Subchapter II of the [CCPA], of which § 1674 is a part, we are unable to find any manifestation of congressional intent to provide a private right of action under § 1674(a). Indeed, what evidence there is suggests that Congress intended such a right not to be available.")[5]; McCabe v. City of Eureka. Mo.,664 F.2d 680, 683 (8th Cir. 1981) ("we refuse to imply a private right of action under 15 U.S.C. § 1674(a)"); Smith v. Cotton Bros. Baking Co. Inc..609 F.2d 738. 741-42 (5th Cir. 1980) (relying on Cort v. Ash.422 U.S. 66, 95 (1975)) (a cursory examination of the first three [Co/7 factors for determining an implied private right of action] . . . leads us to conclude that no private remedy is implied under Subchapter II of [the CCPA]"): see also Pressman v. Neubardt, No. 02 Civ. 8404(RCC). 2002 WL 31780183. at *2 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) ("pursuant to the express language of 28 U.S.C. § 1676 and case law rejecting the notion of an implied private right of action under 28 U.S.C. § 1673, this Court finds that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction"); Slouch ...


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