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Evans v. Household Financial Corp.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 5, 2018

RONDA L. SHORT EVANS, Plaintiff,
v.
HOUSEHOLD FINANCIAL CORP. III, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Paula Xinis, United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court in this fair debt collection action are two motions to dismiss, the first filed by Defendants Household Finance Corporation III and Beneficial Financial I Inc. (ECF No. 11), and the second filed by Defendants Caliber Home Loans, Inc., Volt 2012 NLP2 Group, [1]LSF8 Master Participation Trust, and U.S. Bank Trust, N.A. (ECF No. 16). The matter is fully briefed and no hearing is necessary. See D. Md. Loc. R. 105.6. Upon consideration, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motions and dismisses the Complaint with prejudice.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Ronda L. Short Evans (“Evans”), proceeding pro se, brings this action seeking declaratory relief related to her alleged payment of a mortgage debt. Central to the action is the foreclosure on real property located at 503 Cretia Place, Upper Marlboro, Maryland (the “Property”). This is not Evans' first case related to the foreclosure on the Property. In a previous action before Judge Chasanow, Evans brought claims against three of the Defendants in this case for breach of contract, fraudulent misrepresentation, and violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692 et seq. (“FDCPA”). See Evans v. Beneficial Financial I, Inc., No. DKC-14-1994, 2015 WL 535718, at *1 (D. Md. Feb. 9, 2015). The basic facts surrounding the foreclosure remain the same. See Evans, 2015 WL 535718, at *1; Short Evans v. Fisher Law Grp., PLLC, No. DKC-14-1994, 2015 WL 8606422, at *1 (D. Md. Dec. 14, 2015).

         In the previous action, Judge Chasanow found that Evans failed to state a claim for fraudulent misrepresentation, and that her breach of contract claim based on a “vapor money” theory was frivolous. See Evans, 2015 WL 53571, at *5-*6. Judge Chasanow also granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on Evans' FDCPA claims, finding in relevant part that nothing in the defendants' communications with Evans was false, deceptive, or misleading. See Short Evans, 2015 WL 8606422, at *5.

         Evans now brings suit against Defendants Household Finance Corporation III (“Household”), Beneficial Financial I Inc. (“Beneficial”), Caliber Home Loans, Inc. (“Caliber”), Volt 2012 NLP2 Group (“Volt”), LSF8 Master Participation Trust (“LSF8”), U.S. Bank Trust, N.A. (“US Bank”), and BP Fisher Law Group, LLP (“Fisher”).[2] Relevant to her claims in this case, Evans' Complaint alleges that in 2015 and 2016 Evans received additional notices of foreclosure, and that Evans received a payoff quote for her mortgage which she paid using “legal tender of the United States.” ECF No. 2 at 5, ¶ 39. Evans also alleges that an Order to Docket Suit regarding the Property is “fraudulent” because it “impl[ies] Beneficial Financial I Inc. is a ‘Secured Party' via succession of merger, ” ECF No. 2 at 4, ¶¶ 44-46, which Evans contends is not the case, see ECF No. 2 at ¶¶ 41, 45.

         Evans seeks a declaration that: (1) she is a consumer under the FDCPA; (2) Defendants are debt collectors under the FDCPA; (3) the Order to Docket Suit is fraudulent; and (4) she discharged her debt using “legal tender of the United States.” ECF No. 2 at 24. For the reasons below, the Court dismisses this case with prejudice.

         II. Standard of Review

         A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must be granted when a complaint fails to include sufficient factual allegations to render the plaintiff's claims facially plausible, or to permit reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). To assess a motion to dismiss, the Court takes as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and makes all reasonable inferences in the favor of the plaintiff. Phillips v. Pitt Cty. Mem. Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009). The Court may consider materials attached to the Complaint when reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Id.

         In assessing whether the plaintiff has stated a claim, the Court does not credit conclusory statements or legal conclusions even when couched as allegations of fact. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79; Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008). Where, as here, factual allegations in a complaint conflict with an attached written instrument, “the exhibit prevails.” Fayetteville Inv'rs v. Commercial Builders, Inc., 936 F.2d 1462, 1465 (4th Cir. 1991); see Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 167 (4th Cir. 2016).

         Because Evans is proceeding pro se, the Court must construe her Complaint liberally to allow for the development of a potentially meritorious case. Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980). Liberal construction requires that if the Court can reasonably read the Complaint to state a valid claim, it must do so; however, the Court cannot ignore a clear failure to allege facts setting forth a cognizable claim. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990) (“The ‘special judicial solicitude' with which a district court should view such pro se complaints does not transform the court into an advocate. Only those questions which are squarely presented to a court may properly be addressed.”). The Court is not “required to recognize obscure or extravagant claims defying the most concerted efforts to unravel them.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Neither should the Court “conjure up questions never squarely presented . . . . Even in the case of pro se litigants, [district courts] cannot be expected to construct full blown claims from sentence fragments.” Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         III. Discussion

         Evans requests that the Court declare that: (1) Evans is a “consumer” under the FDCPA; (2) Defendants are “debt collectors” under the FDCPA; (3) Defendants “knowingly filed or caused to be filed” the Order to Docket Suit that Evans claims is fraudulent; and (4) Evans' “legal tender of the United States was lawful, thus discharging the debt to the amount of the tender.” ECF No. 2 at 24. The Court construes Evans' claims as brought pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a).

         The Declaratory Judgment Act provides that “[i]n a case of actual controversy within [the district court's] jurisdiction” the court “may declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration, whether or not further relief is or could be sought.” Id. “Declaratory judgment is available when there is a dispute creating a ‘case or controversy' within the meaning of Article III of the United States Constitution and the Declaratory Judgment Act.” Hollis v. Lexington Ins. Co., 180 F.Supp.3d 422, 428 (E.D. Va. 2016). “Declaratory relief may be appropriate where a dispute is (1) definite and concrete, i.e., affecting the legal relations of parties with adverse interests; and (2) real and substantial, i.e., amenable to specific, conclusive ...


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