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Alston v. Trans Union, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 8, 2018

CANDACE E. ALSTON, Plaintiff,
v.
TRANS UNION, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court are Plaintiff Candace E. Alston's Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), and Defendant Trans Union LLC's ("Trans Union") Motion for Sanctions. Having reviewed the briefs, the Court finds no hearing necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6 (2016). For the reasons set forth below, Alston's Motion is DENIED, and Trans Union's Motion is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         Alston alleged that Defendants Trans Union and Experian Information Solutions, Inc. ("Experian"), which are consumer reporting agencies ("CRAs"), each violated two provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA"), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1681x (2012): 15 U.S.C. § l68le(b) and 15 U.S.C. § l68li(a)(1). She based those claims on Defendants' reporting of her Wells Fargo mortgage loan. On February 26, 2016, this Court granted summary judgment to Wells Fargo in Alston v. Wells Fargo, No. TDC-13-3147, in which Alston sued Wells Fargo, the loan servicer, for FCRA violations based on that same mortgage loan. This Court found that Wells Fargo's reports to CRAs that Alston's mortgage account was delinquent were accurate, such that her FCRA claims necessarily failed. 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 appealed that decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. On March 14, 2017, Alston's appeal was dismissed as untimely. Order, Alston v. Wells Fargo, No. 16-2124, 2017 WL 4574468 (4th Cir. Mar. 14, 2017).

         Following the Court's grant of summary judgment in Wells Fargo, Trans Union contacted Alston's counsel multiple times to ask him to dismiss Alston's claims in the present case voluntarily, asserting that the claims were no longer viable. According to Trans Union, Alston's attorney never responded. On March 4, 2016, Trans Union served Alston's counsel with a draft Motion for Rule 11 Sanctions and informed him that Trans Union intended to file the motion if Alston did not withdraw the Complaint.

         Rather than voluntarily dismiss her claims, Alston continued vigorously to litigate them. On March 12, 2016, she filed a Motion for Reconsideration of an Order issued by United States Magistrate Judge Charles B. Day denying her Motions to Compel Discovery and to Amend the Scheduling Order. That motion was fully briefed by all parties. After prevailing on that Motion, Alston filed two Motions to Compel in November 2016, which the Court returned because she filed them pro se while still represented by counsel. On December 6, 2016, Alston's counsel filed a Motion to Withdraw, which was later granted.

         On December 9, 2016, Defendants filed a Joint Motion for Summary Judgment in which they argued that Alston's claims were collaterally estopped by the Wells Fargo decision. In her Opposition to the Motion, Alston essentially abandoned her claim under § l68le, arguing only that she could maintain her claim under § l68li because there was no controlling precedent holding that inaccuracy was a requirement for such a claim. This Court found that in light of the determination in Wells Fargo that the mortgage account was accurate, Alston could not succeed on her § l68le claim, relying on the controlling case of Dalton v. Capital Associated Industries, Incorporated, 257 F.3d 409 (4th Cir. 2001), which held that inaccuracy is an essential element under § 1681 e. Alston v. Trans Union, No. TDC-14-1180, 2017 WL 1628420 at *2 (D. Md. Apr. 27, 2017). This Court reached the same conclusion as to Alston's § l68li claim, relying on precedent from the United States Courts of Appeals for the First, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits, as well as cases from within this District, for the principle that § l68li, like § l68le, has an inaccuracy requirement. Id. at *2-3.

         On May 10, 2017, Trans Union sought leave to file a Motion for Sanctions against Alston and her former attorney based primarily on her refusal to dismiss her case in light of the Wells Fargo decision. On May 23, 2017, Alston sought leave to file a Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment. In that request she stated, "even if it is unlikely, based on how this Court has ruled in its prior decisions, " that she would prevail on such a Motion, it was "incumbent" on her to file a Motion to Alter or Amend because she was "prosecuting this case . . . [for] the Court of Appeals." May 26, 2017 Request for Conf. at 2, ECF No. 158. She concluded, "This is why the Defendant's motion for sanctions is utterly absurd." Id.

         At a May 31, 2017 status conference, the Court reminded Alston that a Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment should generally be filed only if there is new, controlling precedent that would dictate a different outcome, or if there is newly discovered but previously unavailable evidence in support of her claims. The Court then set a briefing schedule for the proposed motions. Under that schedule, Alston was to file her Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment by June 14, 2017, and Trans Union was to file its Motion for Sanctions on July 26, 2017, after the completion of the briefing on the Motion to Alter or Amend. However, on June 7, 2017, Alston requested leave to file another motion, specifically a Motion for Costs against Trans Union based on Trans Union's planned Motion for Sanctions. That request closed with Alston acknowledging that an appeal "will likely result in the affirming of this Court's ruling" and that "she understands that she has lost. And that the case ... is over." June 7, 2017 Req. for Conf. at 2, ECF No. 161. She noted Trans Union's contention that it had incurred extra expenses in litigating the case because she "would not drop it, " then added that if "Trans Union drops its motion for sanctions, " she would agree to "drop her motion to alter and agree not to appeal this Court's decision." Id. On June 14, 2017, Alston filed the Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment against both Defendants.

         In a June 22, 2017 status conference, Experian stated that it would not join in the Motion for Sanctions, and Alston agreed to withdraw the Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment as to Experian. At that same status conference, the Court set the following briefing schedule. Trans Union would file its Motion for Sanctions by July 26, 2017; Alston would file her Motion for Costs as part of the Opposition to the Motion for Sanctions and would submit that combined filing to the Court by August 14, 2017; Trans Union would have until August 28, 2017 to submit a combined Opposition to the Motion for Costs and Reply Memorandum on the Motion for Sanctions; and Alston would have until September 11, 2017 to file her Reply Memorandum on the Motion for Costs. Although Trans Union timely filed its Motion for Sanctions, Alston filed nothing by August 14, 2017 deadline. On September 6, 2017, she filed a Motion for Extension of Time, which was later granted. On September 11, 2017, Alston filed her Opposition to Trans Union's Motion and included a Motion for Sanctions, rather than a Motion for Costs, asserting that Trans Union should be sanctioned for seeking sanctions against her. Trans Union responded to that Motion on September 25, 2017.

         On October 17, 2017, Alston filed what she titled, "Plaintiff Alston's Motion for Sanctions and Her Opposition to Trans Union LLC's Motion for Sanctions." The Court struck that new motion as untimely. On November 6, 2017, Alston sought permission to file a Motion for Reconsideration of the Court's Order striking her belated filing.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment

         In her Motion to Alter or Amend under Rule 59(e), Alston asks this Court to reconsider its grant of summary judgment to Trans Union. Alston claims that this Court erred because: (1) the Court improperly found that certain information was not relevant to Alston's dispute with Trans Union, and (2) § l68li does not ...


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