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Archie v. Nagle & Zaller, P.C.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

July 19, 2018

SUZETTE ARCHIE, OM SHARMA, Plaintiffs,
v.
NAGLE & ZALLER, P.C., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In this putative class action, Plaintiffs Suzette Archie and Om Sharma have sued Defendant Nagle & Zaller, P.C. (“N&Z”) for alleged violations of state and federal law. ECF No. 22. On behalf of two classes of plaintiffs, Archie and Sharma allege that N&Z is liable for filing Writs of Garnishment that impermissibly sought post-judgment enforcement costs (the “Garnishment Class”), and for filing Statements of Lien that included language improperly stating that the liens could increase or decrease in value (the “Lien Class”). Now pending before the Court is N&Z's Motion to Dismiss, or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment and Request for Hearing, ECF No. 25, and Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification, ECF No. 28. The Motions have been fully briefed, and the Court heard arguments from the parties regarding the Motion to Dismiss at a June 21, 2018 Motion Hearing. ECF No. 44. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is granted and the Plaintiffs' motions are denied.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         On June 29, 2007, Plaintiff Om Sharma acquired his home located within Gabriel's Run, a neighborhood in Glenn Dale, Maryland. ECF No. 22 ¶¶ 47-48. On March 7, 2017, the Gabriel's Run Homeowners Association, represented by N&Z, sued Sharma in the District Court of Maryland for Prince George's County, for a sum of money related to Sharma's property. Id. ¶ 50. On June 23, 2017, the lawsuit was dismissed and the parties stipulated that Sharma owed Gabriel's Run $3, 965.00 as of December 31, 2016. Id. ¶ 53. On July 11, 2017, N&Z filed a Statement of Lien against Sharma. Id. ¶ 54. This lien claimed the right to collect $3, 099.30 from Dr. Sharma, including “$379 for costs of collection and $900 for attorney fees.” Id. ¶ 57. The lien also claimed the right to obtain “additional fines, late fees, interest, costs of collection and attorney's fees actually incurred, if any, as permitted by the Association's governing documents, that may come due after the date this lien was drafted. Said amount may increase or decrease . . . .” Id. ¶ 58.

         Separately, on May 22, 2012, the Holly Hill Homeowners Association obtained a consent judgment against Plaintiff Suzette Archie, [2] and was awarded $83 in costs. Id. ¶ 69. Neither Holly Hill nor N&Z requested the right to petition the state court for future collection costs. Id. ¶ 70. On September 2, 2016, N&Z submitted a request for a Writ of Garnishment of Wages, and sought $118 in costs ($35 more than it was initially awarded). Id. ¶ 71. On June 13, 2016, N&Z filed two Statements of Lien against Archie's property. Id. ¶ 78. These liens contained the same language as was included in Sharma's liens regarding “additional” costs that may “increase or decrease.” Id. ¶ 82.

         On June 14, 2017, Plaintiff Archie filed a Class Action Complaint & Demand For Jury Trial in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, ECF No. 2, which she subsequently amended, ECF No. 9. On August 31, 2017, the case was removed to this Court. ECF No. 10. Following the filing of a Motion to Dismiss by N&Z, ECF No. 17, Archie amended her Complaint again on October 5, 2017, ECF No. 22. In this Second Amended Class Action Complaint, Archie added Sharma as an additional named Plaintiff. Plaintiffs seek to establish two classes: the “Garnishment Class, ” which would include Maryland residents against whom N&Z has filed a Writ of Garnishment in the last three years to seek costs greater than the costs actually assessed by a judgment; and the “Lien Class, ” which would include Maryland residents against whom N&Z has filed a lien in the last three years and asserted a right for “unknown, future sums, other than interest . . . .” Id. ¶¶ 103, 105. The putative classes assert four Counts for: Declaratory Judgment and Injunctive Relief (Count I); Violation of the FDCPA (Count II); Violation of the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act (Count III); and Injurious Falsehood - Disparagement of Title (Count IV).

         On October 19, 2017, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss, or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment and Request for Hearing.[3] ECF No. 25. Plaintiffs subsequently filed a Motion for Class Certification on November 12, 2017. ECF No. 28. The next day, November 13, 2017, Plaintiffs submitted a filing which included a Cross Motion For Partial Summary Judgment, an Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, and a Motion to Strike/Disregard Defendant's Memorandum of Law in Violation of Local Rule 105(3). ECF No. 29. These Motions have been fully briefed, and the Court heard arguments from the parties at a June 21, 2018 Motion Hearing. See ECF Nos. 34, 35, 39, 40, 44.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (“a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do.”)).

         The purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) “is to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). When deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court “must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint, ” and must “draw all reasonable inferences [from those facts] in favor of the plaintiff.” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). The Court need not, however, accept unsupported legal allegations, see Revene v. Charles County Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989), legal conclusions couched as factual allegations, Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986), or conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events. United Black Firefighters of Norfolk v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979).

         Defendant's Motion is styled as a Motion to Dismiss or, Alternatively, for Summary Judgment. If the Court considers materials outside the pleadings, as the Court does here, the Court must treat a motion to dismiss as one for summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). When the Court treats a motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment, “[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.” Id. When the moving party styles its motion as a “Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment, ” as is the case here, and attaches additional materials to its motion, the nonmoving party is, of course, aware that materials outside the pleadings are before the Court, and the Court can treat the motion as one for summary judgment. See Laughlin v. Metropolitan Wash. Airports Auth., 149 F.3d 253, 260-61 (4th Cir. 1998). Further, the Court is not prohibited from granting a motion for summary judgment before the commencement of discovery. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) (stating that the court “shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact” without distinguishing pre-or post-discovery).

         Summary judgment is appropriate if “materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . ., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), show that there is “no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating that no genuine dispute exists as to material facts. Pulliam Inv. Co. v. Cameo Props., 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987). If the moving party demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to identify specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. A material fact is one that “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Spriggs v. Diamond Auto Glass, 242 F.3d 179, 183 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A dispute of material fact is only “genuine” if sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party exists for the trier of fact to return a verdict for that party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. However, the nonmoving party “cannot create a genuine issue of material fact through mere speculation or the building of one inference upon another.” Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1986). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

         Here, there is little dispute over the relevant facts of this case. See ECF No. 29 at 6.[4]Thus, the Court examines whether either party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the basis of the facts presented by the parties.

         III. ...


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