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Alston v. Branch Banking & Trust Company

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

September 20, 2018

YVONNE R. ALSTON, Plaintiff,
v.
BRANCH BANKING & TRUST COMPANY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pro se plaintiff Yvonne R. Alston filed suit against Defendant Trans Union, LLC (“Trans Union”) alleging violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq.[1] The Court either dismissed each claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or entered summary judgment in Trans Union's favor. See ECF Nos. 51, 78. Presently pending before the Court is Trans Union's Motion for Attorneys' Fees. ECF No. 80. No. hearing is necessary to resolve the motion. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons that follow, Trans Union's Motion is granted, in part, and Trans Union is awarded attorneys' fees in the amount of $6, 634.56.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         A. Factual Background

         Alston's complaint stems from an initial dispute with BB&T whereby Alston, on May 31, 2014, requested a payoff statement from BB&T for the mortgage refinance loan on her primary residence (the “Note”). ECF No. 27 ¶¶ 8-9. On June 4, 2014, BB&T sent Alston a payoff statement, a notice of transfer of servicing, and a copy of the Note. Id. ¶ 12. According to Alston, the Note sent in that correspondence “was not certified as a true and accurate copy.” Id. ¶ 13. Following additional rounds of correspondence, Alston stated that BB&T failed to verify that it was the holder of the Note and, therefore, should have ceased assessing interest on her loan. Alston demanded that BB&T apply her mortgage payments submitted from June 2014 through December 2014 to her principal balance only. Id. ¶ 22. On January 4, 2015, BB&T ultimately provided Alston with a payoff statement which, contrary to Alston's demand, directed a portion of her monthly payments to the interest due on the Note. Id. ¶ 23.

         Alston then sent a dispute letter to three consumer reporting agencies (“CRAs”), Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union, in which she stated that the balance on her mortgage account was incorrect. According to Alston, rather than a balance of $131, 809, her report should have shown a balance of $129, 463.40 to reflect application of her June 2014 through December 2014 mortgage payments to the principal balance only. Id. ¶ 24. Alston asked that the CRAs “investigate whether [Alston] attempted to pay the debt in full and whether BB&T provided the necessary documentation” for her to complete the payoff. Id.

         On January 9, 2015, Trans Union provided Alston with the result of its investigation of her dispute, and continued to report Alston's mortgage balance as $131, 809. Id. ¶ 29. Alston alleged that Trans Union did not independently investigate her dispute but instead relied on BB&T's purportedly inadequate investigation. Id. Trans Union provided Alston with a copy of her credit file, which revealed that Midland, a debt collection and information management company, id. ¶ 4, had obtained a copy of her consumer report from Trans Union on August 22, 2014. Id. ¶ 30. Alston alleged that she contacted Midland and spoke with an employee who “acknowledge[d] that Midland did not have a reason to obtain her report.” Id. Alston contended that Midland obtained her report as part of a scheme to pull individual consumer reports in order to identify potential creditors to solicit and offer its debt collection services. Id. According to Alston, Trans Union was aware that Midland improperly pulled consumer reports for these purposes but had not established any procedural safeguards to prevent such conduct. Id. Finally, on November 4, 2015, Alston sent another dispute letter to Trans Union, indicating that the balance of her mortgage account was still inaccurate and should be reported as $121, 643.91. Id. ¶ 42.

         B. Procedural Background

         Alston initiated this action in State Court on September 8, 2015, and Trans Union removed the case to this Court on October 13, 2015. ECF No. 1. Alston alleged that Trans Union failed to establish or follow reasonable procedures to avoid the disclosure of her credit information to Midland for impermissible purposes, in violation of § 1681(e)(a) (Count III), and failed to conduct a reasonable investigation into her dispute with BB&T and correct her credit report accordingly, in violation of § 1681i(a) (Count V). See ECF No. 27.

         Trans Union moved for Judgment on the Pleadings, ECF No. 44, which the Court granted, in part. ECF No. 50. Regarding Count III, the Court denied Trans Union's motion, holding that the facts alleged by Plaintiff, and construed in her favor, supported an inference that Trans Union failed to establish sufficient procedures to ensure that it did not provide Plaintiff's credit history to debt collectors, like Midland, for impermissible purposes. Id. at 15-17. Regarding Count V, the Court found that Plaintiff's dispute with BB&T was a legal dispute to which Trans Union had no obligation to resolve and dismissed the claim as an impermissible collateral attack on the legal validity of her debts. Id. at 18. The Court also dismissed Plaintiff's claim related to Trans Union's failure to investigate her November 2015 dispute letter because Plaintiff had filed her Amended Complaint before the thirty-day timeline expired for Trans Union to complete its investigation. Id. at 19.

         Thereafter, Plaintiff moved to Alter or Amend the Court's Order on Count V, alleging that the Order “contains a clear error of law, ” ECF No. 67, and Trans Union moved for Summary Judgment on Count III, ECF No. 71-1. Regarding Count V, the Court found that Plaintiff's motion was improperly styled as a motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) because the Court's Order was not a final judgment and denied the motion as an untimely without assessing the merits of her underlying argument. ECF No. 77 at 6-8. Notably, the Court stated that Plaintiff's inability to file a Rule 59(e) motion was clearly laid out by Judge Chuang in Letren v. Experian Info Solutions, Inc., No. TDC-14-3957 (D. Md. Aug. 1, 2016) in a case filed by Plaintiff's daughter, Candace Alston, who resides at Plaintiff's address. See Alston v. Branch Banking & Trust Co., No. GJH-15-3100, 2017 WL 4124231, at * 3, n.6 (D. Md. Sept. 15, 2017).

         Regarding Count III, the Court granted summary judgment in Trans Union's favor. The Court found that because Plaintiff had failed to comply with the Court's Discovery Order, ECF No. 62, participate in discovery, and respond to Trans Union's request for admission, she had, as a matter of law, admitted that Trans Union's credit reporting procedures were adequate and Trans Union did not violate § 1681(e)(a). ECF No. 77 at 8-11. While Plaintiff did not explain her failure to participate in discovery or offer any evidence in support of the allegations in her Amended Complaint, Plaintiff opposed Trans Union's motion by unsuccessfully arguing that Trans Union failed to notify her of its intent to file a motion for summary judgment as required by Local Rule 105.2(c). ECF No. 74.

         II. DISCUSSION

         The FCRA provides that the Court may award attorneys' fees to the prevailing party if the opposing party makes a filing in ...


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