DAVID MILLS, ET AL.
GALYN MANOR HOMEOWNER'S ASSOCIATION, INC.
Circuit Court for Frederick County Case No. 10-C-16-000961
Berger, Arthur, Leahy, JJ.
case arises out of an action filed in the Circuit Court for
Frederick County by appellants, David and Tammy Mills (the
"Homeowners") against appellee, Galyn Manor
Homeowners Association, Inc. ("Galyn Manor"). In
2016, the Homeowners filed a complaint challenging the way
Galyn Manor calculated and collected debts. The Homeowners
specifically alleged violations of the Maryland Consumer
Protection Act and the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act,
in addition to claims of conversion and breach of
contract. Thereafter, Galyn Manor filed a motion for
summary judgment. The circuit court granted Galyn Manor's
motion on the debt collection and consumer protection claims.
The court also disposed of the conversion and contract claims
that arose prior to April 1, 2013, ruling that those claims
were time-barred. Any claims arising after that date
proceeded to trial. At trial, the court granted Galyn
Manor's motion for judgment at the close of the
Homeowners' case-in-chief, ruling that the Homeowners did
not present sufficient evidence to satisfy the elements of
either cause of action.
appeal, the Homeowners pose four questions, which we set
1. Did the Circuit Court err by concluding the Maryland
Consumer Protection Act didn't apply to Appellant's
claims of unfair and deceptive trade practices?
2. Did the Circuit Court err by concluding that the Maryland
Consumer Debt Collection Act does not protect consumers who
claim that a collector is collecting or attempting to collect
an invalid debt?
3. Did the Circuit Court err by ruling that all evidence of
breach of contract, collection activity and conversion
occurring prior to April 1, 2013 was time-barred?
4. Did the Circuit Court err by granting judgment in
Appellee's favor on the breach of contract and conversion
reasons explained herein, we affirm in part and reverse in
part, and remand the case for further proceedings.
Homeowners own a home in Frederick, Maryland and are members
of Galyn Manor, a homeowners' association
("HOA"). As members of the HOA, the Homeowners are
bound by Galyn Manor's governing documents. The governing
documents contain the bylaws and declaration of covenants,
conditions, restrictions, and easements. The bylaws and
declaration require members to comply with certain rules and
restrictions, and to pay yearly assessment fees, due in
quarterly installments. The declaration sets forth the way
delinquent assessments accrue interest and late fees. Galyn
Manor may also seek attorney's fees and costs in
collecting unpaid assessments. To secure the payment of
assessment fees, Galyn Manor holds a continuing lien on each
governing documents also authorize Galyn Manor to fine
members who violate certain sections of the declaration and
bylaws. For example, fines are permitted when a member
constructs a structure on a lot without the HOA's
permission. The declaration includes trailers in its
definition of a "structure." These fines may be
enforced and collected in the same manner as unpaid
February 2007, Galyn Manor's former management company --
Chambers Management, Inc. ("Chambers") --
discovered that the Homeowners regularly parked a large
trailer on their property overnight. Chambers notified the
Homeowners that this conduct was in violation of the
HOA's governing documents. Chambers further advised the
Homeowners that they would be subject to a $50 fine for each
day that the trailer was parked on their property. The
Homeowners were given thirty days to correct the violation.
Chambers sent the Homeowners four more letters between April
and October 2007, but the Homeowners did not take any
corrective action. On October 24, 2007, Chambers sent another
letter to the Homeowners, informing them that the Homeowners
owed $645 in fines. The letter further provided that it was
the Homeowners' final notice, that the Homeowners had
until November 26 to pay, and that the letter served as
"an attempt to collect a debt[.]"
December 2007, Galyn Manor retained Andrews & Lawrence
Professional Services, LLC ("Andrews") to provide
legal services and to collect overdue assessments. By March
2008, the Homeowners accrued $1, 500 in parking violations,
while also falling behind on their quarterly assessment
payments. Andrews notified the Homeowners in April 2008 that
it represented Galyn Manor and that the Homeowners owed $2,
632.84 in "assessments due, late fees and costs of
collections, including attorney's fees, authorized by the
Declaration." The letter did not specifically provide
whether the fines from the parking violations were included
in the stated amount. Andrews warned the Homeowners that it
would accelerate the debt and file a lien if the Homeowners
did not satisfy the debt within thirty days.
further provided the Homeowners with notice of their rights
under the Maryland Contract Lien Act ("MCLA").
Specifically, Andrews advised the Homeowners that the debt
would be presumed valid unless the Homeowners disputed its
validity within thirty days. The Homeowners did not dispute
the debt or otherwise respond to the letter within the
thirty-day period. Andrews also attached a statement of the
Homeowners' account, which itemized each individual
charge. A statement of lien was filed and recorded in June
2008 in the amount of $3, 581.88. This amount represented the
amount due and owing at the time, i.e. $2, 632.84, plus
interest, late fees, attorney's fees, and costs.
Homeowners responded to the notice on August 28, 2008. In a
handwritten letter to Andrews, the Homeowners agreed to
"make payment arrangements for all overdue quarterly HOA
dues[, ]" but "dispute[d] the validity of all other
fines." The Homeowners further stated that they were
preparing "factual evidence to proceed with a
hearing." The Homeowners did not explain their failure
to respond within the thirty-day period.
sent the Homeowners a second notice of acceleration and
intent to file a lien in August 2010. Andrews stated that the
Homeowners owed $4, 256.88 in assessments, late fees, costs,
and attorney's fees. Andrews again provided the
Homeowners with their rights under the MCLA, and the
Homeowners again failed to respond within thirty days.
Thereafter, a statement of lien in the amount of $4, 791.58
was filed and recorded.
October 14, 2010, Galyn Manor filed a complaint against the
Homeowners in the District Court for Frederick County. The
District Court entered judgment in favor of Galyn Manor in
the amount of $1, 872.93. In July 2011, Andrews filed a writ
of garnishment on behalf of Galyn Manor, seeking to garnish
funds in the Homeowners' bank account to satisfy the
judgment. Shortly thereafter, the Homeowners asked Galyn
Manor to rescind the garnishment. Galyn Manor agreed to
rescind the garnishment on the condition that the Homeowners
sign a promissory note. Thereafter, a promissory note for $3,
429 was executed. The note obligated the Homeowners to make
monthly payments of $130. The note also included a confession
of judgment and a waiver of exemptions.
Homeowners made two timely payments on the promissory note
before defaulting. Galyn Manor filed a complaint for judgment
by confession in the District Court for Frederick County,
seeking $2, 069 -- the remaining amount owed on the
promissory note -- plus $413.80 in attorney's
fees. On July 18, 2013, the District Court
awarded Galyn Manor judgment. Galyn Manor filed another
District Court complaint in August 2014 and a consent
judgment of $3, 297.53 was entered on November 7, 2014. On
May 14, 2015, Galyn Manor garnished $3, 497.53 from the
Homeowners' bank account. Despite the garnishment, the
record demonstrates that the Homeowners remained at least $5,
000 in arrears.
nearly ten years of collection efforts, the Homeowners
commenced this suit on April 1, 2016. In March 2017, the
Homeowners filed an amended complaint alleging that Galyn
Manor's collection efforts violated the Maryland Consumer
Protection Act ("MCPA") and the Maryland Consumer
Debt Collection Act ("MCDCA"). The Homeowners also
brought conversion and breach of contract claims. Galyn Manor
filed a third-party complaint against Andrews, contending
that Andrews agreed to indemnify Galyn Manor for any
memorandum opinion, the Circuit Court for Frederick County
granted Galyn Manor's summary judgment motion on the MCPA
claim, noting that the statute specifically exempts
attorneys. As a result, the circuit court held that Galyn
Manor could not be held vicariously liable. The circuit court
also awarded Galyn Manor judgment as a matter of law on the
MCDCA claim, ruling that the Homeowners improperly used the
statute as a vehicle to dispute the validity of the debt,
whereas the statute only proscribes certain methods of
collecting the debt.
the court granted Galyn Manor judgment as a matter of law on
the conversion and breach of contract claims that arose
before April 1, 2013, holding that those alleged breaches
were barred by the statute of limitations. The
Homeowners' claims that arose after April 1, 2013
proceeded to trial. At the close of the Homeowners' case,
the court awarded Galyn Manor judgment as a matter of law,
concluding that the Homeowners did not present sufficient
evidence to satisfy the elements of a breach of contract or
conversion claim. This appeal followed.
Homeowners challenge both the circuit court's grant of
summary judgment and the grant of Galyn Manor's motion
for judgment at trial. "[T]hese rulings were premised on
purely legal issues," therefore, "we apply the same
standard of review." Golub ex rel. Golub v.
Cohen, 138 Md.App. 508, 516 (2001). Under the Maryland
rules, a circuit court "shall enter judgment in favor of
or against the moving party if the motion and response show
that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and
that the party in whose favor judgment is entered is entitled
to judgment as a matter of law." Md. Rule 2-501(f).
purpose of the summary judgment procedure is not to try the
case or to decide the factual disputes, but to decide whether
there is an issue of fact, which is sufficiently material to
be tried." Jones v. Mid-Atl. Funding Co., 362
Md. 661, 675 (2001) (citations omitted). Thus, "[i]n
reviewing the grant of a summary judgment motion, we are
concerned with whether a dispute of material fact
exists," id. (citations omitted), and our
review is de novo. MAMSI Life & Health Ins. Co. v.
Callaway, 375 Md. 261, 278 (2003) (citing Green v. H
& R Block, Inc., 355 Md. 488, 502 (1999)). In doing
so, we review the same record and issues of law as the trial
court and are "tasked with determining whether the trial
court reached the correct result as a matter of law."
Id. (citing Tyma v. Montgomery Cnty., 369
Md. 497, ...