United States District Court, D. Maryland
L. RUSSELL, III UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
MATTER is before the Court on Defendants Stuart L. Sagal
(“Sagal”) and Sagal, Filbert, Quasney &
Betten, P.A.'s (“SFQB”) Motion to Dismiss, or
in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment and Request
for Hearing (ECF No. 7). This putative class action arises
from a debt collection dispute between SFQB, a law firm
representing The Maryland Management Company
(“MMC”), and Plaintiff Crystal Jackson, a former
MMC lessee. The Motion is ripe for disposition, and no
hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md.
2018). For the reasons outlined below, the Court will deny
2009 until 2010, Jackson and her husband lived in a property
MMC managed. (Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 1). After wearying of
various living conditions on and around the property, Jackson
ultimately gave MMC sixty days' advance notice, and then
moved out. (Id. ¶¶ 2-3).
2014, SFQB, on behalf of MMC, sued Jackson in the District
Court of Maryland for Baltimore City for owed rent, late
fees, court costs, utilities, and attorney's fees.
(Id. ¶ 4). The court awarded judgment for SFQB
but did not award attorney's fees. (Id. ¶
5). On August 15, 2017, the judgment was vacated, and the
lawsuit was dismissed in response to a class-action
settlement in another case, Claiborne v. The Maryland
Management Co., 24-C-16-004505 (Circ.Ct.Balt.City filed
Aug. 11, 2016). (Id. ¶ 6).
October 26, 2017, Sagal sent Jackson a collection letter on
SFQB letterhead (the “Letter”) that stated she
owed, “$1253.58 plus attorney fees of $188.03 and
interest.” (Id. ¶¶ 7, 37; Defs.'
Mot. Dismiss [“Defs.' Mot.”] Ex. 1A
[“Letter”] at 7, ECF No. 7-3). The Letter also
stated, “[U]nless suitable arrangements are made to
liquidate this indebtedness, we shall have no alternative but
to instigate legal proceedings. Such action will require
additional cost and expense to you as well as the
inconvenience of appearing at the trial of the case.”
(Compl. ¶ 42; Letter at 1).
February 16, 2018, Jackson filed three-count Class Action
Complaint for Violations of the Fair Debt Collection
Practices Act (the “Complaint”) against
Defendants. (ECF No. 1), alleging violations of the Fair Debt
Collection Practices Act (the “FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C.
§§ 1692 et seq. (2018). (ECF No. 1).
Jackson alleges that Defendants' Letter falsely stated
that she: owed attorney's fees when no fees were due
(Count I); would inevitably owe additional costs and expenses
if she were sued (Count II); and would be forced to attend
court in person if she were sued. (Compl. ¶¶ 61-77,
ECF No. 1). Jackson seeks compensatory damages, statutory
damages, and attorney's fees. (Id. ¶¶
66, 72, 78).
March 30, 2018, Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss, or
in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment and Request
for Hearing. (ECF No. 7). On April 19, 2018, Jackson filed an
Opposition. (ECF No. 10). On May 10, 2018, Defendants filed a
Reply. (ECF No. 13). On October 6, 2018, Jackson filed a
Surreply. (ECF No. 18).
Conversion of the Motion
style their Motion as one to dismiss under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary
judgment under Rule 56. A motion styled in this manner
implicates the Court's discretion under Rule 12(d).
See Kensington Volunteer Fire Dep't., Inc. v.
Montgomery Cty., 788 F.Supp.2d 431, 436-37 (D.Md. 2011),
aff'd, 684 F.3d 462 (4th Cir. 2012). This Rule
provides that when “matters outside the pleadings are
presented to and not excluded by the court, the [Rule
12(b)(6)] motion must be treated as one for summary judgment
under Rule 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). The Court
“has ‘complete discretion to determine whether or
not to accept the submission of any material beyond the
pleadings that is offered in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion and rely on it, thereby converting the motion, or to
reject it or simply not consider it.'”
Wells-Bey v. Kopp, No. ELH-12-2319, 2013 WL 1700927,
at *5 (D.Md. Apr. 16, 2013) (quoting 5C Wright & Miller,
Federal Practice & Procedure § 1366, at 159
(3d ed. 2004, 2012 Supp.)).
United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has
articulated two requirements for proper conversion of a Rule
12(b)(6) motion to a Rule 56 motion: notice and a reasonable
opportunity for discovery. See Greater Balt. Ctr. for
Pregnancy Concerns, Inc. v. Mayor of Balt., 721 F.3d
264, 281 (4th Cir. 2013). When the movant expressly captions
its motion “in the alternative” as one for
summary judgment and submits matters outside the pleadings
for the court's consideration, the parties are deemed to
be on notice that conversion under Rule 12(d) may occur.
See Moret v. Harvey, 381 F.Supp.2d 458, 464 (D.Md.
summary judgment is inappropriate when “the parties
have not had an opportunity for reasonable discovery.”
E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus.,
Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 448 (4th Cir. 2011). Yet, “the
party opposing summary judgment ‘cannot complain that
summary judgment was granted without discovery unless that
party had made an attempt to oppose the motion on the grounds
that more time was needed for discovery.'”
Harrods Ltd. v. Sixty Internet Domain Names, 302
F.3d 214, 244 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Evans v. Techs.
Applications & Serv. Co., 80 F.3d 954, 961 (4th Cir.
1996)). To raise sufficiently the issue that more discovery
is needed, the non-movant must typically file an affidavit or
declaration under Rule 56(d), explaining the “specified
reasons” why “it cannot present facts essential
to justify its opposition.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(d). A Rule
56(d) affidavit is inadequate if it simply demands
“discovery for the sake of discovery.”
Hamilton v. Mayor of Balt., 807 F.Supp.2d 331, 342
(D.Md. 2011) (citation omitted). A Rule 56(d) request for
discovery is properly denied when “the additional
evidence sought for discovery would not have by itself
created a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to defeat
summary judgment.” Ingle ex rel. Estate of Ingle v.
Yelton, 439 F.3d 191, 195 (4th Cir. 2006) (quoting
Strag v. Bd. of Trs., Craven Cmty. Coll., 55 F.3d
943, 953 (4th Cir. 1995)).
Jackson contends that it would be premature to construe
Defendants' Motion as one for summary judgment because
she has not had a reasonable opportunity for discovery. To
support her position, Jackson submitted a Rule 56(d)
affidavit from Attorney Peter A. Holland (the “Holland
Declaration”). (Holland Decl., ECF No. 10-1). The
Holland Declaration lists multiple items for which Jackson
seeks additional discovery. Holland avers that Jackson needs
written and deposition discovery to oppose Defendants'
affidavit regarding their fee agreement with MMC and fees
paid-such discovery “includ[ing] a redacted fee
agreement, invoices, cancelled checks, and testimony from a
representative of Sagal.” (Holland Decl. ¶¶
2-3). Some of the items listed in the Holland Declaration may
not be material to Jackson's claims, but Jackson is
entitled to any discovery relevant to her claims. See
Hunt Valley Baptist Church, Inc. v. Baltimore Cty., No.
ELH-17-804, 2017 WL 4801542, at *17 (D.Md. Oct. 24, 2017)
(declining to convert the defendants' motion because
“[a]lthough it may not be necessary for plaintiff to
explore each of its proposed discovery topics, . . plaintiff
is entitled to conduct discovery relevant to its
claims”). Further, Defendants do not dispute the
Holland Declaration's compliance with Rule 56(d)'s
requirement that an affidavit set forth “specified
reasons” as to why more discovery is needed.
the Court concludes that Jackson's Rule 56(d) affidavit
sufficiently establishes that discovery is necessary. As a
result, the Court will not convert the ...