United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Danit Johnson brings this consumer protection action against
Defendant Navient Solutions, LLC (Navient) alleging Fair
Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681
et seq., Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA),
15 U.S.C. §§ 1692, et seq., and common-law
defamation claims. ECF No. 1-3. Pending before the Court is
Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Defendant's Motion to
Dismiss. ECF No. 8. No. hearing is necessary. See
Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons,
Plaintiff's motion, construed as a Motion to Amend
Complaint, will be granted in part and denied in part.
services seven of Plaintiff's student loans. ECF No. 1-3
at 3. In July 2010, Plaintiff's ex-husband died suddenly.
ECF No. 8-1 at 2. His death left Plaintiff as the sole
caretaker for their four children and caused her financial
strain. Id. As a result, between 2010 and the middle
of 2017, Plaintiff's student loans moved in and out of
default. Id. During this period, in 2014, the loan
servicing company known as Sallie Mae, Inc., which serviced
Plaintiff's loans, ECF No. 8-5 at 2, changed its name to
Navient Solutions, Inc. and became a wholly-owned subsidiary
of Navient Corporation. See 2014 SEC Form 10-K for
Navient Corporation, available at
https://www.navient.com/assets/about/investors/shareholder/annual-reports/NAVI2014Form10-K2-27-15Final.pdf. Navient Solutions, Inc.
later converted to a limited liability company and is now
known as Navient Solutions, LLC. Id. Sallie Mae
informed Plaintiff of its name change on September 23, 2014.
ECF No. 8-5 at 2
October 2017, Plaintiff completed a loan rehabilitation
program with consecutive on-time monthly payments,
demonstrating a renewed ability to repay her loans. ECF No.
8-1 at 2. At the end of the program, Defendant assigned
Plaintiff a $574.99 monthly payment for her outstanding
loans. ECF No. 1-3 at 1. This monthly payment was broken out
into two separate automatic withdrawals from Plaintiff's
credit union in the amount of $304.58 and $270.41.
Id. at 2, 9-15.
January 2018, Plaintiff noticed inaccurate information on her
credit reports about the amount and status of her loan
payments. ECF No. 1-3 at 2; ECF No. 8-1 at 2-3. On January
13, 2018, Plaintiff disputed the inaccurate information with
the credit reporting agency (CRA) Experian. ECF No. 8-6 at
Experian notified Defendant of the dispute, ECF No. 8-1 at 2,
but Defendant failed to investigate and modify the inaccurate
information, id. For example, although Plaintiff was
making regular, timely payments, Defendant continued to
report her payments as “90 Days Past Due” and
“delinquent.” ECF No. 1-3 at 52-53. Plaintiff
alleges that Defendant inaccurately reported her loans as
delinquent “with actual knowledge of the errors.”
Id. at 2.
filed her initial Complaint against Defendant in the District
court for Prince George's County, Maryland on October 15,
2018. ECF No. 1-3. Defendant then removed the case to this
Court, ECF No. 1, and moved to dismiss the Complaint, ECF No.
5. Plaintiff responded to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss
with a pleading entitled Motion to Strike Defendant's
Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 8.
construction of the pleadings, is appropriate where, as here,
a party is self-represented. See Spencer v. Earley,
278 Fed.Appx. 254, 259-60 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting Haines
v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 521 (1972)) (“[d]ismissal
of a pro se complaint ... for failure to state a
valid claim is [ ] only appropriate when, after applying this
liberal construction, it appears ‘beyond doubt that the
plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of
his claim which would entitle him to relief'”))
(emphasis in original). “[T]he mandated liberal
construction afforded to pro se pleadings
‘means that if the court can reasonably read the
pleadings to state a valid claim on which the petitioner
could prevail, it should do so.'” Barnett v.
Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999). However,
“judges are . . . not required to construct a
party's legal arguments for him.” Small v.
Endicott, 998 F.2d 411, 417-18 (7th Cir. 1993).
may construe “pro se filings and subsequent
reply briefs as motions to amend.” Royal v. United
States, No. CIV. AW-13-386, 2013 WL 3868152, at *2 (D.
Md. July 24, 2013) (collecting cases); See also Evans v.
United States, Civil Action No. DKC 2004-2830, 2007 WL
2572432, at *1 (D.Md. Sep. 4, 2007) (construing supplemental
filing as motion to amend). Because Plaintiff alleges new
facts relevant to her FCRA claim in her response to
Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and in light of the liberal
construction rules applied to self-represented parties, this
Court will construe Plaintiff's Motion to Strike
Defendant's Motion to Dismiss as a Motion to Amend her
stage of the litigation, the parties may amend their
pleadings “only with the opposing party's written
consent or the court's leave.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
15(a)(2). Courts are to “freely give leave when justice
so requires, ” id., “unless the
amendment would be prejudicial to the opposing party, there
has been bad faith on the part of the moving party, or the
amendment would have been futile.” Steinburg v.
Chesterfield Cnty. Planning Comm'n, 527 F.3d 377,
390 (4th Cir. 2008).
will not be prejudiced if Plaintiff is granted leave to amend
and Plaintiff has not acted in bad faith. The only new facts
Plaintiff asserts are that in addition to disputing
inaccurate information appearing on her credit report
directly with Defendant, Plaintiff notified a CRA of this
dispute and the CRA notified Defendant. Thus, even though
Plaintiff did not include these allegations in her initial
Complaint, Defendant already knew that Plaintiff had notified
a CRA of the disputed information because Experian had put
Defendant on notice. Defendant asks the Court to dismiss
Plaintiff's Complaint based on a technical deficiency
rather than allow her leave to amend, but were the Court to
grant Defendant's request, Plaintiff could simply refile
her suit with her amended allegations-extending the life of
this litigation and depriving both parties of an efficient
resolution. Moreover, although Plaintiff titled her motion as
a Motion to Strike rather than a request for leave to amend,
Defendant had an opportunity to respond with an explanation
about why an amendment would prejudice Defendant or be
futile. ECF No. 12 at 6 n. 3. Defendant did not do so,
instead arguing only that Plaintiff had failed to request
leave to amend using magic words. Id. Additionally,
there is no allegation that Plaintiff acted in bad faith. In
sum, Defendant will suffer no prejudice if Plaintiff is
granted leave to amend and Plaintiff has not acted in bad
the Court considers whether Plaintiff's amended
allegations would be futile. An amendment is futile if the
amended allegations would not survive a motion to dismiss
because the complaint does not 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, 677 (2009) (quoting
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007)). When deciding a motion to dismiss, a court
“must accept as true all of the factual allegations
contained in the complaint, ” and “draw all
reasonable inferences 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). Generally, if the Court
considers matter outside the pleadings when deciding a
defendant's 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must treat a
motion to dismiss as one for summary judgment. Jakubiak
v. Perry, 101 F.3d 23, 24 n. 1 (4th Cir. 1996). However,
“the court may properly consider documents
‘attached to the complaint, as well as those attached
to the motion to dismiss, so long as they are integral to the
complaint and authentic.'” Philips v. Pitt
Cnty. Mem. Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009)
Plaintiff to sufficiently allege an FCRA claim that Defendant
failed to comply with 15 U.S.C. § 1681s-2(b)(1)(A)'s
investigation requirement, she must assert (1) that she
notified a CRA of the disputed information, (2) that the CRA
notified the Defendant furnisher of the dispute, and (3) that
the furnisher then failed to reasonably investigate and
modify the inaccurate information. Johnson v. MBNA Am
Bank, NA, 357 F.3d 426, 430-31 (4th Cir. 2004).
Plaintiff's amended allegations assert that she notified
Experian of disputed information appearing on her credit
report. ECF No. 8-1 at 2-3; ECF No. 8-6 at 4. She further
alleges that Experian notified Defendant of the dispute, but
Defendant failed to investigate the dispute or modify the
inaccurate information on Plaintiff's report. ECF No. 8-1
at 2. Although Plaintiff was making regular, timely ...