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McFarland v. Capital One, N.A.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 31, 2019

ANTHONY McFARLAND, On Behalf of Himself and All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiff,
v.
CAPITAL ONE, N.A., d/b/a Capital One Auto Finance, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Anthony McFarland filed this putative class action against Defendant Capital One, N.A. ("Capital One") in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland ("the Circuit Court"), alleging a breach of contract claim. Capital One removed the case to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act ("CAFA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d) (2012). Pending before the Court are McFarland's Motion to Lift Stay, McFarland's Motion to Remand, and Capital One's Motion to Dismiss. Having reviewed the Motions and the briefs, the Court finds no hearing necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, McFarland's Motion to Lift Stay is GRANTED; McFarland's Motion to Remand is GRANTED; and Capital One's Motion to Dismiss is DENIED AS MOOT.

         BACKGROUND

         On October 1, 2013, McFarland purchased a vehicle and financed the purchase through a retail installment sale contract ("RISC"), which was subsequently assigned to Capital One. The RISC affirmatively elects to be governed under the Maryland Credit Grantor Closed End Credit Provisions ("CLEC"), Md. Code Ann., Com. Law §§ 12-1001-12-1029 (West 2013). McFarland alleges that Capital One charged and collected convenience fees in violation of CLEC and thus materially breached the RISC.

         On May 29, 2018, McFarland filed his Complaint as a class action in the Circuit Court. McFarland alleges a breach of contract claim on behalf of a class that consists of:

All persons: (1) who entered into a RISC governed by CLEC; (2) between October 1, 2013 and October 31, 2013; (3) were charged a convenience fee by CAPITAL ONE; (4) within four years from the date of the filing of this Complaint or anytime thereafter.

         Comply ¶ 23, ECF No. 1-1. On July 13, 2018, Capital One removed the case on the basis of CAFA jurisdiction and filed a Motion to Dismiss on July 20, 2018. On July 24, 2018, McFarland moved to remand the case to the Circuit Court. On October 12, 2018, the Court (Titus, J.) stayed the case pending a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Brown v. Capital One, N.A., 750 Fed.Appx. 236 (4th Cir. 2019) (per curiam), a class action that was largely identical to the present case except that it did not limit the class to individuals who entered into RISCs during a specific one-month period. After the Fourth Circuit issued its decision in Brown on February 6, 2019 affirming the district court's dismissal of that case, McFarland moved to lift the stay. Because the basis for the stay no longer exists, the Court will grant the Motion to Lift Stay and address the remaining Motions.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Motion to Remand

         In his Motion to Remand, McFarland argues that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because Capital One has failed to demonstrate that the amount in controversy exceeds $5, 000, 000 and that the class consists of more than 100 individuals. Capital One, on the other hand, contends that the amount in controversy requirement of CAFA is satisfied because the amount at issue in the present case should be deemed to be the amount in controversy in Brown v. Capital One, N.A., No. GJH-17-3076, 2018 WL 3105768 (D. Md. June 25, 2018). Because McFarland has now conceded that the class consists of more than 100 individuals, see Reply at 1 n.1, ECF No. 15, the Court will analyze only the amount in controversy.

         A. Legal Standard

         A defendant in a state civil action may remove the case to federal district court if the district court would have had original jurisdiction had the action been filed there in the first instance. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). CAFA confers original jurisdiction to federal district courts over class actions in which (1) the class is comprised of at least 100 plaintiffs, id. § 1332(d)(5)(B); (2) any member of the class of plaintiffs is a citizen of a state different from the defendant's state of citizenship, id. § 1332(d)(2)(A); and (3) the amount in controversy exceeds $5, 000, 000, id. § 1332(d)(2). A defendant seeking removal must initially only "allege federal jurisdiction with a short plain statement." Strawn v. AT & T Mobility LLC, 530 F.3d 293, 297 (4th Cir. 2008). When removal is challenged, however, "the removing party bears the burden of demonstrating that removal jurisdiction is proper." Id. "When a plaintiffs complaint leaves the amount of damages unspecified, the defendant must provide evidence to 'show ... what the stakes of the litigation ... are given the plaintiffs actual demands.'" Scott v. Cricket Commc'ns, LLC, 865 F.3d 189, 194 (4th Cir. 2017) (quoting Brill v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., 427 F.3d 446, 449 (7th Cir. 2005)). Where there are doubts about a defendant's asserted amount in controversy, "both sides submit proof and the court decides, by a preponderance of the evidence, whether the amount-in-controversy requirement has been satisfied." Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co. v. Owens, 135 S.Ct. 547, 554(2014).

         B. Amount in Controversy

         McFarland's Complaint does not explicitly state the amount in controversy. In describing his damages, he alleges that his individual claim "totals less than $75, 000" and that the total damages he "seeks to recover on behalf of the Class totals more than $75, 000." Compl. at 7 n.1. In its Notice of Removal, Capital One asserted that because McFarland failed to quantify his damages, "the only method for calculating the potential amount in controversy is by reference to the explicit calculation of damages in Brown." Notice of Removal f 35, ECF No. 1. In Brown, the plaintiff, who was represented by McFarland's counsel, brought a similar class action against Capital One, alleging that Capital One charged convenience fees in violation of CLEC. Brown, 2018 WL 3105768, at *1. The complaint in Brown included a claim for treble damages under section 12-1018(b) of CLEC. ...


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