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Alston v. Orion Portfolio Services, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 11, 2019

JONATHAN T. ALSTON Plaintiff, pro se
v.
ORION PORTFOLIO SERVICES, LLC, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PETER J. MESSITTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pro se plaintiff Jonathan Alston has sued Orion Portfolio Services, LLC (“Orion”) and Trident Asset Management, LLC (“Trident”) (hereinafter, collectively “Defendants”) in connection with a debt he purportedly owed to Verizon Communications (“Verizon”) for unreturned television equipment and associated fees. Alston claims that Orion, which he says purchased the debt from Verizon, and Trident, which he says sought to collect the debt on behalf of Orion, attempted to collect the $1, 391 debt in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (the “FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq.

         Defendants have moved for dismissal of the remaining counts in Alston's Amended Complaint, as well as for sanctions. ECF No. 67. Alston opposes the Motion and has filed a Motion to Reconsider the Court's Order (ECF No. 58) denying his earlier Motion to Reconsider. ECF No. 73. For the following reasons, the Court will DENY Plaintiff's Motion to Reconsider, ECF No. 73, and GRANT Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and Motion for Sanctions, ECF No. 67.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The Court has recited the facts of this case in two prior Memorandum Opinions, ECF Nos. 15, 51, but believes they should be recounted again for context.

         Alston states in his Amended Complaint that he obtained a credit report from Trans Union and discovered a collection account reported by Trident that indicated that he owed $1, 391 to Verizon for utility services. Amended Complaint (“AC”) ¶¶ 5-6, ECF No. 19. Alston says he disputed the Trident collection account with Trans Union in a letter dated June 11, 2016. Id. ¶ 10. On July 12, 2016, Trans Union allegedly issued its investigation results, advising Alston that Trident had verified the account and determined that no changes to the report were appropriate, indicating it found no notation that the amount was in dispute. Id. ¶ 11.

         On August 22, 2016, Alston again purportedly contacted Trident, this time by phone, to dispute the debt. Id. ¶ 12. He says he was told that Trident would send him a letter providing a breakdown of how the $1, 391 was calculated and advising him of his right to request validation and/or verification of the debt. Id. ¶¶ 13-14. Alston was further supposedly told that Trident had not sent him a letter after it acquired the Verizon debt because Trident's policy was to contact debtors by phone, not by mail, and Trident did not have a phone No. for Alston on file. Id. ¶ 15.

         Alston says he called Trident yet again on August 25, 2016. Id. ¶ 16. He says he was advised at that time that Orion had purchased the debt from Verizon and that Trident was collecting the debt on behalf of Orion. Id. ¶ 17. Alston also says he was told that the debt was considered “disputed” as of August 22, 2016 and that Trident had reported information regarding the debt to credit reporting agencies (such as Trans Union) on the 23rd of every month. Id. ¶¶ 18-19.

         On August 26, 2016, Alston received correspondence from Trident, which informed him of his right to dispute the validity of the debt within 30 days of receiving the notice, but the notice still requested that he send a $1, 390.81 payment to Trident's address. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. Either during one of his alleged phone calls with Trident or in this letter, Alston says he was informed that the $1, 390.81 debt stemmed from unreturned Verizon FIOS TV equipment ($742.00) and from past due charges ($648.81). See Id. ¶ 29.

         Alston goes on to say that on August 29, 2016, he sent a dispute letter to Trans Union, challenging the claim. Id. ¶ 26. He also says he sent a letter directly to Trident. Id. ¶ 27. The letters purportedly disputed the fact that Trident or Orion acquired the account from Verizon, or that $1, 390.81 was owed on the account, or that Alston owed $742.00 for FIOS TV equipment and $648.81 for past due charges. Id. ¶¶ 28-29. Even so, says Alston, Trident continued its debt collection activity and reported the debt to Trans Union prior to providing Alston with validation of the debt. Id. ¶ 32.

         According to Alston, on September 12, 2016, Trans Union issued its investigation results, finding once again that Trident had verified the amount of the debt, and indicating once again that no changes would be made as to how the debt would be reported, and indicating once again that it found no notation that the collection account was disputed. Id. ¶ 33 Alston thereafter filed a Complaint in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, ECF No. 2, which Defendants removed to this Court in timely fashion. ECF No. 1. On November 22, 2016, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Counts I and II of the Complaint on the grounds that Alston had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. ECF No. 9. The Court granted Defendants' Motion and dismissed the two Counts, but did so without prejudice, granting Alston leave to file an amended complaint. ECF No. 15.

         In a lengthy footnote, the Court also directed Alston to file an affidavit establishing that the case was brought in good faith. ECF No. 15 at 1 n.1. The footnote observed that the case was one of dozens of suits alleging violations of fair debt collection laws brought by members of the Alston family, all of whom claimed to reside at 10012 Cedarhollow Lane, Largo, MD 20774. Id. The footnote also noted that Plaintiff's brother, Thomas Alston, a non-attorney who also invokes the Cedarhollow Lane address, has been both a plaintiff in many of these lawsuits as well as the de facto author of several of them. Id. Thomas Alston advertises legal services on LinkedIn, including his claim of work on debt collection cases, despite not being an attorney barred in any jurisdiction. Given the similarities between the present suit and many others brought in this and other courthouses by members of the Alston family, the Court directed the current Plaintiff Jonathan Alston to declare, under oath, among other things, (a) whether he in fact resides at 10012 Cedarhollow Lane, Largo, MD 20774, (b) what his other residences are, and (c) whether Thomas Alston in any way assisted him in the preparation or filing of the present suit. The Court also directed Plaintiff to “set forth the names of every individual (including, but not limited to Thomas Alston) or entity that has provided him with any advice, documents, or pleadings in connection with the present lawsuit.” Id.

         On March 20, 2017, Alston filed an affidavit. In it, he disputes that the LinkedIn profile about Thomas Alston was written by Thomas Alston. Pl. Aff. ¶ 15, ECF No. 17-3. He also states that he talks “generally to [his] family including Thomas Alston about the law and in particular the federal statutes such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act [“FCRA”] and Federal Debt Collection Practices Act, ” but that they do not talk about “the specifics of a particular case, ” and that he primarily uses PACER and the National Consumer Law Center to assist him in drafting his pleadings. Id. ¶¶ 16-17, 19 (emphasis in original). Jonathan Alston affirmed that he has not kept “a mental record of whether [he] received any particular advice, documents or pleadings from Thomas Alston or any other person or source other than PACER or the National Consumer Law Center.” Id. ¶ 20. Finally, Jonathan Alston noted that he has three addresses, including the 10012 Cedarhollow Lane, Largo, MD 20774 address, that he regularly uses. Id. ¶ 1-4. He stated that he could not affirm how he divides his time between the homes but said that he spends most of his time at a different residence. Id. ¶¶ 6-7.

         In addition to filing his affidavit, Alston also filed an Amended Complaint, which closely parallels ...


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