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Saunders v. Capital One Bank USA, N.A

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 3, 2019

HENRY SAUNDERS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAPITAL ONE BANK USA, N.A. et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PAUL W GRIMM UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA") seeks "to eliminate abusive debt collection practices by debt collectors." 15 U.S.C. § 1692(e). Here, Plaintiff Henry Saunders seeks more than $3.5 million in damages from Capital One Bank (USA), N.A. ("Capital One") and its chief financial officer, Stephen Crawford (collectively, "Defendants"), for unspecified violations of the FDCPA. See Compl. 6, ECF No. 1. Upon review, I agree with Defendants that Mr. Saunders has failed to allege that either Capital One or Mr. Crawford qualify as a "debt collector" under the statute. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 12) is therefore granted.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The issue before me at this stage of the proceedings is whether to dismiss Mr. Saunders's Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), under which I must assume all facts in the Complaint are true. See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27 (1989). As it happens, this Complaint is fairly short on facts - and what facts it does allege are not always consistent with each other.

         To begin, the Complaint alleges that Mr. Saunders was "obligated, or allegedly obligated, to pay a debt owed or due" to "a creditor other than" Capital One. Compl. ¶ 15. It states that this alleged debt "arises from a transaction in which the money, property, insurance, or services that are the subject of the transaction were incurred primarily for personal, family, or household purposes." Id. ¶ 16. The Complaint does not specify the amount of the debt or explain when or how it was incurred. And while at one point it asserts the debt was "owed or due a creditor other than" Defendants, id. ¶ 15, it later alleges that Capital One, in its attempts to collect on the debt, stated in the collection letter that Mr. Saunders "owed an alleged debt to Capital One Bank," id. ¶I8.

         According to the Complaint, Capital One sent its letter and a bill to Mr. Saunders on August 15, 2018. Id. ¶ 18. Mr. Saunders, in turn, mailed the company a "Notice of Presentment" disputing the existence of a debt and demanding verification under the FDCPA and Maryland law. See Notice of Presentment, ECF No. 1-3. There, Mr. Saunders ordered Capital One to "cease and desist any and all collection activity, in any and every form (including telephone contact)," until verification is provided. Id. at 1. The letter purported to be a "self-executing contract" and stated that the company's failure to provide the requested verification would operate to wipe away the debt. See Id. at 4 ("Payment shall be deemed refused, and/or no obligation exists, if'Lender' does not provide verification and/or adequate assurance of the alleged debt as herein requested . . . ."); id. at 6 ("Failure to respond to this letter within five (5) days of receipt will be taken as an administrative default as per the Administrative Procedures Act of 1946.").

         Defendants did not respond to Mr. Saunders's letter, see Compl. ¶2O, so Mr. Saunders commissioned a notary public to send a follow-up letter. See Id. ¶2l. The notary's letter, addressed to Capital One Financial Corporation's chief financial officer, was styled as a "Notice of Dishonor" and purported to give the company 10 days to respond to Mr. Saunders's "Notice of Presentment," or else the company would be estopped "as to the matter at hand" and would be liable for thousands of dollars in damages under various federal laws. See Notice of Dishonor 1-2, ECF No. 1-4. Later, after some time passed without a response from the Capital One, the notary sent another letter (under the header "Certificate of Protest") asserting that the company "has dishonored this Notary's Notice of Dishonor by non-response/nonperformance, and has therefore stipulated, confessed, and agreed to all terms and conditions stated in Presentment and Notice of Dishonor." Certificate of Protest, ECF No. 1-5. The letter alleged that, as a consequence of the "dishonor," the company was liable to Mr. Saunders for $3, 543, 339. Id. at 1.

         Mr. Saunders filed his Complaint in this Court on October 17, 2018, alleging Defendants "violated one or more provisions of the FDCPA." Compl. ¶ 27. Defendants soon afterward moved to dismiss the Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), arguing it "plainly fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted" because "neither Capital One nor Crawford are 'debt collectors' under the FDCPA." Defs.' Mem. 5, ECF No. 13. The motion is fully briefed. See ECF Nos. 13, 18, 19. A hearing is not required. See Loc. R. 105.6.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes parties in a civil action to seek the dismissal of a claim or complaint on the grounds that it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); Tucker v. Specialized Loan Servicing, LLC, 83 F.Supp.3d 635, 647-48 (D. Md. 2015). This rule's purpose "is to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and must state "a plausible claim for relief," Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Where, as here, the plaintiff has filed a pleading without the aid of counsel, the court must construe the pleading liberally. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam); White v. White, 886 F.2d 721, 722-23 (4th Cir. 1989). Liberal construction, though, does not mean a court may overlook a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts that set forth a cognizable claim. See Weller v. Dep 't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.

         "Generally, when a defendant moves to dismiss a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), courts are limited to considering the sufficiency of allegations set forth in the complaint and the 'documents attached or incorporated into the complaint.'" Zak v. Chelsea Therapeutics Int'l, Ltd., 780 F.3d 597, 606 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 448 (4th Cir. 2011)). Where, as here, a plaintiff has attached exhibits to the complaint, these exhibits are considered part of the pleading. See Fayetteville Inv'rs v. Commercial Builders, Inc., 936 F.2d 1462, 1465 (4th Cir. 1991); Bryant v. Wash. Mut. Bank, 524 F.Supp.2d 753, 757 n.4 (W.D. Va. 2007), aff'd, 282 Fed.Appx. 260 (4th Cir. 2008).

         DISCUSSION

         Mr. Saunders has brought this case under the FDCPA, a statute that "regulates interactions between consumers and debt collectors by imposing affirmative statutory obligations upon debt collectors and proscribing certain abusive conduct." Russell v. Absolute Collection Servs., Inc., 763 F.3d 385, 388-89 (4th Cir. 2014). "Debt collectors who violate the statute are liable to the debtor for actual damages, costs, and reasonable attorney's fees." Id. at 389 (citing 15 U.S.C. § l692k(a)(1)). "To state a claim for relief under the FDCPA, a plaintiff must allege that '(1) he has been the object of collection activity arising from consumer debt, (2) the defendant is a debt collector as defined by the FDCPA, and (3) the defendant has engaged in an act or omission prohibited by the FDCPA.'" Smith v. Cohn, Goldberg & Deutsch, LLC, 296 F.Supp. 3D 754, 758 (D. Md. 2017) (quoting Webber v. Maryland, No. RDB-16-2249, 2017 WL 86015, at *4 (D. Md. Jan. 10, 2017)).

         Defendants argue the Complaint fails to plead the second requirement. See Defs.' Mem. 4. They point, in particular, to Paragraph 18 of the Complaint, which alleges that "[i]n connection with the collection of an alleged debt, Capital One Bank, on or around August 15, 2018, sent a letter and bill to Petitioner, and at such time, claiming that ...


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