United States District Court, D. Maryland
K. Bredar Chief Judge
Flowers ("Plaintiff") filed suit against Defendants
Aaron Naiman ("Mr. Naiman"), Naiman & Naiman,
P. A. ("Naiman Firm"), and Baltax 2017, LLC
("Baltax") alleging violations of the Fair Debt
Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692, et
seq., and the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act, Md.
Code. Ann., Com. Law. § 14-201, et seq.,
Plaintiffs claims relate to Defendants' attempt to
foreclose Plaintiff s right of redemption to her property and
collect payments from Plaintiffs mortgage servicer in
relation to that foreclosure litigation, Plaintiff claims
that Baltax was not the owner of the property, had no legal
right to attempt to foreclose her right of redemption, and
had no legal right to collect any money from her mortgage
servicer in connection with that litigation.
seeks actual and statutory damages, as well as reasonable
attorney's fees and costs. Defendants filed a motion to
dismiss, and the matter is fully briefed. No. hearing is
required. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For
the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion to
dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.
Flowers had a municipal lien placed on her property due to an
allegedly delinquent water bill. (Compl. ¶ 18, ECF No.
1.) Plaintiffs property was subsequently sold at a municipal
lien sale to Dean Properties 2015, LLC. (Id.) This
sale was subject to Plaintiffs right of redemption to regain
the property by paying her outstanding bills and associated
October 13, 2017, Dean Properties ceased doing business and
forfeited its right to bring lawsuits in Maryland.
(Id. ¶ 19.) On February 26, 2018, Mr. Naiman,
an attorney, and the Naiman Firm filed a lawsuit in Baltimore
City on behalf of Baltax seeking to foreclose Plaintiffs
right of redemption to her property. (Id.
¶¶ 16, 21.) According to Plaintiff, Baltax is a
company that "has filed hundreds of tax sale foreclosure
lawsuits." (Id. ¶ 28.) Baltax hired Mr.
Naiman and the Naiman Firm and directed them to attempt to
collect "debt arising from Plaintiffs water bill"
from Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 31, 42.) Plaintiff
asserts that Mr. Naiman, the Naiman Firm, and Baltax are
jointly and severally liable to the Plaintiff for all alleged
violations related to the collection of this debt.
(Id. ¶¶ 41-49.)
Baltax's lawsuit to foreclose Plaintiffs right of
redemption to her property, Defendantsclaimed that
Baltax had purchased Plaintiffs property on May 15, 2017.
(Id. ¶ 20.) Plaintiff disputes Baltax's
claim of ownership. (Id.). Instead, she alleges
Baltax "had no legal interest in or rights to the
[p]roperty," and thus had no right to bring a lawsuit to
foreclose her right of redemption. (Id. ¶¶
bringing the lawsuit to foreclose Plaintiffs right of
redemption, Mr. Naiman and the Naiman Firm contacted
Plaintiffs mortgage servicer on behalf of Baltax and demanded
payment "in order to redeem the tax sale certificate on
the [p]roperty." (Id. ¶ 23.) Specifically,
Defendants' requested "payment of legal fees, title
examination fees, closing fees, publication fees, filing
fees, judgment report fees, postage fees, private process
server fees, and posting fees." (Id.)
Plaintiffs mortgage servicer paid the requested fees in order
to redeem the property's tax sale certificate and then
assessed those fees and others related to
"Defendants' unlawful collection efforts"
against Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 23-25.)
to Plaintiff, Defendants were not legally permitted to
attempt to foreclose her right of redemption or collect fees
through her mortgage servicer because: (1) Baltax did not own
Plaintiffs property or have "legal interest in or rights
to the [p]roperty," (id. ¶¶ 20-23);
and (2) Defendants were not licensed in Maryland as
collection agencies under Maryland law, (id.
¶¶ 29, 30). Plaintiff claims Defendants'
statements, which were made in an effort to collect the debt,
were "false, deceptive, and misleading" because
Defendants knew Baltax did not have a legal right to
Plaintiffs property. (Id.
alleges that she incurred damages through the "unlawful
charges assessed" to her by her mortgage servicer due to
Defendants' false statements about the debt allegedly
owed. (Id. ¶¶ 53, 58.) She also alleges
that she suffered "mental anguish and emotional
distress" from Defendants' unlawful actions.
(Id. ¶ 53.)
Complaint puts forward two counts. Count I alleges violations
of the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act (MCDCA).
(Id. ¶¶ 50-53.) Count II alleges
violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
(Id. ¶¶ 54-58.)
filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) and Local Rule 105 for failure to state a
claim. (Mot. Dismiss, at 1, ECF No. 13.) A complaint must
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,
678 (2009) (quoting Bell Ad. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Facial plausibility exists "when
the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678. An inference of the mere possibility of misconduct is
not sufficient to support a plausible claim. Id. at
679. Courts must "accept the well-pled allegations of
the complaint as true, . .. constru[ing] the facts and
reasonable inferences derived therefrom in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff." Ibarra, 120 F.3d
at 474. "A pleading that offers 'labels and
conclusions' or ... 'naked assertion[s]' devoid
of'further factual enhancement'" will not
suffice. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (alteration in
original) (citation omitted) (quoting Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555, 557). Courts need not accept legal conclusions
couched as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at
Court will address the sufficiency of the pleadings for the
federal claim followed by a similar assessment for the state
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) (Count
II of the Complaint alleges Defendants violated multiple
provisions of the FDCPA, (Compl. ¶ 33.) Plaintiff claims
that, in attempting to foreclose her right of redemption and
demanding fees from her mortgage servicer, Defendants
violated the Act by using "false, deceptive, or
misleading representation or means in connection with the
collection of any debt," 15 U.S.C. § 1692e.
Specifically, Plaintiff alleges Defendant violated 15 U.S.C.
§ 1692e(2), (4), (5), (6), (9), and (10), which provide
a non-exclusive list of specific behaviors that violate the
FDCPA. Plaintiff also alleges Defendants violated 15 U.S.C.
§ 1692f, which forbids "us[ing] unfair or
unconscionable means to ... attempt to collect [a]
FDCPA claim requires '"(1) the plaintiff has been
the object of collection activity arising from consumer debt,
(2) the defendant is a debt  collector[, ] .. .and (3) the
defendant has engaged in an act or omission prohibited by the
FDCPA.'" Stewart v. Bierman, 859 F.Supp.2d
754, 759 (D. Md. 2012) (quoting Dikun v. Streich,
369 F.Supp.2d 781, 784-85 (E.D. Va. 2005)), aff'd sub
nom. Lembach v. Bierman, 528 Fed.Appx. 297 (4th Cir.
2013). The court considers each of these elements in turn.
allegations satisfy the first element of an FDCPA claim
because overdue municipal water bills based upon the amount
of water consumed qualify as consumer debts. Under the FDCPA,
a consumer is "any natural person obligated or allegedly
obligated to pay any debt." 15 U.S.C. A. §
1692a(3). "Debt" is defined under the statute as an
"obligation or alleged obligation of a consumer to pay
money arising out of a transaction in which the money,
property, insurance, or services which are the subject of the
transaction are primarily for personal, family, or household
purposes ..." 15 U.S.C.A. § 1692a(5). Lacking any
Fourth Circuit precedent on the issue, the parties and the
Court look to the decisions of other circuits in determining
whether municipal water bills qualify as consumer debt under
the FDCPA. See Booker v. S.C. Dep't of Corr.,855 F.3d 533, 539 ...