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Pittman v. Deutsche Bank Nat'l Trust Co.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

August 5, 2019

BRANDON PITTMAN et al., Plaintiffs,
DEUTSCHE BANK NAT'L TRUST CO. et al., Defendants.


          George J. Hazel United States District Judge.

         Plaintiffs Brandon Pittman and Thomas Alston, proceeding pro se, initiated this civil action in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland, alleging that Defendants Deutsche Bank Nat'l Trust Co., Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, and Altisource Solutions, Inc. trespassed on and wrongfully evicted them from a leased property in violation of various Maryland laws. ECF No. 1-1. After Defendants removed the case to this Court, ECF No. 1, Plaintiffs amended their Complaint. ECF No. 9. Defendants then moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint. ECF No. 10. In response, Plaintiffs moved for leave to further amend their Complaint. ECF No. 14. Pending before this Court are Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to Amend, ECF No. 14, and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 10. No. hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). Because res judicata bars Plaintiffs' claims, rendering Plaintiffs' proposed amendments futile, Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint will be denied, and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss will be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         In 2017, Plaintiff Pittman leased 5566 Lanier Ave, Suitland, Maryland (“the Property”) from then owner Wayne Butcher. ECF No. 14-3 ¶ 7. Mr. Butcher's spouse, Ruth Butcher, died in 2011 and did not sign the lease, but her purported signature appears on it. Id. ¶¶ 8-9. Mr. Butcher allegedly believed that he needed to sign his wife's name on the lease because she was still on the Property's title. Id. ¶ 9-10. Pittman subleased the Property's basement to Plaintiff Alston. Id. ¶ 25.

         While Plaintiffs were renting the Property, substitute trustees acting on Defendant Deutsche Bank's behalf foreclosed on the Property. Id. ¶ 28; see also O'Sullivan vs. Butcher, CAEF15-25591 (Cir. Ct. for Prince George's Cty. 2015); ECF No. 10-2. Deutsche Bank purchased the Property at a foreclosure sale. ECF No. 14-3 ¶ 29. Defendant Ocwen is the loan servicer for Deutsche Bank. Id. ¶ 5.

         On March 5, 2018, the Circuit Court for Prince George's County (“Circuit Court”) ratified the foreclosure sale. ECF No. 10-2 at 2. The substitute trustees conveyed title to the Property to Deutsche Bank by a Trustees' Deed dated March 16, 2018 and recorded in the land records of Prince George's County, Maryland at Liber 40704, Folio 357. ECF No. 10-3.

         Deutsche Bank or Ocwen hired Defendant Altisource to manage the Property. ECF No. 14-3 ¶ 30. Altisource had representatives visit the Property on several occasions. Id. ¶ 32. On one occasion in or about April 2018, Altisource representatives removed Plaintiff Pittman's personal items and his dog from the Property while Pittman was running errands. Id. ¶¶ 33, 39. Altisource representatives also changed the locks, effectively locking Plaintiffs out of the Property. Id. ¶ 34. Pittman filed a police report with the Prince George's County Police Department regarding the alleged trespass and theft. Id. ¶ 64. The police officer that processed Pittman's police report suggested that Pittman file a civil lawsuit over the theft. Id. ¶ 65.

         On May 25, 2018, Deutsche Bank sent a demand for possession of the Property to “All Occupants” at the Property's address via certified mail. ECF No. 10-4 at 9. The demand letter noted that if any occupants were tenants they may have additional rights pursuant to Maryland Real Property Code Ann. § 7-105.6 and directed any such occupants to take certain steps to prove their tenant status. Id. Plaintiffs allege that “no one sent a letter about eviction and/or a letter explaining the tenants' rights to continue renting the Property.” ECF No. 14-3 ¶ 29. Pittman also notified Altisource that he had a lease, and Altisource representatives indicated that Plaintiffs would soon be evicted. Id. ¶ 54.

         On July 8, 2018, Deutsche Bank filed a Motion for Judgment Awarding Possession of the Property pursuant to Maryland Rule 14-102 within their foreclosure case. ECF No. 10-2 at 3; ECF No. 10-4. That motion acknowledged that some unknown persons continued to possess the Property and had failed to deliver possession. ECF No. 10-4 at 6. In a supporting affidavit, Deutsche Bank confirmed that it had sent the notice required under Maryland law to the Property address to provide any occupant who may have been “a bona fide tenant, ” a reasonable opportunity to provide it with evidence that he was entitled to tenant protections under Maryland Real Property Code Ann. § 7-105.6. Id. It received no response. Id. Deutsche Bank served notice of its motion for possession on occupants of the Property who they assumed were not already a party to the foreclosure suit. Id. Relying on Deutsche Bank's representations and arguments, the Circuit Court granted Deutsche Bank's motion for possession and entered an order awarding possession of the Property to the bank. Id. at 1.

         Following the judgment awarding possession, on September 13, 2018, Deutsche Bank also filed a forcible entry and wrongful detainer complaint against Plaintiffs in the District Court for Prince George's County (“the District Court”), seeking possession of the Property, damages and costs. See Deutsche Bank Nat'l Trust Co., as trustee vs. Brandon Pittman, 0501-SP07308-2018 (Dist. Ct. for Prince George's Cty. 2018); ECF No. 10-5; ECF No. 14-3 ¶ 71. A few days in advance of trial, Alston filed a Motion to postpone, stating that he had not been occupying the Property for several months. ECF No. 10-6 at 2. Deutsche Bank then voluntarily dismissed Alston so that it could move forward with the trial against Pittman. Id. Neither Alston nor Pittman asserted any counterclaims. See Id. After the trial, at which Plaintiffs did not appear, the District Court entered an Order in favor of Deutsche Bank and against Pittman. Id.


         Plaintiffs seek leave to amend their Complaint. ECF No. 14. At this 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).

         An amendment would be futile if the amended complaint could not survive a motion to dismiss. United States ex rel. Wilson v. Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., 525 F.3d 370, 376 (4th Cir. 2008). If a plaintiff's claims are barred by the doctrines of res judicata or collateral estoppel, a complaint will not survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Kalos v. Centennial Sur. Assocs., Inc., No. CCB-12-1532, 2012 WL 6210117 (D. Md. Dec. 12, 2012). While a court may review affirmative defenses such as res judicata when they are asserted in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, such a motion should be granted only in the “rare circumstances where facts sufficient to rule on an affirmative defense are alleged in the complaint.” Goodman v. PraxAir, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th Cir. 2007) (en banc). A movant cannot merely show that the elements of the defense appear on the face of the complaint or in properly considered documents but must also “show that the plaintiff's potential rejoinder to the affirmative defense was foreclosed by the allegations in the complaint.” Id. at 466. In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court may consider allegations in the complaint, matters of public record, and documents attached to the motion to dismiss that are integral to the complaint and authentic. See Philips v. Pitt Cnty. Mem'l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009).

         III. ...

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