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Walker v. Bank of America Corp.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

August 8, 2019

CLARA WALKER, Plaintiff,
v.
BANK OF AMERICA CORP. et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Paul W. Grimm United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Clara Walker accuses Bank of America, N.A. of unlawfully discriminating against her on the basis of her race, sex, and age when it denied her application to refinance her home loan. Her lawsuit asserts a series of claims under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act ("ECOA") and the Fair Housing Act ("FHA"). A final claim accuses the bank of unfair, abusive, or deceptive trade practices under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act ("MCPA"). Upon review, I conclude that Ms. Walker's claims are adequately pleaded. The motion to dismiss is therefore denied.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND [1]

         The Amended Complaint identifies Ms. Walker as a 69-year-old African American woman. See Am. Compl. ¶ 7, ECF No. 14. She works full-time for United Airlines and has several other sources of income. See Id. ¶¶ 12-14. In particular, she asserts, she receives a monthly pension through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., earns additional income from an annuity valued at $340, 000, and takes in an extra $570 per month from investment properties. See Id. ¶ 14.

         On March 19, 2018, Ms. Walker entered a Bank of America retail location in Waldorf, Maryland, with the aim of refinancing her primary residence in Brandywine, Maryland. See Id. ¶ 8. The Amended Complaint alleges that the interest rate for a home refinance loan as of March 23, 2018 -a few days after her visit to the bank - was 4.625 percent. See Id. ¶ 10.

         A loan officer named Liz O'Malley helped her complete the application. See Id. ¶ 9. Ms. Walker's prospects looked good. According to the Amended Complaint, Ms. O'Malley told her that her "documents are in order" and at one point commented, "You have a lot of money." Id. ¶16.

         Ms. Walker, though, found the process frustrating. Although her consumer credit reports showed scores of 780 and 730, [2] Ms. O'Malley chose the lower of these two scores to list on the application. See Id. ¶¶ 11, 18. Elsewhere on the application, Ms. O'Malley indicated that Ms. Walker had credit card debt, even though Ms. Walker told her that was not the case. See Id. ¶ 19. Later, Ms. Walker alleges, Ms. O'Malley "unilaterally cancelled" a planned appraisal of the Brandywine property. See Id. ¶ 22. Ms. Walker asked her to reschedule the appraisal, but she never did. See id ¶ 23.

         The Amended Complaint further alleges that, in the course of their dealings, Ms. O'Malley "probed into all aspects of [her] financial history, even those aspects that were irrelevant to the application process." Id. ¶ 20. She repeatedly questioned Ms. Walker about her properties and other income sources, no matter that Ms. Walker and various third parties already had provided documents "verifying each source and origin of income and assets." Id. ¶ 21.

         On April 13, 2018, Ms. Walker received a letter from Bank of America listing a number of documents as "missing" from her application. See Id. ¶ 24. The letter itself noted that the company's retail location ought to have provided most of those documents. See Id. ¶ 26. Ms. Walker alleges that all of the purportedly missing documents were, in fact, in Ms. O'Malley's possession. See Id. ¶ 28. She says she attempted to explain this to the Bank of America loan processor who had requested the documentation, but this processor did not respond to her messages. See id ¶¶ 29-30.

         On April 24, 2018, Ms. O'Malley informed Ms. Walker that "her loan had been cancelled." Id. ¶ 33. Neither Ms. O'Malley nor anyone else from the company explained the reason for the decision. See Id. ¶ 34. By that time, the Amended Complaint states, "the interest rate for home refinance loans had risen" from 4.625 percent to 4.875 percent. See Id. ¶¶ 10, 37. Ms. O'Malley told Ms. Walker "that if she was still interested in a home refinance loan, she would have to reapply at the higher interest rate." Id. ¶ 38. Ms. Walker chose instead to apply for a home refinance loan through another lender. See Id. ¶ 39. The lender, applying a rate of 4.875 percent, approved her application within 48 hours. See id.

         Ms. Walker filed this federal lawsuit on August 13, 2018, at first naming Bank of America Corp. as the sole defendant and later amending her pleading to add Bank of America National Association as a co-defendant. See Compl., ECF NO.1; Am. Compl. 1. The Amended Complaint asserts six claims in all. Counts 1 through 3 seek to hold Defendants liable under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act ("ECOA") for discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and age, respectively. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 47-61. Counts 4 and 5 raise similar claims of race- and sex-based discrimination, respectively, under the Fair Housing Act ("FHA"). See id ¶¶ 62-71. Count 6 accuses Defendants of unfair, abusive, or deceptive trade practices under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act ("MCPA"). See id ¶¶ 72-78.

         Defendants[3] seek a dismissal of all claims under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 15-1. Their motion is fully briefed. See ECF Nos. 15-16, 19, 21. No hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A 12(b)(6) motion "tests the sufficiency" of the plaintiffs complain. Vance v. CHF Int'l, 914 F.Supp.2d 669, 677 (D. Md. 2012). Under Rule 8(a)(2), the 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). Beyond that, the Supreme Court has held that claims for relief must be "plausible," specifying that "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). "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. at 678.

         "Generally, when a defendant moves to dismiss a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), courts i 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. Kalan Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 448 (4th Cir. 2011)). A court also may consider matters subject to judicial notice. See Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007).

         DISCUSSION

         Defendants challenge the sufficiency of the Amended Complaint, arguing it fails to state a claim for relief under any of the statutes Ms. Walker has invoked. I will start with the ECOA claims before turning to Ms. Walker's claims under the FHA and, finally, the MCPA.

         Counts 1-3: ECOA

         ECOA declares it unlawful "for any creditor to discriminate against any applicant, with respect to any aspect of a credit transaction ... on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex or marital status, or age." 15 U.S.C. S 1691(a)(1). Ms. Walker characterizes the denial of her loan application as discriminatory, accusing Defendants of singling her out for unequal treatment on the basis of her race, sex, and age. Defendants, in turn, argue she has not met the pleading requirements under Rule 8(a) because she has not adequately alleged that she was qualified for a home refinance loan or that ...


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