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Nordstrom, Inc. v. Schwartz

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

September 5, 2019

NORDSTROM, INC., Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Nordstrom, Inc. brings suit against Defendant Deborah Schwartz for trespass to chattel, tortious interference with prospective advantage, intentional misrepresentation, intentional misrepresentation - concealment or non-disclosure, and fraud. ECF No. 1. The allegations all relate to transactions she engaged in between 2014 and 2016. Id. Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 10. No. hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.). For the following reasons, the Motion to Dismiss is granted, and the Complaint is dismissed without prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff is a corporate entity with both physical store locations and an online ordering system. ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 1, 7. Between 2014 and 2016, Defendant engaged in 5, 809 transactions with Plaintiff during which Defendant misrepresented material facts about her purchases to benefit financially through Plaintiff's price adjustment and return process. Id. ¶ 6. Specifically, Defendant would purchase a product at full price and then engage in multiple transactions, such as price adjustments or returns, to create a “clean” proof of purchase (POP) which did not show the item's history of returns or price adjustments. Defendant would then use the “clean” POP to her financial advantage at a later point. Id. ¶ 9. The scheme involved various strategies, including requesting price adjustments on a product that she had already returned for the full sale amount or purchasing an item online for its full sale price, requesting and receiving price adjustments on the item, and then eventually returning the item using the original POP to receive a refund of the full sale amount. Id. ¶ 10.

         Defendant conducted her activities over the phone, online, and in person across numerous store locations and fulfillment centers throughout the country, and she used at least twenty-seven different credit cards, three gift cards, two email addresses, and six online customer profiles. Id. ¶¶ 11, 12. Due to her deception, Plaintiff was unable to discover Defendant's scheme until approximately December 2016. Id. ¶ 13. The scheme caused Plaintiff a direct loss of approximately $630, 000.00. Id. ¶ 1.

         On October 5, 2018, Plaintiff filed suit in this court alleging claims of trespass to chattel (“Count I”), tortious interference with prospective advantage (“Count II”), intentional misrepresentation (“Count III”), intentional misrepresentation - concealment or non-disclosure (“Count IV”), and fraud (“Count V”) against Defendant. ECF No. 1. On December 21, 2018, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 10. Plaintiff filed an opposition on January 4, 2019, ECF No. 11, and Defendant filed a reply on January 18, 2019, ECF No. 12.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Hall v. DIRECTV, LLC, 846 F.3d 757, 765 (4th Cir. 2017). However, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for “the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Velencia v. Drezhlo, No. RDB-12-237, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2012). A motion to dismiss under 12(b)(6) “test[s] the adequacy of a complaint.” Prelich v. Med. Res., Inc., 813 F.Supp.2d 654, 660 (D. Md. 2011) (citing German v. Fox, 267 Fed.Appx. 231, 233 (4th Cir. 2008)). Motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim do “not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Prelich, 813 F.Supp.2d at 660 (citing Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999)). To overcome a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must allege enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim is plausible 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.

         In evaluating the sufficiency of the Plaintiff's claims, the Court accepts factual allegations in the complaint as true and construes them in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff. See Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Davidson Cty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005). However, the complaint must contain more than “legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, and bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement.” Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd v., Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009). The court should not grant a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim unless “it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations.” GE Inv. Private Placement Partners II v. Parker, 247 F.3d 543, 548 (4th Cir. 2001) (citing H.J. Inc. v. Northwestern Bell Tel. Co., 492 U.S. 229, 249-50 (1989)). Where, as here, the Defendant raises a statute of limitations defense, the defense is an appropriate ground for granting a motion to dismiss where the expiration of the relevant statute of limitation “is apparent from the face of the complaint.” Wright v. United States Postal Serv., 305 F.Supp.2d 562, 563 (D. Md. 2004) (citing Pantry Pride Enters., Inc. v. Glenlo Corp., 729 F.2d 963, 965 (4th Cir. 1984)).

         Additionally, to state a claim sounding in fraud, a party must also “state with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud or mistake.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 9(b). Rule 9(b) requires “that a plaintiff alleging fraud must make particular allegations of the time, place, speaker, and contents of the allegedly false acts or statements.” Adams v. NVR Homes, Inc., 193 F.R.D. 243, 249-50 (D. Md. 2000); U.S. ex rel. Wilson v. Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., 525 F.3d 370, 379 (4th Cir. 2008) (describing the “who, what, when, where, and how” of the fraud claim). Despite these heightened requirements, “a court should hesitate to dismiss if it finds (1) that the defendant[s] [have] been made aware of the particular circumstances for which [they] will have to prepare a defense at trial, and (2) that plaintiff has substantial prediscovery evidence of those facts.” Nat'l Mortg. Warehouse, LLC v. Trikeriotis, 201 F.Supp.2d 499, 505 (D. Md. 2002) (describing pleading requirements in case of fraudulent conveyance) (internal citations omitted).


         Defendant moves to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, asserting that the Complaint fails to meet the basic pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)(2) and fails to plead the fraud-based claims with particularity as required by Rule 9(b). ECF No. 10-1 at 5-9.[2] Defendant contends further that even if Plaintiff has properly pled its claims, any claims based on conduct that occurred prior to October 6, 2016 are barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Id. at 10.

         A. Trespass to Chattel (Count I)

         In Maryland, a “trespass to a chattel may be committed by intentionally (a) dispossessing another of the chattel, or (b) using or intermeddling with a chattel in the possession of another.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 217; see also Ground Zero Museum Workshop v. Wilson, 813 F.Supp.2d 678, 697 (D. Md. 2011) (stating that Maryland “rel[ies] heavily on the Restatement (Second) of Torts” in defining a trespass to chattel claim).[3] “To state a claim for trespass to chattels…, a ...

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