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Braden v. JH Portfolio Debt Equities, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 18, 2019

MARY A. BRADEN
v.
JH PORTFOLIO DEBT EQUITIES, LLC

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DEBORAH K. CHASANOW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Presently pending and ready for resolution in this consumer debt collection case are the motion for default judgment, (ECF No. 12), and the motion for attorney's fees filed by Plaintiff Mary A. Braden, (ECF No. 13). The issues have been briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, the motion for default judgment will be granted in part and denied in part, and the motion for attorneys' fees will be granted.

         I. Factual Background

         In her complaint and attached documents, Plaintiff alleges that she had an account with Citibank and that Citibank attempted to collect a debt which it believed she owed it. To represent her with respect to this debt and any claims on it, Ms. Braden retained Wendell Finner PC. Ms. Braden informed Citibank of the representation and requested Citibank to cease all direct contact with her. JH Portfolio Debt Equities, LLC (“Defendant”) then acquired Ms. Braden's debt to Citibank. Next, Defendant's agent, D&A Services (“D&A”) contacted Ms. Braden's attorney, who informed D&A that Ms. Braden disputed the debt claimed by Defendant. Finally, Defendant sent a letter to Ms. Braden at her home attempting to collect the debt and demanding payment of $41, 191.87.

         II. Procedural Background

         On April 23, 2019, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1692c, the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act (“MCDCA”), Md. Code, Com. L. Art. 14-202(6), and the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (“MCPA”), Md. Code, Com. L. Art. § 13-301(14). (ECF No. 1). Defendant was served with a summons and copy of the Complaint on June 4, 2019. (ECF No. 7). Plaintiff filed proof of service, (ECF No. 4), and moved for Clerk's Entry of Default, (ECF No. 5), on June 26, 2019. The clerk entered default on July 10, 2019, (ECF No. 8), and Plaintiff moved for Default Judgment, (ECF No. 12), and Attorney's Fees and Costs, (ECF No. 13), on December 2, 2019. Those motions are unopposed.

         III. Standard of Review

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(a), “[w]hen a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend, and that failure is shown by affidavit or otherwise, the clerk must enter the party's default.” A defendant's default does not automatically entitle the plaintiff to entry of a default judgment; rather, that decision is left to the discretion of the court. See Lewis v. Lynn, 236 F.3d 766, 767 (5th Cir. 2001). The United States Court of Appeals for Fourth Circuit has a “strong policy” that “cases be decided on their merits, ” Dow v. Jones, 232 F.Supp.2d 491, 494 (D.Md. 2002) (citing United States v. Shaffer Equip. Co., 11 F.3d 450, 453 (4th Cir. 1993)), but default judgment may be appropriate where a party is unresponsive, see S.E.C. v. Lawbaugh, 359 F.Supp.2d 418, 421 (D.Md.2005)(citing Jackson v. Beech, 636 F.2d 831, 836 (D.C. Cir. 1980)).

         “Upon [entry of] default, the well-pled allegations in a complaint as to liability are taken as true, but the allegations as to damages are not.” Lawbaugh, 359 F.Supp.2d at 422. While the court may hold a hearing to consider evidence as to damages, it is not required to do so; it may rely instead on “detailed affidavits or documentary evidence to determine the appropriate sum.” Adkins v. Teseo, 180 F.Supp.2d 15, 17 (D.D.C., 2001) (citing United Artists Corp. v. Freeman, 605 F.2d 854, 857 (5th Cir. 1979)).

         IV. Analaysis

         A. The FDCPA Claims

         In evaluating a request for a default judgment, the court must, accepting all factual allegations in the complaint as true, determine if the complaint adequately states a claim. See Ryan v. Homecomings Fin. Network, 253 F.3d 778, 780 (4th Cir. 2001). The Fourth Circuit has established that “the threshold requirement for application of the [FDCPA] is that prohibited practices are used in an attempt to collect a debt.” Mabe v. G.C. Servs. Ltd. P'ship, 32 F.3d 86, 87-88 (4th Cir.1994).

         Taken as true, Plaintiff's allegations adequately state a claim for relief under the FDCPA: the debt collector knew Ms. Braden was “represented by an attorney with respect to [her] debt, ” but nonetheless communicated directly with Ms. Braden in connection with the collection of that debt. 16 U.S.C. § 1692c(a)(2).

         Less apparent, however, is the amount of damages Ms. Braden is owed. While the court may rely on “detailed affidavits or documentary evidence to determine the appropriate sum, ” Adkins, 180 F.Supp.2d at 17, Ms. Braden's affidavit regarding her damages is far from detailed. In her statement, Ms. Braden writes that she was “shocked and stunned” upon hearing that she owed nearly $50, 000, and that “[f]or several weeks [she] could not restfully sleep and [she] lost [her] appetite.” (ECF No. 12-1, at 1-2). Ms. Braden further suggests that because she “would gladly pay the sum of $4, ...


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