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United States District Court Dismisses Plaintiff’s Claims under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act as Insufficient under the Supreme Court’s Twombly-Iqbal Standard
Quander v. Hillcrest, Davidson, and Associates LLC
In Quander v. Hillcrest, Davidson, and Associates LLC, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland dismissed claims brought by Priscilla Quander (“Plaintiff”) under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). Plaintiff alleged that Hillcrest, Davidson, and Associates LLC (“Defendant”) and John Does Nos. 1–10 engaged in unlawful harassment and abusive tactics in seeking to collect a debt; though John Doe Nos. 1–10 were not served in this action because their identities were unknown. The Court held that Plaintiff failed to plead her cause of action under the Twombly-Iqbal standard, see Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), because Plaintiff failed to state a plausible claim for relief.Accordingly, the Court granted Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint under Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6), dismissing Plaintiff’s claims without prejudice.
Plaintiff allegedly incurred a debt of about $1,200.00 relating to family, personal, and household services. Defendant was assigned the task of collecting Plaintiff’s debt by the debt-holder, Platinum Protection, LLC. In May 2012, upon checking her credit report, Plaintiff discovered that Hillcrest had reported the debt held by Platinum Protection. Plaintiff claimed she contacted Hillcrest in an attempt to resolve issues surrounding the debt, but was unable to reach a resolution. Plaintiff alleged that Hillcrest employees began to call her twice a day, and were loud and aggressive during their conversations. Defendant’s employees allegedly accused Plaintiff of being lazy and evading collections by changing her phone number. Plaintiff also denied having ever received a letter from Defendant, informing her of her rights, as required under 15 U.S.C. §1692(g). As a result, Plaintiff claimed that she suffered humiliation, anger, fear, frustration, and embarrassment.
Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant and John Does Nos. 1–10, alleging claims under the FDCPA, the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act, and for invasion of privacy under Maryland law. Plaintiff served only Defendant, and alleged that John Doe Nos. 1–10 were individual collectors employed by Defendant that would be named once their identities were disclosed through discovery. Plaintiff amended its complaint to dismiss her claims under Maryland law, leaving only her FDCPA claims against Defendant. In particular, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant violated 15 U.S.C. 1692d(2) & (5), e(8), g(a). Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s FDCPA claims pursuant to FED. R. CIV. PROC. 12(b)(6), for failure to state of claim upon which relief could be granted.
The Court granted Defendant’s motion because Plaintiff failed to plead her action under the Supreme Court’s Twombly-Iqbal standard. Acknowledging that that the Supreme Court’s decisions in Twombly and Iqbal require civil claims to be alleged with greater specificity than had previously been required, the Court observed that the Twombly-Iqbal standard required a plaintiff to allege a plausible claim for relief.Essentially, the Court found that it must “draw on its judicial experience and common sense” when evaluating a pleader’s claim for relief.Quander v. Hillcrest, Davidson, and Associates LLC, No. 12-1932, slip op. at 5 (D. Md. Dec. 27, 2012) (internal quotation omitted). The Court examined each of Plaintiff’s alleged claims for relief in turn, and found that each claim failed to allege facts that would permit the Court to draw a reasonable inference that Defendant was liable under the FDCPA.
First, the Court examined Plaintiff’s claim under §1692d that Defendant engaged in harassment by using obscene or profane language and telephoning Plaintiff with the intent to annoy, abuse, or harass her. The Court held that Plaintiff’s claim was conclusory, and that Plaintiff simply failed to allege any facts that would constitute profane language or intent to annoy; using a “loud and aggressive tone” was insufficient grounds for relief as a matter of law. Second, the Court found that Plaintiff failed to state an actionable claim under 1692e(8), which prohibits debt collectors from engaging in threatening or false communication. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant’s employee misrepresented the number of years Plaintiff’s debt would remain on her credit report. The Court found that the employee’s statement was not false, but likely a restatement of the applicable law. Last, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant failed to send a letter to Plaintiff within five (5) days of its initial contact with her, as was required under §1692g(a). According to Plaintiff, a copy of Defendant’s letter was never received, and must have been created just for this litigation. The Court found that Plaintiff’s “bold contention that Defendants intentionally fabricated the July 7, 2011 letter filed with this Court is not only more than speculative—it is absolutely unsubstantiated.” Id. at 9. Therefore, Plaintiff failed to allege that Defendant engaged in an act or omission prohibited by the FDCPA under the Twombly-Iqbal standard, and the Court dismissed Plaintiff’s claims without prejudice.
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