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Arnett v. Hodges Law Office, PLLC

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

September 4, 2019



          M. Hannah Lauck, United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Hodges Law Office, PLLC's ("Hodges") Motion to Dismiss Complaint (the "Motion to Dismiss"). (ECF No. 3.) Plaintiff Lorranda Arnett responded, (ECF No. 6), and Hodges replied, (ECF No. 8). This matter is ripe for disposition. The Court dispenses with oral argument because the materials before it adequately present the facts and legal contentions, and argument would not aid the decisional process. The Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, [1] For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the Motion to Dismiss and grant Arnett leave to amend her Complaint.

         I. Procedural and Factual Background[2]

         Arnett brings her Complaint against Hodges alleging three violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (the "FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692e and 1692f, arising from Hodges's attempt to collect Arnett's overdue home owners association fees.

         In April 2017, Arnett concedes that she "fell behind on her home owners association ... fees and her account was sent to a third-party debt collector called Equity Experts. ORG ["Equity"]... for collection." (Compl. ¶ 8, ECF No. 1.) Approximately six months later, in October 2017, Arnett "received a statement from Equity ... showing that it charged" her $2, 378.00 in fees. (Id. ¶ 9.) Arnett avers that these fees have no "contractual or legal basis." (Id.)

         Approximately three months later, on January 22, 2018, Arnett received a letter with attachments from Hodges, [3] which attempted to collect a debt that Arnett "allegedly[4] owed ... to Belfair Community Association, Inc." (Id. ¶¶ 6, 10.) The attachments Hodges included with the letter listed two different amounts Arnett owed for the debt-$3, 920.00 and $3, 995.00-a $75.00 (or approximately 1.9%) difference.

         Arnett contends that Hodges violated 15 U.S.C. § 1692e[5] of the FDCPA by: (1) "misrepresenting the character, amount, or legal status of any debt;" and, (2) "using false representations or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect any debt."[6] (Id. ¶¶ 20(a)-(b).) She also alleges that Hodges violated 15 U.S.C. § 1692f[7] by "attempting to collect fees and charges for which there is no expressly authorized agreement with [her]... to pay and for which there is no basis in law to charge her." (Id. ¶ 20(c).)

         Arnett asserts that she "is under duress as she does [not] know how much she owes for the [a]lleged [d]ebt" and claims that she "has suffered economic, emotional, general, and statutory damages as a result of these violations of the FDCPA." (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.) Arnett seeks "actual damages, costs, interest, and attorneys' fees." (Id. 6.)

         Rather than answer Arnett's Complaint, Hodges filed the instant Motion to Dismiss. Arnett responded[8] and Hodges replied.

         II. Standard of Review: Rule 12(bV6)[9]

         "A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint; importantly, it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing 5A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1356 (1990)). To survive Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny, a complaint must contain sufficient factual information to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) ("A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain ... a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.") Mere labels and conclusions declaring that the plaintiff is entitled to relief are not enough. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Thus, "naked assertions of wrongdoing necessitate some factual enhancement within the complaint to cross the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief." Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         A complaint achieves facial plausibility when the facts contained therein support a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556; see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). This analysis is context-specific and requires "the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Francis, 588 F.3d at 193 (citation omitted). The Court must assume all well-pleaded factual allegations to be true and determine whether, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, they "plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676-79; see also Kensington, 684 F.3d at 467 (finding that the court in deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss "'must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint' and 'draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff" (quoting Kolon Indus., 637 F.3d at 440)).

         III. Analysis

         A. Legal Standard: FDCPA Claims Generally

         "'The FDCPA protects consumers from abusive and deceptive practices by debt collectors, and protects non-abusive debt collectors from competitive disadvantage.'" Lembach v. Bierman,528 Fed.Appx. 297, 301 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting United States v. Nat'l Fin. Servs., Inc., 98 F.3d 131, 135 (4th Cir. 1996)). To prevail on an FDCPA claim, a plaintiff must allege that: (1) he or she was the object of collection activity arising from a consumer debt as defined by the FDCPA; (2) the defendant is a debt collector as defined by the FDCPA; and, (3) the defendant engaged in an act or omission prohibited by the FDCPA, such as using a false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt. See Moore v. Commonwealth Trs., ...

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