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Robinson v. Northland Group, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 18, 2018

IMANI ROBINSON, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
NORTHLAND GROUP, INC., Defendant.

          JOSEPH K. JONES BENJAMIN J. WOLF JONES, WOLF & KAPASI, LLC On behalf of plaintiff

          ANDREW J. BLADY SESSIONS, FISHMAN, NATHAN & ISRAEL On behalf of defendant

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         Presently before the Court is the motion of defendant to dismiss plaintiff's putative class action claims for defendant's alleged violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). For the reasons expressed below, defendant's motion will be granted.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, Imani Robinson, claims that defendant, Northland Group Inc., violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq., when it sent her a notice regarding an unpaid debt. Plaintiff claims that defendant did not comply with § 1692g(a)(3), which requires debt collectors to inform debtors that a debt dispute must be in writing in order to be valid. Plaintiff claims that defendant led the debtor to believe that she could orally dispute her debt in violation of § 1692e(10), which provides that a debt collector may not use false, deceptive, or misleading misrepresentations in connection with the collection of any debt.

         Defendant has moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim for § 1692g(a)(3) and § 1692e(10) violations. Plaintiff has opposed defendant's motion.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Jurisdiction

         This Court has jurisdiction over plaintiff's federal statutory claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         B. Standard for Motion to Dismiss

         When considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005). It is well settled that a pleading is sufficient if it contains “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Under the liberal federal pleading rules, it is not necessary to plead evidence, and it is not necessary to plead all the facts that serve as a basis for the claim. Bogosian v. Gulf Oil Corp., 562 F.2d 434, 446 (3d Cir. 1977). However, “[a]lthough the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a claimant to set forth an intricately detailed description of the asserted basis for relief, they do require that the pleadings give defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Baldwin Cnty. Welcome Ctr. v. Brown, 466 U.S. 147, 149-50 n.3 (1984) (quotation and citation omitted).

         A district court, in weighing a motion to dismiss, asks “‘not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claim.'” Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563 n.8 (2007) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhoades, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009) (“Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for ‘all civil actions' . . . .”); Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (“Iqbal . . . provides the final nail-in-the-coffin for the ‘no set of facts' standard that applied to federal complaints before Twombly.”).

         Following the Twombly/Iqbal standard, the Third Circuit has instructed a two-part analysis in reviewing a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated; a district court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210 (citing Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950). Second, a district court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a “‘plausible claim for relief.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950). A complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. Id.; see also Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (stating that the “Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus: ‘stating . . . a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' the required element. This ‘does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,' but instead ‘simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element”).

         A court need not credit either “bald assertions” or “legal conclusions” in a complaint when deciding a motion to dismiss. In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997). The defendant bears the burden of showing that no claim has been presented. Hedges v. U.S., 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991)).

         A court in reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion must only consider the facts alleged in the pleadings, the documents attached thereto as exhibits, and matters of judicial notice. S. Cross Overseas Agencies, Inc. v. Kwong Shipping Grp. Ltd., 181 F.3d 410, 426 (3d Cir. 1999). A court may consider, however, “an undisputedly authentic document that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the document.” Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). If any other matters outside the pleadings are presented to the court, and the court does not exclude those matters, a Rule 12(b)(6) motion will be treated as a summary judgment motion pursuant to Rule 56. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         C. Analysis

         The purpose of the FDCPA is “to eliminate abusive, deceptive and unfair debt collection practices by debt collectors, to ensure that those debt collectors who refrain from using abusive debt collection practices are not competitively disadvantaged, and to promote consistent State action to protect consumers against debt collection abuse.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692(e). The FDCPA establishes a private cause of action against debt collectors who fail to comply with its provisions. Grubb v. Green Tree Servicing, LLC, No. 13-07421 (FLW), 2014 WL 369626, at *4 (D.N.J. July 24, 2014). It is a remedial statute where the terms and language of the statute are interpreted broadly to effectuate the purpose of the statute. Brown v. Card Service Center, 464 F.3d 450, 453 (3d Cir. 2006). Moreover, the FDCPA is a strict liability statute. Allen ex rel. Martin v. LaSalle Bank, N.A., 629 F.3d 364, 368 (3d Cir. 2011) (“The FDCPA is a strict liability statute to the extent that it imposes liability without proof of an intentional violation.”).

         Relevant to the case here, the provision governing a debt collector's notice of debt to the consumer provides:

a) Notice of debt; contents
Within five days after the initial communication with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt, a debt collector shall, unless the following information is contained in the initial communication or the consumer has paid the debt, send the consumer a written notice containing--(1) the amount of the debt; (2) the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed; (3) a statement that unless the consumer, within thirty days after receipt of the notice, disputes the validity of the debt, or any portion thereof, the debt will be assumed to be valid by the debt collector; (4) a statement that if the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within the thirty-day period that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed, the debt collector will obtain verification of the debt or a copy of a judgment against the consumer and a copy of such verification or judgment will be mailed to the consumer by the debt collector; ...

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