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Covington v. Equifax Information Services, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 6, 2019

Kellar Covington, Jr., Plaintiff,
Equifax Information Services, Inc., Defendant.


          Kevin McNulty, United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is the motion of defendant Equifax Information Services, Inc., ("Equifax") to dismiss the complaint of pro se plaintiff Kellar Covington, Jr. (DE 6). Covington asserts a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA") arising from the reporting of a "Chase Auto tradeline," a "Toyota Motor Credit Corp." tradeline, a Macy's tradeline, and a OneMain financial tradeline on his credit report. He also asserts that his bankruptcy tradeline remains on his credit report, even though his bankruptcy was discharged, and that he believes the Bankruptcy Court does not provide information to credit reporting agencies. Covington suggests that this also violates the FCRA.

         Equifax moves to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule 12(b)(6). Equifax contends that Covington has failed to plead factually that there is an inaccuracy in his credit report, an essential element of an FCRA claim.

         Additionally, Equifax points out that Covington has previously sued Equifax. Covington v. Equifax Info. Servs., Inc., Civ. No. 16-8002 (D.N.J.). That matter was dismissed with prejudice after the parties resolved their dispute through a settlement agreement in which Covington agreed to release all claims against Equifax and acknowledged the accuracy of his credit report as of September 19, 2017. In particular, he certified that the information about the Toyota tradeline currently at issue here was accurate.

         For the reasons provided below, Equifax's motion to dismiss is granted.

         I. Factual Allegations[1]

         Covington asserts that he submitted letters "of erroneous accounts" to Equifax, a consumer reporting agency ("CRA"), for the purposes of having Equifax correct alleged inaccuracies in his credit report. (Compl ¶ 5).

         First, on July 9, 2018, Covington sent a letter to Equifax that does not refer to a specific "erroneous account[]" but rather encloses "a copy of a letter from the Federal Trade Commission and other correspondence to them in reference to incomplete and missing information." (DE 1 at 9[2]). That FTC letter, dated July 6, 2018, however, merely referred Covington to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It did not specifically address any of Covington's claims as they related to his credit report. (DE 1 at 10).

         It appears that the "other correspondence" Covington sent to Equifax with his July 9, 2018 letter concerns a separate letter complaint submitted by Covington to the FTC on June 21, 2018. (DE 1 at 11). In the June 21, 2018 letter, Covington complained that Equifax had included an "incomplete item" on his credit report, that Equifax "said that they updated it," but "it still remains the same and they did not delete it." (Id.). Covington requested the FTC's assistance in fixing the "incomplete items" in his report. (Id.). Like the July 9, 2018 letter, the June 9, 2018 letter does not provide any other information regarding what information in Covington's credit report he was disputing as "inaccurate" or "incomplete." (See id.).

         On October 5, 2018, Covington sent a second letter to Equifax. This letter related to the Toyota tradeline. (DE 1 at 14). In that second letter, Covington stated that when he financed his "cars," he did so "[through] Lexus Financial Services," not Toyota. (Id.). The Lexus Financial Services credit, he wrote, was also under a different account number. (Id.). Covington requested that Equifax delete the Toyota account from his credit report, (Id.). Covington suggests that the Toyota tradeline either does not belong to him, was sold, or bears an incorrect account number. (DE 1 at 14, 15; DE 8 at 3).

         With his October 5, 2018 letter, Covington appears to have also enclosed two additional letters. One was an August 11, 2018 letter addressed to "Toyota Motor Credit Corp" and "Lexus of Bridgewater," which disputed account numbers 20562G and 20562K on his credit report. (See Id. at 15). In this letter, Covington stated that the vehicle was "purchased on or about 04/09/2011, financed by Toyota Motor Credit Corp.," was "repossessed in the state of New Jersey," and sold "on or about 03/07/2014." (DE 1 at 15). Covington requested proof that "the required notices" were "properly and timely" given under New Jersey law prior to repossession. [Id.). Covington asserts that he did not receive a response from Toyota. (Id. at 14). The second enclosure was a letter from Lexus dated October 5, 2018. (DE 1 at 17). That Lexus letter enclosed a copy of Covington's "Closed End Motor Vehicle Lease Agreement (contract)" for each of his vehicles. (Id.). Lexus also enclosed a copy of Covington's payment history for each account, and the "notice of cancellation" that was sent to Covington after he defaulted on payment. (Id.).[3]

         Covington's complaint also contains allegations that are related to his bankruptcy. (Compl ¶¶ 7-8). On September 6, 2018, Covington sent a letter to the Bankruptcy Court requesting information about the Court's "procedure in responding to requests from" CRAs. (Compl ¶ 8; DE 1 at 26). The Court responded that it "does not provide any information to credit agencies" because information about bankruptcy proceedings is public. (Id.). Covington asserts that he "was left to question how and why" the bankruptcy tradeline "remains as reported" since the Court does not respond to CRAs. (Compl ¶ 7). Equifax reviewed the bankruptcy matter, updated Covington's credit report, and noted that his bankruptcy matter was "discharged." (DE 1 at 31). Covington does not dispute that his bankruptcy matter was discharged.

         On November 2, 2018, Covington filed a complaint with this Court alleging violations of the FCRA under 15 U.S.C. § 1681e(b), which requires that CRAs use reasonable procedures to ensure maximum possible accuracy in consumer reports. (DE 1). On November 29, 2018, Equifax filed a motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that Covington has failed to plead an inaccuracy, an essential element of an FCRA claim. (DE 6). Additionally, Covington previously sued Equifax, and executed a settlement agreement that included a release, Equifax contends that Covington acknowledged the accuracy of the Toyota tradeline in that earlier settlement agreement. (DE 6-1).

         II. Standard

         In considering a motion to dismiss a pro se complaint, a court must bear in mind that pro se complaints are held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Brickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972); see Alston u. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 234 (3d Cir. 2004) ("Courts are to construe complaints so as to do substantial justice . . . keeping in mind that pro se complaints in particular should be construed liberally." (citations omitted)). This does not, however, absolve a pro se plaintiff of the need to adhere to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See, e.g., Fantone v. Latini, 780 F.3d 184, 193 (3d Cir. 2015) ("a pro se complaint. . . must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers;'. . . but we nonetheless review the pleading to ensure that it has 'sufficient factual matter; accepted as true; to state a claim to relief that is plausible on [its] face.”).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) does not require that a complaint contain detailed factual allegations. Nevertheless, "a plaintiffs obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). See also Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (Rule 8 "requires a 'showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief" (citation omitted)). Thus, the complaint's factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiffs right to relief above a speculative level, so that a claim is "plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. See also West Run Student Hous. Assocs., LLC v. Huntington Nat. Bank, 712 F.3d 165, 169 (3d Cir. 2013). That facial-plausibility standard is met "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). While "[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement'... it asks for more than a sheer possibility." Id. Rule 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The defendant, as the moving party, bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Animal Science Products, Inc. v. China Minmetals Corp., 654 F.3d 462, 469 n.9 (3d Cir. 2011).

         For the purposes of a motion to dismiss, the facts alleged in the complaint are accepted as true and all reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the plaintiff. New Jersey Carpenters & the Trustees Thereof v. Tishman Const. Corp. of New Jersey, 760 F.3d 297, 302 (3d Cir. 2014). "Complaints filed pro se are construed liberally, but even a pro se complaint must state a plausible claim for relief." Badger v. City of Phila. Office of Prop. Assessment, 563 Fed.Appx. 152, 154 (3d Cir. 2014) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         When deciding a motion to dismiss, a court typically does not consider matters outside the pleadings. However, a court may consider documents that are "integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint" or any "undisputedly authentic document that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiffs claims are based on the document[.]" In re Rockefeller Ctr. Props., Inc. Sec. Litig.,184 F.3d 280, 287 (3d Cir. 1999) (emphasis and citations omitted); In re Asbestos Prods. Liab. Litig. (No. VI),822 F.3d 125, 133 n.7 (3d Cir. 2016) (same). Moreover, "in cases where a pro se plaintiff is faced with a motion to dismiss, it is appropriate for the court to consider materials outside of the complaint to the extent they 'are consistent with ...

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