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Schmidt v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 8, 2019

DEBORAH SCHMIDT AND JAMES SCHMIDT, Plaintiffs,
v.
WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., Defendant.

          OPINION

          WILLIAM J. MARTINI JUDGE

         This matter arises out of Plaintiffs Deborah and James Schmidt's ("Plaintiffs'") mortgage with Defendant Wells Fargo Bank, N.A ("Defendant"). The matter comes before the Court on Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings. ECF No. 65 ("Motion"). For the reasons set forth below, the motion is be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The underlying facts of this case were set forth in the Court's previous opinions, familiarity with which is assumed. See ECF Nos. 11, 38, 49. As relevant here, Plaintiffs' case has been narrowed to two counts of alleged violations of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act ("RESPA"). See Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 29, 40-43 (hereinafter, "AC"). Both Counts (One and Seven) are based on Defendant's alleged failure to adequately respond to a request for information sent by Plaintiffs to Defendant on March 27, 2017 ("March Letter"). Id.

         Defendant filed an answer to the AC on May 30, 2019. ECF No. 64 ("Answer"). The next day, Defendant moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("FRCP") 12(c). ECF No. 65 (hereinafter "Motion"). After failing to meet the deadline to file an opposition, Plaintiff requested an extension, which the Court granted on July 16. ECF Nos. 66-67. Despite the Court's directive that if "Plaintiffs fail to file opposition papers by July 29, 2019, [the AC] SHALL be dismissed with prejudice," ECF No. 67, Plaintiff failed to oppose the motion until July 31, ECF No. 68 (hereinafter, "Opposition"). In a reply memorandum, Defendant pointed out Plaintiffs' failure to meet the Court's deadline. ECF No. 69 (hereinafter, "Reply"). The Court issued a text order declining to dismiss the case as a sanction but permitting Defendant to file supplemental briefing. ECF No. 70. Defendant did so on August 14. ECF No. 71.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "A motion for judgment on the pleadings based on the defense that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim is analyzed under the same standards that apply to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion." Revell v. PortAuth. of New York, New Jersey, 598 F.3d 128, 134 (3d Cir. 2010). FRCP 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The movant bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). "[A]ll allegations in the complaint must be accepted as true, and the plaintiff must be given the benefit of every favorable inference to be drawn therefrom." Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). But the court is not required to accept as true "legal conclusions," and "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         To survive a 12(b)(6) motion, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter... to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id.

         III. DISCUSSION

         In the Motion, Defendant posits three reasons the AC should be dismissed: (1) the March Letter is not a valid "qualified written request" ("QWR") under RESPA, (2) even assuming the March Letter is a QWR, Defendant complied with its obligations under RESPA, and (3) Plaintiff cannot establish damages caused by the alleged RESPA violation. In their Reply, Defendant also encourages the Court to dismiss the AC as a sanction for failure to follow a court order.

         A. Qualified Written Request

         Defendant argues the March Letter is not a QWR that would trigger any obligations under RESPA. Mot. at 11-15. In a November 30, 2018 opinion, Chief Magistrate Judge Mark Falk analyzed the same argument and found the Letter (as described in a proposed amended complaint) satisfied the requirements of a QWR. Op. at 4-5 (November 30, 2018), ECF No. 38. The Court sees no reason to disrupt Judge Falk's opinion and adopts his reasoning here. Id.

         Defendant's primary argument is that the March Letter lacked the requisite specificity to be a QWR. Mot. at 13-15. But as Judge Falk explained, the March Letter asserts:

Defendant "reflected our loan as past due since inception of the loan modification. However, [] the attached Customer Account Activity Statement... shows there were timely monthly payments from August 1, 2012 through January 15, 2016 . . .." This is clear enough. Plaintiffs believed the account was in error because Wells Fargo asserted it was past due [since inception of the loan modification] despite timely payments. ...

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