Schools v. PMAB, LLC
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Theodore D. Chuang on 11/14/2014. (kns, Deputy Clerk)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
Civil Action No. TDC-14-0716
PMAB, LLC, el al.,
This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint,
ECF No. 10, filed by Defendant PMAB, LLC ("PMAB").
The issue before the Court is whether
Plaintiff Anthony Schools ("Schools") has sufficiently stated a cause of action under the Fair
Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. ~~ 1692, el seq. (2012) (Count I) and the
Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act ("MCDCA"), Md. Code Ann., Comm. Law ~~ 14-201,
et seq. (West 2014) (Count II). Having reviewed the pleadings and briefs, the Court finds no
hearing necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the following reasons, the Motion
to Dismiss is DENIED.
Schools, a Maryland resident, alleges that beginning in or around October 2013, PMAB
began contacting him in an attempt to collect a debt (the "Debt") owed to PMAB by an
individual named "Ebony" (the "Debtor") who was unknown to Schools.
Schools alleges that on several occasions he informed PMAB that he did not know
the Debtor and that she was umeachable at his telephone nwnber, and instructed PMAB to
remove his telephone number from the Debtor's account and cease all communications with him.
Jd. -~ 24-26. Schools also alleges that despite his repeated attempts to stop the calls and the fact
that PMAB knew the Debtor could not be reached at his telephone nwnber, PMAB continued to
call Schools using an automated telephone dialing system, a prerecorded message, or both, "at an
annoying and harassing rate, placing almost daily calls to his cellular telephone for successive
weeks." [d. , 22, 27 (emphases in original).
On March II, 2014, Schools filed a Complaint alleging violations of the FDCPA,
MCDCA, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act ("TCPA"), 47 U.S.C. ~~ 227 e1seq. (2012),
and invasion of privacy against PMAB and the individual collectors employed by PMAB, Does
1-10, whom Schools plans to join as parties once their identities are disclosed through discovery.
22-48, ECF No. I. On June 25, 2014, Schools amended the Complaint, removing
the state common law claim for invasion of privacy and including additional factual allegations
regarding the nature of the Debt and the nature of PMAB's business as a collector of conswner
See Am. Compl., Ex. 2
8-20, ECF No. 9-2. Specifically, Schools alleged that PMAB
is registered as a "collection agency" in Maryland, that there are numerous complaints before the
Better Business Bureau regarding PMAB's attempts to collect personal medical debts, and that
PMAB's website states that it provides "collection services for medical financial professionals."
Am. Compl. ~ 12, 16-17.
In support of each of these allegations, Schools also attached the
following to the Amended Complaint: a record of PMAB's registration as a "collection agency"
The Amended Complaint was filed after PMAB filed its first Motion to Dismiss, ECF No.8, on
June 12,2014. That original Motion argued that the Court should dismiss Schools's invasion of
privacy claim, but was otherwise the same as the instant Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended
See Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss, ECF NO.8-I.
Because, as noted, Schools
subsequently removed the invasion of privacy claim from the Amended Complaint and PMAB
filed this Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint, the Court dismisses as moot the first
Motion to Dismiss, ECF NO.8.
from the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation website; a screenshot of
PMAB's webpage; and a listing of complaints against PMAB from the Better Business Bureau's
website. Am. Comp\., Exs. A-C, ECF NO.9-I.
On July to, 2014, PMAB filed the present Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended
Complaint, arguing that the Court should dismiss the FDCPA claim (Count I) and MDCPA
claim (Count II) because Schools failed to properly allege that the Debt was a consumer debt, as
required under both statutes. Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss at 4-8, ECF No. 10-1.
I. Legal Standard
A court must deny a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure l2(b)(6) motion to dismiss for
failure to state a claim where the complaint alleges enough facts to state a plausible claim for
relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
A claim is plausible when "the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the
Court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."
"Rule l2(b)(6) 'does not countenance ...
complaint's factual allegations.'"
dismissals based on a judge's disbelief of a
Colon Health Clrs. of Am .. LLC v. Hazel, 733 F.3d 525, 545
(4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)).
Rather, in assessing
whether this standard has been met, the Court must examine the complaint as a whole, consider
the factual allegations in the complaint as true, and construe the factual allegations in the light
most favorable to the plaintiff. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of
Comm'rs of Davidson Cnty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing Scheuer v. Rhod.es, 416
U.S. 232, 236 (1974».
Legal conclusions or conclusory statements do not suffice and are not
entitled to the assumption of truth. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
11. FDCPA Claim
In the Complaint, Schools alleges that PMAB violated the provisions of the FDCPA
which prohibits debt collectors from harassing or abusing "any person in connection with the
collection of a debt," 15 U.S.C. ~ 1692(d), or using '"unfairor unconscionable means to collect or
attempt to collect any debt," ~ 1692(1). Am. Comp!.'
32.32. Under the FDCPA, "debt" is
defined, in relevant part, as "any obligation or alleged obligation of a consumer to pay money
arising out of a transaction in which the money ...
which [is] the subject of the transaction [is]
primarily for personal, family, or household purposes .... " ~ 1692a(5).
Thus, to establish an
FDCPA claim, a plaintiff must show that (1) the plaintiff has been the object of a collection
activity arising from a consumer debt; (2) the defendant is a debt collector within the meaning of
the statute; and (3) the defendant has engaged in an act or omission prohibited by the FDCPA.
Stewart v. Bierman, 859 F. Supp. 2d 754, 759 (D. Md. 2012), aff'd 528 F. App'x 297 (4th Cir.
In the Motion to Dismiss, PMAB argues that the Court should dismiss the FDCPA claim
because the Complaint fails to plead adequately that the underlying Debt, about which PMAB is
alleged to have repeatedly called Schools, was a consumer debt as defined by the FDCPA.
Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss at 5. PMAB contends that because Schools admits that he did not
know the Debtor, it was "inconceivable" that Schools could know the specific nature of the Debt,
and therefore he could not plead sufficient factual allegations establishing that the Debt was a
consumer debt. ld.
PMAB is certainly correct that where an FDCPA plaintiff is also the debtor responsible
for the debt in question, courts have held that the plaintiff must plead specific facts indicating
that the debt was incurred for personal. family. or household purposes. See Garcia v. Jenkins
Babb, L.L.P., 569 F. App'x 274, 276 (5th Cir. 2014) (dismissing an FDCPA suit where the
plaintiff-debtors gave "no indication what item was purchased or what service was paid for,
much less explain how the item or service was intended for personal or family use"); Dokumaci
v. MAF Collection Services, No. 8:09-cv-02488-T-24-TGW,
2010 WL 2560024, at *2 (M.D. Fla.
June 17, 2010) (dismissing plaintiff-deblor's FDCPA claim because, among other deficiencies,
plaintiff failed to plead facts that established the nature of the debt).
Here, however, Schools's FDCPA claim arises not from his own debt but from that of a
third party debtor unknown to him.2
In cases involving a non-debtor plaintiff, courts have
reasoned that such plaintiffs need not plead the nature of the underlying debt with similar
particularity because "non-debtors cannot reasonably be expected to know the specific nature of
a third party's debt without the benefit of discovery."
Corsun v. Accounts Receivable
Management, Inc., No. 13-01903, 2013 WL 4047577, at *4 (D.N.J Aug. 9,2013).
the plaintiff is not the debtor, it is sufficient to plead facts supporting an inference that the debt
was a consumer debt. For example, in McGown v. Silverman & Borenstein, PLLC, No. 13-cv748-RGAIMPT, 2014 WL 459793 (D. Del. Feb. 3, 2014), the district court found a non-debtor
plaintiffs pleadings sufficient on the element of consumer debt where the plaintiff "produced
evidence of a public record showing the underlying debt action was filed against an individual,"
the defendant's past federal litigation had "all involved consumer credit," and the defendant's
website contained a disclosure in compliance with the FDCPA. ld. at .3.
See also Bodur v.
Palisades Col/eetion, LLC, 829 F. Supp. 2d 246, 257 (S.D.N.Y. 2011) (finding on a summary
21be FDCPA permits "any person" who is harmed by unlawful debt collection practices, and not
just the debtor, to bring suit under ~ 1692(d) and ~ 1692(1). 15 U.S.C. ~~ 1692(d), 1692(1); see
also Rawlinson v. Law Office a/William M Rudlow, LLC, 460 F. App'x 254, 258 (4th Cir. 2012)
(holding that non-debtors may bring suit under ~~ 1692(d), 1692(e), and 1692(1) of the FDCPA).
judgment motion that the facts that the defendant specialized in "retail collections," that the
underlying debt was for a wireless telephone account, and that the debtor was an individual
living in an apartment building were sufficient to establish that the debt was for personal, family,
or household purposes).3
alleges that PMAB is registered as a "collection
Maryland, that there are numerous complaints before the Better Business Bureau regarding
PMAB's attempts to collect personal medical debts, and that PMAB's
provides "collection services for medical financial professionals."
website states that it
Although PMAB argues that these allegations are not as strong as those provided by the plaintiff
in McGown, Reply at 4, ECF No. 12, they are more than sufficient to meet this lesser threshold
for claims by non-debtors.
See McGown, 2014 WL 459793, at *3; Corson, 2013 WL 4047577,
at .3-4; Bodur, 829 F. Supp. 2d at 257. Based on the above-described allegations, the Court
finds that the Complaint sufficiently alleges that the underlying Debt was for personal, family, or
household purposes. PMAB's motion to dismiss Count I is therefore denied.
As with the FDCPA, the MCDCA also prohibits a "collector" of debt from engaging in
certain acts. See Md. Code Ann., Comm. Law ~ 14-202.
In the Motion to Dismiss, PMAB
argues that Schools fails to state an MCDeA claim because he fails sufficiently to allege that
3 PMAB argues that the different procedural postures in Corson and Bodur distinguish these
cases from the present case. However, in Corson, the consumer debt question was before the
court on a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings,
which is, in fact, subject to the same standard as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, as it serves
the purpose of testing the sufficiency of the plaintiffs pleadings. See Burbach Broadcasting Co.
of Del. v. Elkins Radio Corp., 278 F.3d 401, 406 (4th Cir. 2002). As for Bodur, that case was
decided on a summary judgment motion, where the plaintiff had an even higher burden to meet
than Schools does here, yet the court still found similarly circumstantial evidence sufficient to
establish that the underlying debt was consumer debt.
PMAB is a "collector" or that the underlying transaction was a "consumer transaction" under the
MCDCA. The Court, however, finds both elements adequately pleaded.
The MCDCA defines a "collector" as "a person collecting or attempting to collect an
alleged debt arising out of a consumer transaction,"
and a "consumer transaction"
transaction involving a person seeking or acquiring real or personal property, services, money, or
ld. ~ 14-20I(b)-(c).
credit for personal, family, or household purposes."
Here, Schools alleges
that PMAB called him repeatedly in an attempt to collect the Debt, Am. Compl.
Schools adequately alleged arose from a personal, family, or household transaction.
MCDCA definitions relating to consumer debt are substantially similar to those of the FDCPA,
the Court's analysis in the preceding section, that the pleadings sufficiently allege that the
underlying Debt was a consumer debt, applies equally to the MCDCA claim. Accordingly, the
Court finds Schools's MDCDA claim adequately pleaded and denies the motion to dismiss as to
For the foregoing reasons, the Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint, ECF No. lO,
The first Motion to Dismiss, ECF No.8, is DISMISSED AS MOOT. A separate
Date: November 14, 2014
THEODORE D. CHU
United States District
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