STURZENACKER v. CMC RESTORATION, INC. et al
OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE JOSEPH F. LEESON, JR ON 6/27/17. 6/29/17 ENTERED AND COPIES MAILED TO UNREP, E-MAILED.(mas, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
GLORIA STURZENACKER ,
CMC RESTORATION, INC.;
CHRISTOPHER & BRUMMETT, INC;
Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 4 – Granted in Part and Denied in Part
Joseph F. Leeson, Jr.
United States District Judge
June 27, 2017
In January 2017, Plaintiff Gloria Sturzenacker initiated this action under the Federal Fair
Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), Pennsylvania’s Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act
(“FCEUA”), Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (“UTPCPL”),
Pennsylvania’s Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act (“HICPA”), and various other
state tort claims. The Complaint names as Defendants: CMC Restoration, Inc. (“CMC”),
Christopher & Brummett, Inc. (“C&B”), and David Kelley, president of CMC. Defendants
CMC and Kelley have filed a Motion to Dismiss the claims against them. For the following
reasons, Defendants’ Motion is granted in part and denied in part.
On June 30, 2015, Sturzenacker’s home in Northampton County “sustained three broken
storm windows.” Compl. ¶¶ 10, 17, ECF No. 1. Sturzenacker was subsequently convinced by a
Sturzenacker’s Complaint alleges the following facts.
CMC employee that her aluminum siding and porch roof were also damaged. Compl. ¶ 18. She
filed a claim with her insurance company and entered into a contract with CMC to repair the
storm damages to the home. Compl. ¶¶ 19-20. Sturzenacker claims she was told that she was
signing a “scope document” and not a contract with CMC. Compl. ¶ 20. Shortly thereafter,
CMC began its work on Sturzenacker’s home, but “failed to perform proper repairs.” Compl. ¶
Sturzenacker alleges that CMC failed to replace a storm door, removed the front porch
soffit without permission, and replaced siding and shutters with lower quality materials. Compl.
¶¶ 21-24. Due to this improper and unfinished work, Sturzenacker refused to pay the insurance
proceeds to CMC. Compl. ¶ 25. On January 13, 2016, following Sturzenacker’s refusal to pay,
Kelley filed an improper mechanics lien on Sturzenacker’s property. Compl. ¶ 27. 2 CMC also
hired C&B, a collection agency, to collect on the alleged debt Sturzenacker owed CMC. Compl.
¶ 28. C&B called not only Sturzenacker, but also her brother and a friend of her brother. Id. The
three also began receiving calls from an “Apex Investigations,” claiming that Apex would be
assessing the value of Sturzenacker’s home in order to prepare for foreclosure proceedings.
Compl. ¶ 29. In addition to these calls, Sturzenacker received calls from a man claiming to be
both “James Peterson” of Apex and later “Thomas McKewen,” the Legal Administrator of C&B;
these calls continued even after Sturzenacker informed those calling that she was represented by
counsel. Compl. ¶¶ 30-31. Plaintiff has brought claims of unfair debt collection (under both
federal and state law), unfair business practices, fraud, and breach of contract.
The parties agree that Kelley wrote in his name and address in the space in which the
perspective lien holder should have written in the owner of the subject property and the address
of said property. Defs.’ Mot. Dismiss ¶ 20, ECF No. 4.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim
In rendering a decision on a motion to dismiss, this Court must “accept all factual
allegations as true [and] construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.”
Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche
Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Only if
“the ‘[f]actual allegations . . . raise a right to relief above the speculative level’” has the plaintiff
stated a plausible claim. Id. at 234 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 540, 555
(2007)). However, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a
complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)
(explaining that determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief . . . [is] a
context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and
common sense”). The defendant bears the burden of demonstrating that a plaintiff has failed to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d
Cir. 2005) (citing Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991)).
Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction – Supplemental Jurisdiction
For cases in which a district court has original jurisdiction, it shall also “have
supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within
such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy.” 28 U.S.C. §
1367(a). Claims are part of the same case or controversy if they “derive from a common nucleus
of operative fact.” United Mine Workers of America v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 725 (1966).
However, even if the claims make up one “case or controversy,” the decision to exercise
jurisdiction remains open to the court. Gibbs, 383 U.S. at 726. In making its decision of
whether to exercise supplemental jurisdiction a court should consider “judicial economy,
convenience and fairness to litigants.” Id. (holding that “if these [factors] are not present a
federal court should hesitate to exercise jurisdiction over state claims, even though bound to
apply state law to them”).
Sturzenacker’s FCEUA claim against CMC and Kelley is dismissed without
CMC and Kelley contend that Sturzenacker has failed to state a claim of relief under the
FCEUA, and thus Count II of the Complaint should be dismissed against them. The FCEUA
“establishes what shall be considered unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts
or practices with regard to the collection of debts.” 73 P.S. § 2270.2.
CMC and Kelley are creditors.
Sturzenacker’s Complaint asserts that CMC and Kelley are “creditors” as defined by the
FCEUA. Compl. ¶¶ 39-40. Under the FCEUA a “creditor” is any “person, including agents,
servants or employees conducting business under the name of a creditor . . ., to whom a debt is
owed or alleged to be owed.” 73 P.S. § 2270.3 (2000). There is no dispute that CMC is a
“creditor” under the Act. However it is disputed whether Kelley meets the definition of
Sturzenacker contends that Kelley meets the definition of “creditor” as he is an “agent,
servant or employee” of a creditor (here CMC). Compl. ¶ 40. CMC and Kelley dispute the
classification of Kelley as a creditor. However, Sturzenacker’s Complaint states that Kelley is
believed to be the owner or co-owner of CMC. See Compl. ¶ 16. Because this Court must
“construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff,” this Court finds that Kelley
meets the definition of a “creditor” under the clear language of the FCEUA, as his role as partial
owner of the company makes him an “agent, servant  or employee.” 3
Sturzenacker has not adequately demonstrated a violation of the FCEUA.
Although both CMC and Kelley fit the statutory definition of a “creditor” under the
FCEUA, Sturzenacker must still assert adequate facts which, if true, would demonstrate a valid
claim for relief. The FCEUA characterizes numerous actions of a creditor as “false, deceptive or
misleading” and “unfair or unconscionable.” 73 P.S. §§ 2270.4(5)-(6). While a list of actions is
provided in the statute, it also states that the list is not exclusive. Id. Accordingly, although not
listed specifically by the statute, Kelley’s filing of a fraudulent or invalid mechanic’s lien could
be an act that is “false, deceptive or misleading” or “unfair or unconscionable.” 4
When determining whether a mechanics lien could be considered an “unfair or
unconscionable” act, a state court in Texas ruled that attempting to foreclose on an invalid lien is
unconscionable. Compton and Adams Warehouse, Inc. v. Powers, No. 04-04-00099-CV, 2004
WL 2346293 (Tex. App. 2004). 5 Similarly, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has stated that
“[m]aintaining an invalid lien against a debtor’s home falls comfortably within the kinds of
practices . . . identified as unfair.” Currier v. First Resolution Inv. Corp., 762 F.3d 529, 535 (6th
Cir. 2014). Here, Sturzenacker does not assert any “facts suggestive of conduct” that would
demonstrate CMC or Kelley attempted to foreclose or even maintain the lien on Sturzenacker’s
home. The lone statement that the filing of an improperly completed mechanic’s lien violates the
Kelley, who is actually the president of the company, still qualifies as an “employee” for
purposes of the FCEUA. See Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss ¶ 5.
See note 2, supra.
The Texas statute mirrors the FCEUA in that it provides a non-exclusive list of acts
which are determined to be “false, misleading, or deceptive acts or practices.” See TEX. BUS. &
COMM. CODE ANN. § 17.46(b).
FCEUA is not enough to sustain a claim under this Act. Accordingly, Sturzenacker’s FCEUA
claim against Kelley is dismissed without prejudice.
Additionally, Sturzenacker posits that the phone calls and other allegedly harassing
behaviors demonstrate a violation of the FCEUA by CMC. Compl. ¶ 42(a)-(h). Due to
Sturzenacker’s attribution of these activities to agents of Defendant C&B in the “Factual
Allegations” section of her Complaint, 6 it appears that Sturzenacker is attempting to argue that
CMC be held liable for the actions of its hired debt collector, C&B. However, it has been
established that in this jurisdiction, “there is no [vicarious] liability as between creditors and
debt-collectors.” In re Howe, 446 B.R. 153, 158 (E.D. Pa. 2009). Therefore, Sturzenacker has
failed to allege any actions taken by CMC that would be a violation of FCEUA. Accordingly,
Sturzenacker’s FCEUA claim against CMC is also dismissed without prejudice.
Sturzenacker is granted leave to amend these claims. See Grayson v. Mayview State
Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 111 (3d Cir. 2002) (holding that in the absence of undue delay, bad faith,
dilatory motive, unfair prejudice, or futility of amendment, a court should grant a plaintiff leave
to amend a deficient complaint after a defendant moves to dismiss it).
Sturzenacker’s UTPCPL claim against CMC is dismissed without prejudice.
CMC contends that Sturzenacker has failed to state a claim of relief under the UTPCPL,
and thus Count IV of the Complaint should be dismissed against it. The UTPCPL makes
unlawful “unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct
of any trade or commerce” so listed in 73 P.S. § 201-2(4)(i)-(xxi). See 73 P.S. § 201-3 (2007).
Pennsylvania state courts have stated, “[t]he UTPCPL is to be liberally construed to effectuate its
objective of protecting the consumers . . . from fraud and unfair or deceptive business practices.”
Compl. ¶¶ 28-32.
Ash v. Continental Ins. Co., 932 A.2d 877, 881 (Pa. 2007). To establish a viable claim under the
UTPCPL, a plaintiff must demonstrate “(1) a deceptive act that is likely to deceive a consumer
acting reasonably under similar circumstances; (2) justifiable reliance; and (3) that the plaintiff’s
justifiable reliance caused ascertainable loss.” Hall v. Equifax Information Services LLC, 204 F.
Supp. 807, 810 (E.D. Pa. 2016) (citing Slapikas v. First American Title Ins. Co., 298 F.R.D. 285,
292 (W.D. Pa. 2014)).
Here, Sturzenacker has satisfied the first element necessary to state a claim under the
UTPCPL by alleging that CMC engaged in numerous acts that, if proven to have occurred,
would demonstrate “a deceptive act that is likely to deceive a consumer.” 7 Additionally,
Sturzenacker has demonstrated that the alleged acts of CMC did create an actual loss.
Sturzenacker asserts that she suffered out-of-pocket expenses and that the damage she incurred
resulted in a decrease in the value of her home. Compl. ¶¶ 41, 68. Yet, Sturzenacker has still
failed to state a claim under the UTPCPL, as she has not demonstrated that she “justifiably
relied” on the alleged deceptions. Sturzenacker’s Complaint contends that “Plaintiff has
justifiably relied on the fraudulent representation of Defendant CMC’s employees” and “Plaintiff
justifiably relied on these representations.” Compl. ¶¶ 66, 68. However, in order for a plaintiff
to state a valid claim “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing Papasan, 478 U.S. at 286). Sturzenacker’s allegation that she
“justifiably relied” on CMC’s fraudulent representation is exactly the type of “formulaic
recitation” the Court viewed inadequate in Twombly. Additionally, because those allegations are
legal conclusions, the Court need not accept them as true. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
See Compl. ¶ 58.
Moreover, Sturzenacker primarily complains about conduct that occurred after she
entered in to an agreement with CMC to make repairs. For example, she complains that her
shutters were replaced with used shutters and the quality of the repairs was not what was agreed
to. See Compl. ¶ 58. However, Sturzenacker could not have relied on this later conduct when
entering into the work contract with CMC. See Barker v. Hostetter, No. 13-5081, 2014 U.S. dist.
LEXIS 51688, at *89 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 15, 2014) (“To state a private cause of action under the
UTPCPL, a plaintiff must allege that he has suffered ‘an ascertainable loss as a result of the
defendant’s prohibited action,’ which means the plaintiff must allege reliance on the defendant’s
conduct which induced the plaintiff to make a purchase for personal or household purposes.”
(quoting Weinberg v. Sun Co., Inc., 777 A.2d 442, 446 (Pa. 2001))). Thus, Sturzenacker has
failed to demonstrate any facts which, if true, would establish her “justifiable reliance.”
Sturzenacker’s UTPCPL claim against CMC is dismissed without prejudice and with leave to
amend. See Grayson, 293 F.3d at 111.
This Court retains supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining counts
CMC contends that if Counts II and IV are dismissed, this Court lacks jurisdiction over
the remainder of the claims against CMC, Counts III, V, and VI, and they should be remanded to
state court. However, 28 U.S.C. § 1367 provides that a district court may exercise supplemental
jurisdiction when it has original jurisdiction over a claim and the remaining claims form the
“same case or controversy.” 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). CMC argues that the remaining counts, all
involving solely state law claims, stem from a different “case or controversy” than the federal
FDCPA claim at Count I, which grants original jurisdiction. It is CMC’s contention that the
FDCPA claim deals with debt collection, while the remaining state law claims deal with whether
a debt exists.
When dealing with the topic of debt collection, “there is a likelihood that many issues—
such as the existence and nature of a debt . . . and when and how [a defendant] attempted to
collect on any debt—will be relevant” in separate claims. Kimmel v. Cavalry Portfolio Services,
LLC, 747 F. Supp. 2d 427, 435 (E.D. Pa. 2010). The court in Kimmel explained, “debt allegedly
owed . . . and [d]efendant’s attempt to collect on that debt” concern similar subject matter. Id.
Due to the similarities, “considering both in the same action could help eliminate duplicative
discovery.” Id. Indeed, convenience (i.e. preventing duplicative discovery) is one of the
considerations for a court when determining whether to exercise supplemental jurisdiction.
United Mine Workers of America v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726 (1966) (holding that courts should
consider “judicial economy, convenience, and fairness to litigants” when deciding on
Here, the existence of the alleged debt and the manner in which said debt was collected
are issues that stem from a “common nucleus of operative fact” and form part of the same “case
or controversy.” However, since the time Defendants filed their Motion, C&B has defaulted on
the sole federal claim, leaving only state law claims. 8 While 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) allows this
Court to exercise supplemental jurisdiction, section 1367(c) provides that the Court “may decline
to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a claim under section (a) if . . . the claim substantially
predominates over the claim . . . over which the district court has original jurisdiction.” 28
U.S.C §§ 1367(c)(1-4). Unlike in Kimmel, if this Court were to sever the two sets of claims, or
sever Defendant C&B from this action, it would not run the risk of duplicative discovery, as
default has been entered against the sole Defendant on the sole federal claim. The question is
therefore whether this Court should exercise supplemental jurisdiction when the only active
Only C&B was named as a defendant in the FDCPA claim at Count I.
claims before it are state law claims, which appear to substantially predominate in this action.
Accordingly, the parties shall submit briefing on the topic of whether this Court should
exercise supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367 over the remaining claims
against CMC (Counts III, V, and VI). The briefs should particularly address 28 U.S.C. §
1367(c)(2) and its applicability to this case. To the extent that Counts II and IV are being
dismissed without prejudice, the parties should also discuss how Sturzenacker’s ability to plead a
viable claim under the FCEUA and the UTPCPL might affect this determination.
Sturzenacker has failed to state a claim under the FCEUA and the UTPCPL against CMC
and Kelley. Thus, Counts II and IV against CMC and Kelley, only, are dismissed without
prejudice. Because Kelley was only a named Defendant in Count II, he is dismissed from this
case without prejudice. This Court defers a decision on whether to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over the state law claims pending briefing from the parties regarding the applicability
of 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(2). A separate order follows.
BY THE COURT:
/s/ Joseph F. Leeson, Jr.___________
JOSEPH F. LEESON, JR.
United States District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?