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Campbell v. Sansone Law, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

August 2, 2016




         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Sansone Law, LLC’s Motion to Dismiss Count I of Plaintiff Mary Campbell’s First Amended Complaint (Doc. 12). The Motion is fully briefed and ready for disposition. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 636(c)(1) (Doc. 9). For the following reasons, Defendant’s Motion will be GRANTED, in part.

         I. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for a motion to dismiss based on the “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” To survive a motion to dismiss a complaint must show “ ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief, ’ in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’ ” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice” to defeat a motion to dismiss. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “[O]nly a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The pleading standard of Rule 8 “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, ’ but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “When ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). All reasonable references from the complaint must be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. Schaaf v. Residential Funding Corp., 517 F .3d 544, 549 (8th Cir. 1999).

         II. Background

         Plaintiff Mary Campbell f/k/a Mary Hobart (“Campbell”) brings this action for statutory and actual damages pursuant to the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. §§1692, et seq. (Doc. 11). Defendant Sansone Law, LLC (“Sansone”) is a debt collector (Id. ¶ 5). On June 10, 2015, Campbell was served with a summons and petition filed against her on behalf of J&M Securities, LLC (“J&M Securities”) to collect unpaid rent debt (Id. ¶ 6). J&M Securities, LLC v. Mary J. Hobart, Case No. 15SL-AC15192 (hereinafter the “St. Louis County lawsuit”). Ben Sansone was the attorney of record for J&M Securities in the St. Louis County lawsuit (Id. ¶ 8). Campbell was also represented by counsel in the St. Louis County lawsuit (Id. ¶ 9). Campbell’s counsel sent J&M Securities written discovery requests via email (Id. ¶ 10). During a case management conference in the St. Louis County lawsuit, Sansone, on behalf of J&M Securities, took a default judgment against Campbell (Id. ¶¶ 11-12). J&M Securities did not inform the court that Campbell was represented by counsel (Id. ¶ 13). The St. Louis County lawsuit was subsequently dismissed with prejudice (Id. ¶ 16). However, the default judgment is still being reported on Campbell’s credit report as an active judgment (Id. ¶ 18).

         In the St. Louis County lawsuit, Sansone provided a 1692g notice (“Notice”) to Campbell that stated, in part:

Unless you, the defendant, dispute the validity of the debt within 30 days of receipt of this notice, the debt will assume [sic] to be valid by the undersigned attorneys. If you notify the undersigned attorney in writing within this 30 day period that the debt or any portion thereof is disputed, the undersigned will obtain verification of plaintiff’s position and mail it to you.

(Id. ¶ 22).

         In her First Amended Complaint, Campbell alleges the following specific violations of the FDCPA: (1) attempting to collect an amount not authorized by agreement in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1692f(1); and (2) engaging in false, deceptive and misleading means in connection with debt collection in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1692e preface and § 1692e(10). Sansone moves to dismiss both claims and additionally seeks to dismiss any possible claims under § 1692d, § 1692f, and § 1692g. Although Sansone moves to dismiss Campbell’s § 1692d and § 1692f claims, no such claims were included in the First Amended Complaint and, therefore, Defendant’s argument regarding these claims will not be discussed.[1] Although Campbell cites to § 1692g elsewhere in her First Amended Complaint, she specifically disavows the claim in her response.[2] Accordingly, the Court will also not address any potential § 1692g claim.

         III. Analysis

         A. 15 U.S.C. § 1692f(1)

         Campbell first asserts Sansone violated § 1692f(1) by attempting to collect an amount not authorized by agreement. Section § 1692f(1) prohibits “[t]he collection of any amount (including any interest, fee, charge, or expense incidental to the principal obligation) unless such amount is expressly authorized by the agreement creating the debt or permitted by law.” Campbell’s § 1692f(1) claim against Sansone stems from the fact that J&M Securities was granted a default judgment for the principal amount of the debt, attorney’s fees, court costs, and interest: “Plaintiff’s injury resulted from Sansone’s deceptive and misleading conduct in taking a default judgment against a represented [party] who intended to defend the St. Louis County lawsuit” (Doc. 14 at 5). Sansone asserts that Campbell’s claim is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

         The Rooker-Feldman doctrine deprives federal district courts of subject matter jurisdiction in actions seeking review and reversal of state court judgments. Skit Int'l, Ltd. v. DAC Techs. of Ark., Inc.,487 F.3d 1154, 1157 (8th Cir. 2007); see District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman,460 U.S. 462 (1983); Rooker v. Fidelity Tr. Co.,263 U.S. 413 (1923). Thus, “[i]f a federal plaintiff asserts as a legal wrong an allegedly erroneous decision by a state court, and seeks relief from a state court judgment based on that decision, Rooker-Feldman bars subject matter jurisdiction in federal district court.” Riehm v. Engelking,538 F.3d 952, 965 (8th Cir. 2008). “If, on the other hand, a federal plaintiff asserts as a legal wrong an allegedly illegal act or omission by an adverse party, Rooker-Feldman does not bar jurisdiction.” Id. Consequently, Rooker-Feldman does not bar an FDCPA claim challenging a defendant's debt collection practices, to the extent such practices do not implicate a state court judgment. But it bars claims that would either directly or “ ‘effectively reverse the state court decision or void its ruling.’ ” Kramer & Frank, P.C. v. Wibbenmeyer, No. 4:05-CV-2395-RWS, 2007 WL 956931, at *1 (E.D. Mo. Mar. 6, 2007) (quoting Charchenko ...

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