Peckey v. Bank of America, N.A. (Maryland U.S.D.C.) and more

Peckey v. Bank of America, N.A. (Maryland U.S.D.C.)

Filed: April 10, 2015

Opinion by: Richard D. Bennett

Holdings:  The Court denied Defendant Loan Servicer’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims for violations of three statutes: 1) the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”); 2) the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act (“MCDCA”); 3) and the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (“MCPA”).

While Defendant Loan Servicer’s communication to collect Plaintiff’s non-existent mortgage debt was time barred under the FDCPA, the Defendant’s more recent false representation regarding the non-existent debt was not time barred.  The Court held Plaintiff sufficiently pled that Defendant Loan Servicer possessed the requisite knowledge to violate the MCDCA.  The Court also held Defendant Loan Servicer’s alleged false reporting of delinquencies plausibly harmed Plaintiff’s credit score and caused him stress and anxiety.  Further, the Court held that Plaintiff sufficiently pled a violation of the MCPA. 

Facts:  Plaintiff defaulted on a loan from Defendant Bank to purchase property (the “Loan”).  To avoid foreclosure, Plaintiff agreed to a Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure transaction (“DIL”) conveying the property to Defendant Bank.  Plaintiff fulfilled all of the requisite steps to complete the DIL.  Shortly thereafter, however, Defendant Bank sent Plaintiff a letter stating his loan would be serviced by Defendant Loan Servicer and Defendant Bank sent Plaintiff another letter stating it was unable to offer Plaintiff a DIL. 

Then, Defendant Loan Servicer sent Plaintiff a letter stating it had taken over loan servicing for Plaintiff’s property and sent Plaintiff a monthly payment notice demanding $55,190.29 for the current payment, past due payment, and late charges/fees.  In response, Plaintiff sent a letter to Defendant Loan Servicer stating that he successfully completed a DIL with Defendant Bank and requested that it cease and desist making debt collection phone calls to him. Defendant Loan Servicer nevertheless continued to demand payment.  Plaintiff’s credit reports showed the DIL terminated the Loan, but that Plaintiff had a deficiency with Defendant Loan Servicer.

Defendant Loan Servicer filed a Motion to Dismiss in response to Plaintiff’s claims under the FDCPA, MCDCA, and MCPA.

Analysis:  FDCPA:  The FDCPA requires that a plaintiff bring a claim within one year from the date on which a violation occurs (15 U.S.C.A. 1692k(d)).  Defendant Loan Servicer’s communication to collect Plaintiff’s non-existent debt occurred more than one year before suit was filed.  However, Defendant Loan Servicer’s false delinquency report to the credit bureaus and Plaintiff’s accessing of his credit reports occurred within one year before filing suit.  Thus, the Court determined that Plaintiff’s FDCPA claim was not barred by the FDCPA’s one-year statute of limitations.       

MCDCA:  Liability arises under Md. Code Ann., Com. Law § 14-202(8) when a defendant acted “with actual knowledge or reckless disregard as to the falsity of the information . . .”  Plaintiff’s allegation that he provided the DIL and other documentation to Defendant Loan Servicer was sufficient to plead that Defendant had “actual knowledge.”  Plaintiff alleged he sent a message to Defendant Loan Servicer indicating the Loan had been satisfied with title transferring by the DIL, that it failed to investigate Plaintiff’s response, and it failed to consider information readily available in Plaintiff’s credit history.  The Court ruled that this was sufficient to plead Defendant Loan Servicer acted with “reckless disregard.”  The Court further stated that, although Plaintiff bears the burden to prove Defendant Loan Servicer’s actions proximately caused his damages, it is plausible its action caused the harm to Plaintiff’s credit score as well as stress and anxiety.  

MCPA: The Court determined that because Plaintiff sufficiently alleged a violation of the MCDCA and a violation of the MCDCA is a per se violation of the MCPA, Plaintiff sufficiently pled a violation of the MCPA.

The full opinion is available in PDF.

Payne v. Erie Insurance Exchange (Md. Ct. of Appeals)

Filed:  March 30, 2015

Opinion by:  Robert N. McDonald

Holding:  Where the first permittee is not present in the vehicle, omnibus coverage does not extend to a second permittee if that driver deviates from an authorized purpose.

Facts:  The named insured owned the vehicle, which was covered by Defendant’s insurance policy.  Defendant’s policy contained an omnibus clause which provided coverage to (1) relatives by blood, marriage, or adoption, and (2) drivers given permission by the named insured. 

Named insured had granted the first permittee unrestricted use of the car, but had forbidden the second permittee from driving the car for any reason.  Despite the named insured’s wishes, first permittee directed the second permittee to use the car to pick up the first permittee's children from school.  Instead of taking a direct route to the school, the second permittee first drove to a nearby gas station and subsequently collided with a car driven by Plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs filed a tort action against the second permittee, the named insured, Plaintiff’s insurer and Defendant insurer.  Writ of certiorari was granted to reconsider whether omnibus coverage extended to second permittee’s use of the car without the presence of the first permittee and outside the scope of authorized use.

Analysis:  Because the first permittee was undisputedly not present in the car when the accident occurred, the court’s analysis turned on the circumstances under which the second permittee operated the vehicle.  The court highlighted jurisprudence showing the disjunctive nature of the test for second permittees as illustrated by Kornke, Federal Insurance Co., and Bond:

“The general rule that a permittee may not allow a third party to use the named insured’s car has generally been held not to preclude recovery under an omnibus clause where (1) the original permittee is riding in the car with the second permittee at the time of the accident, or (2) the second permittee, in using the vehicle, is serving some purpose of the original permittee.”
The court noted the existence of two alternative situations.  In one, where the first permittee was a passenger of the vehicle, authorization of the driver’s actions could be presumed.  Even if the first permittee was not actively directing the car’s operation, mere presence of the first permittee indicated operation for his benefit.  But in the second situation, where the first permittee was absent, the court required clear evidence that the driver operated the vehicle for the benefit of the first permittee in order for the second permittee to retain omnibus coverage.

The court determined that the first permittee became entitled to omnibus coverage as a blood relative regardless of any implied or express consent.  Accordingly, the first permittee possessed unrestricted authority to delegate permission to the second permittee.  But because the second permittee lacked the discretion to use the vehicle as he pleased, his departure from the assigned task excluded him from omnibus coverage.

The full opinion is available in PDF.


In Re: MTBE Products Liability Litigation (New York U.S.D.C.)

Filed: March 30, 2015

Opinion by: Shira A. Scheindlin

Summary:  In a case involving multiple jurisdictions, a federal court held that in the absence of a federal question, the laws of the forum state should control, in this case Pennsylvania. The court then applied Pennsylvania’s choice-of-law rules to hold that the laws of the jurisdiction where the “targeted entity” is incorporated should determine whether to piece the corporate veil. The defendant’s parent company was incorporated in Delaware, but its Maryland subsidiary—the target of the lawsuit—was formed in Maryland. Thus, under the court’s ruling, Maryland’s veil-piercing laws should govern.

The full opinion is available in PDF.

Cunney v. Patrick Communications LLC (Maryland U.S.D.C.)

Filed: April 3, 2015

Opinion by: James K. Bredar

Holding:  Confidential communications between a husband and wife are privileged, regardless of whether the subject matter relates solely to ordinary business matters.

Facts:  Defendant managing members of defendant LLC were also husband and wife.  In connection with discovery, husband and wife asserted marital privilege to bar production of 58 documents involving communications between husband and wife.

Analysis:  Plaintiff argued the documents should be produced in discovery because the communications related to pure business matters unrelated to the spousal relationship.  Plaintiff’s argument relied on a comparison to New York law, which has statutory text similar to Maryland.  The court agreed New York law excludes from the martial privilege conversations related solely to “ordinary business matters.”  However, the court looked to the Maryland Court of Appeals decision in Coleman v. State, which “refused to read exceptions into the marital privilege where the text [(Section 9-105 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article)] itself had ‘no express exceptions.’”  The court found the communications between the husband and wife privileged. 

The court went on to state that the parties must still determine whether the communications were confidential because the privilege does not apply if the communications were “made with the contemplation or expectation that a third party would learn” of the communications.

The opinion is available in PDF.

Allstate Lien & Recovery Corp. v. Stansbury (Ct. of Spec.Appeals)

Filed: October 7, 2014

Opinion by: Kathryn Grill Graeff

Holdings: A fee charged for processing a garageman’s lien is not part of the garageman’s lien per Md. Code, Comm. Law § 16-202 and cannot be included in the amount necessary to redeem a vehicle.

As a result, the jury properly found that including the processing fee in the amount needed to redeem a vehicle violates the Maryland Debt Collection Act (Md. Code, Comm. Law §§ 14-201, et seq.) and the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (Md. Code, Comm. Law §§ 13-301, et seq.).

Facts: Plaintiff authorized in writing some needed repairs to his vehicle by the defendant garage, which charged Plaintiff $6,330.37 for the repairs. After Plaintiff failed to timely pay, the Defendant garage and its manager engaged the Defendant lien and recovery company to begin the process of selling Plaintiff’s vehicle in execution of the Defendant garage’s repair lien.

Plaintiff was sent a lien notice which provided that Plaintiff’s vehicle would be sold at public auction to satisfy the garage’s lien unless Plaintiff paid the $6,330.37 costs of repair, plus a storage fee of $300, plus a processing fee of $1,000, for a total of $7,630.37. Plaintiff had not agreed to any storage fees in his written repair authorization. The Defendant lien and recovery company asserted that although the actual costs incurred may vary from lien to lien, the $1,000 fee was its standard charge for collecting debts and was “front-loaded” to become part of the lien. Plaintiff failed to pay the full lien amount claimed, including the $1,000, and Plaintiff’s vehicle was sold at auction for $7,730.

Analysis: The Court determined that the plain language of the garageman’s lien statute, Md. Code, Comm. Law § 16-202, clearly and unambiguously states that a person who provides a service to, or materials for, a vehicle has a “motor vehicle lien” only for those charges incurred for repair or rebuilding, storage, or tires or other parts or accessories. As a result, a processing fee is not included as part of the lien. The Court reviewed the statutory scheme as a whole and held that, although processing fees may be recovered if the vehicle is sold or if judicial proceedings are instituted, the statutory scheme does not suggest that processing fees are part of the lien that may be included as part of the amount the consumer must pay to redeem the vehicle.

The Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act, specifically Md. Code, Comm. Law § 14-202, provides that a debt collector may not “[c]laim, attempt, or threaten to enforce a right with knowledge that the right does not exist.” The Court held that Defendants attempted to enforce a right that did not exist by requiring Plaintiff to pay the $1,000.00 processing fee to redeem the vehicle. Defendants had no right to front-load the processing fee and include those fees as part of the lien. Consequently, the Court held the jury properly found that Defendants violated the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act and, because such a violation constitutes an unfair or deceptive trade practice, Defendants also violated the Maryland Consumer Protection Act.

The full opinion is available in PDF.  

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