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John M. Wade, An Individual; On Behalf of Himself and All Others Similarly v. Rosenthal

August 29, 2012

JOHN M. WADE, AN INDIVIDUAL; ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROSENTHAL, STEIN & ASSOCIATES, LLC, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: VIKTOR V. Pohorelsky United States Magistrate Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

The plaintiff has moved to amend the complaint in this action to add claims and parties. The initial complaint asserted claims on behalf of the plaintiff and a putative class against three defendants -- Rosenthal, Stein & Associates, LLC, Sharisse Willliams, and National Credit Adjusters, LLC -- for a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692-1692p (the "FDCPA"), arising from telephonic collection efforts made by the defendant Rosenthal, Stein from December 2010 to early April 2011. The proposed amended complaint seeks to expand the claims in the action in two ways. First, it seeks to assert claims under the FDCPA and several New York statutes arising from collection letters sent by the defendant National Credit Adjusters, LLC ("NCA") in January of 2011. Second, it seeks to add three individuals associated with NCA as defendants on all of the claims. See First Amended Class Action Complaint, annexed as Ex. A to Decl. of William F. Horn [DE 30], ("proposed amended complaint").

Motions to amend before trial are governed by Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which directs the court to grant such motions freely "when justice so requires." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). Nevertheless, in determining whether amendment should be permitted, "the district court has discretion to consider, inter alia, the apparent futility of amendment." Grace v. Rosenstock, 228 F.3d 40, 53 (2d Cir. 2000) (citing Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)). "An amendment is futile if the claim would be unable to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss," Weich-Pulaski v. Wells Fargo Bank Minnesota, N.A., No. CV 09-1670, 2010 WL 5491113, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 9, 2010) (citing Lucente v. Int'l Bus. Machines Corp., 310 F.3d 243, 258 (2d Cir. 2002)), and the court applies the same analysis in determining futility as it does in deciding Rule 12(b)(6) motions, see Weich-Pulaski, 2010 WL at *2. Thus, the court accepts as true all factual allegations in the complaint, views the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and draws all reasonable inferences in his favor. See Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 152 (2d Cir. 2002); Gregory v. Daly, 243 F.3d 687, 691 (2d Cir. 2001). Conclusory allegations or conclusions of law "couched" as factual allegations, however, need not be accepted as true. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949-50 (2009); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); In re NYSE Specialists Sec. Litig., 503 F.3d 89, 95 (2d Cir. 2007); First Nationwide Bank v. Gelt Funding Corp., 27 F.3d 763, 771 (2d Cir. 1994). As a result, mere labels, conclusions, and a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" do not suffice to state a plausible claim. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

Applying the above principles, the court concludes below that the motion to amend should be denied as the claims proposed to be added by the amended complaint are futile. Leave to make a further motion is granted, however, with respect to some of the claims deemed defective in the proposed amended complaint.

I. THE NEW CLAIMS BASED ON THE JANUARY 2011COLLECTION LETTERS

The proposed amended complaint alleges that NCA sent three letters dated January 26, 2011 to the plaintiff in an effort to collect a debt denominated as the "Wade Obligation" in the proposed amended complaint. He alleges that the letters were all false, deceptive and misleading in a variety of ways, and therefore violated the FDCPA. He further alleges that certain of the false representations constituted deceptive practices in violation of section 349 of the New York General Business Law. Finally, he alleges that because the letters were an attempt to collect interest in excess of New York's usury limits they give rise to claims against the defendant NCA and the three individual defendants associated with NCA -- Mark Fletchall, Kevin Emmerich, and Charles Hyter -- under sections 5-501, 5-511 and 5-513 of the New York General Obligation Law.

A. The Statute of Limitations Bars The New Claims Under the FDCPA

The FDCPA provides a one-year statute of limitations for actions seeking to redress violations of the Act. 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(d) ("An action to enforce any liability created by this subchapter [i.e., the FDCPA] may be brought . . . within one year from the date on which the violation occurs."). The plaintiff first sought leave to amend the complaint by filing a letter seeking a premotion conference on May 29, 2012. [DE 19] Accordingly, the new claims based on violations arising from the three collection letters sent by NCA on January 26, 2011 fall outside the one-year limitations period. The plaintiff seeks to avoid that bar in two ways. He argues first that the new claims "relate back" to the claims in the original complaint, which was filed in November 2011, under Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Alternatively, he argues that principles of equitable tolling excuse any late filing of his claims based on the January 2011 letters.

Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides, in pertinent part, An amendment to a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when . . . the amendment asserts a claim or defense that arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out -- or attempted to be set out -- in the original pleading.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1)(B). The plaintiff argues that the claims arising from the three collection letters arise from the "conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out" in the original complaint because they all involve efforts to collect the same debt. That is not enough. The conduct, transactions and occurrences pleaded in the original complaint are all efforts to collect the debt by telephone calls made by the defendants Rosenthal, Stein and Williams.*fn1 That conduct differs in kind from NCA's efforts to collect the debt by sending letters. The manner in which the letters are alleged to constitute violations of the FDCPA also differs from the manner in which the telephone calls are alleged to have violated the FDCPA. Indeed, it is the plaintiff's theory that the sending of the letters is separate conduct that gives rise to additional claims separate from those based on the telephone calls. As the operative facts giving rise to the new claims are different from the telephone calls that gave rise to the claims in the original complaint, they do not relate back under Rule 15(c)(1)(B). Accord Victori v. Accelerated Bureau of Collections of Ohio, Inc., 96-CV-0263E(SC), 1997 WL 9788, at *2 (W.D.N.Y. Jan. 2, 1997).

The plaintiff's attempt to take advantage of equitable tolling also falls short. "Equitable tolling applies only in the rare and exceptional circumstance," Smith v. McGinnis, 208 F.3d 13, 17 (2d Cir. 2000) (citing Turner v. Johnson, 177 F.3d 390, 391-92 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 1007, 120 S.Ct. 504, 145 L.Ed.2d 389 (1999))(internal quotation marks omitted), and the "burden of demonstrating the appropriateness of equitable tolling . . . lies with the plaintiff," Boos v. Runyon, 201 F.3d 178, 185 (2d Cir. 2000). In the Second Circuit, the doctrine will be applied "as a matter of fairness where a plaintiff has been prevented in some extraordinary way from exercising his rights," Pearl v. City of Long Beach, 296 F.3d 76, 85 (2d Cir. 2004) (internal quotations omitted), which means "a situation where a plaintiff 'could show that it would have been impossible for a reasonably prudent person to learn' about his or her cause of action." Id. (quoting Miller v. Int'l Telephone & Telegraph Corp., 755 F.2d 20, 24 (2d Cir.1985) (emphasis in original)); see Litle v. Arab Bank, PLC, 507 F. Supp. 2d 267, 276 (E.D.N.Y. 2007).

Where fraudulent concealment is offered as the basis for equitable tolling, as the plaintiff does here, the plaintiff is required to establish that (1) the defendant wrongfully concealed material facts relating to its wrongdoing; (2) the concealment prevented plaintiffs' discovery of the nature of the claim within the limitations period; and (3) the plaintiffs exercised due diligence in pursuing the discovery of the claim during the period they seek to have tolled.

Litle, 507 F. Supp. at 276, citing Corcoran v. New York Power Auth., 202 F.3d 530, 543 (2d Cir. 1999) and State of N.Y. v. Hendrickson Bros., Inc., 840 F.2d 1065, 1083 (2d Cir. 1988). The facts that establish each of these three elements must be pleaded with particularity. E.g., In re Merrill Lynch Ltd. Partnerships Litig., 7 F. Supp. 2d 256, 274 (S.D.N.Y. 1997) aff'd, 154 F.3d 56 (2d Cir. 1998).

The plaintiff has pleaded no facts to establish any of these elements. The plaintiff contends that the letters violated the FDCPA in a number of ways, but offers no facts to suggest that the defendants sought to conceal those violations or the existence of a cause of action for those violations from the plaintiff. Nor has the plaintiff pleaded any facts that he conducted any efforts whatsoever to discover whether the letters ...


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