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Curtis Woods, Christine Bartolone, andrew Bachman, Michael Papa, John v. George E. Mercier

September 7, 2012

CURTIS WOODS, CHRISTINE BARTOLONE, ANDREW BACHMAN, MICHAEL PAPA, JOHN S. ZANKOWSKI, AND KATHLEEN J. ZANKOWSKI, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
GEORGE E. MERCIER, CENTURION CAPITAL CORP., FLORIDA WEST LAND CORP., MERCIER REALTY, INC., AND GMC MANAGEMENT CORP., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge

DECISION and ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs Curtis Woods ("Woods"), Christine Bartolone ("Bartolone"), Andrew Bachman ("Bachman"), Michael Papa ("Papa") John Zankowski, and Kathleen Zankowski bring this action against defendants George E. Mercier ("Mercier"); and Centurion Capital Corp., Florida West Land Corp., Mercier Realty, Inc., and GMC Management Corp. ("the Mercier Companies"), claiming that the defendants defrauded them in connection with mortgages issued by the defendants to the plaintiffs. Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that the defendants, inter alia, issued mortgages containing unlawful provisions; failed to properly service the mortgage accounts; unlawfully added fees and charges to the mortgage accounts; coerced the plaintiffs into paying additional fees that were not previously disclosed; failed to lawfully disclose all of the terms and conditions of the mortgage instruments; failed to properly account for payments thereby causing defaults on mortgages; unlawfully foreclosed on or attempted to foreclose on the properties that were the subject of the mortgages; and generally engaged in predatory lending practices. In addition to claiming that the defendants engaged in fraud, breach of contract, conversion, and unjust enrichment, the plaintiffs claim that defendants engaged in a criminal predatory lending enterprise in violation of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO") (codified at 18 U.S.C. § 1961-1968).

Defendants deny the plaintiffs' claims, and move to dismiss plaintiffs' Complaint in its entirety on grounds that plaintiffs have failed to state a cause of action under RICO, and this court lacks original jurisdiction over plaintiffs' remaining state law claims. For the reasons set forth below, I grant defendant's motion to dismiss, and dismiss with prejudice the claims of plaintiffs Woods, Bartolone, Bachman, John Zankowski and Kathleen Zankowski as time-barred, and dismiss the claims of Papa for failure to state a claim.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Woods, Bartolone, Bachman, Papa, John Zankowski, and Kathleen Zankowski allege that they are borrowers of money from Centurion Capital Corporation ("Centurion"). Upon plaintiffs' information and belief, Centurion was owned and/or controlled by defendant Mercier. Plaintiffs allege that Mercier, through the Mercier Companies, which he allegedly owns or controls, engaged in predatory lending upon people with credit difficulties who were unable to obtain conventional loans from established lending institutions. Plaintiffs allege that Mercier and the defendant companies lent money at high interest rates with exorbitant default rates and onerous terms, including extremely short repayment periods with extremely high balloon payments, knowing that borrowers would likely be unable to repay the loans under the stated terms. Plaintiffs also allege that the defendants purposefully obfuscated loan terms, and in many cases, failed to disclose loan terms or repayment obligations. Plaintiffs claim that once loans were issued, the defendants intentionally misapplied payments or changed loan terms in an attempt to create payment defaults, therby forcing the plaintiffs to repay loans at higher interest rates, and generating late payment fees. Plaintiffs allege that the defendants also mishandled escrow accounts by failing to properly pay taxes and other obligations, thereby creating liabilities for borrowers and additional fees for the defendants. Plaintiffs allege that the defendants' true motives were to force their borrowers to default on their loans, and as a result, obtain ownership of the plaintiffs' properties which were used to secure the mortgages.

Plaintiffs claim that they were victims of the defendants' predatory lending practices and were forced to pay excessive fees and interest rates that were not disclosed in the terms of the loan agreements signed by the parties. They bring causes of action for breach of contract, fraud, conversion, and unjust enrichment. Plaintiffs further claim that the defendants were acting as a criminal enterprise under RICO, in that the defendants engaged in racketeering activity in an attempt to defraud consumer-borrowers of money and property. Plaintiffs' RICO claim is the only federal claim alleged in the Complaint.

DISCUSSION

I. Motion to Dismiss Standard

In reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court must "accept . . . all factual allegations in the complaint and draw . . . all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor." See Ruotolo v. City of New York, 514 F.3d 184, 188 (2d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). In order to withstand dismissal, the complaint must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007) (disavowing the oft-quoted statement from Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957), that "a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief").

"While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." See id. at 1965 (internal quotation marks omitted). Moreover, conclusory allegations are not entitled to any assumption of truth, and therefore, will not support a finding that the plaintiff has stated a valid claim. Hayden v. Patterson, 594 F.3d 150, 161 (2d Cir. 2010). Thus, "at a bare minimum, the operative standard requires the 'plaintiff [to] provide the grounds upon which his claim rests through factual allegations sufficient to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" See Goldstein v. Pataki, 516 F.3d 50, 56-57 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1974).

II. Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim for a violation of RICO.

A. Statute of Limitations

Defendants contend that the claims asserted by plaintiffs Woods, Bartolone, Bachman, John Zankowski, and Kathleen Zankowski are time-barred because they were not brought within four years of the date their claims accrued.*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, I find that the claims of Woods, ...


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