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Williams-Steele v. Trans Union

United States District Court, S.D. New York

April 11, 2014



JAMES C. FRANCIS IV, Magistrate Judge.


Beatrice Shirley Williams-Steele, proceeding pro se, brings this action against Trans Union and two other credit reporting agencies alleging violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (the "FCRA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. The claims relate to alleged errors in the plaintiff's credit reports, which the defendants issued.

Trans Union has moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This defendant has also counterclaimed for breach of a Settlement Agreement that it entered into with Ms. Williams-Steele in April 2011 to resolve a prior lawsuit involving FCRA claims. For the reasons that follow, I recommend that the defendant's motion to dismiss be granted and its counterclaim be dismissed without prejudice.


In her prior case, the plaintiff alleged violations of the FCRA against Trans Union, Experian, and Equifax. (Complaint in 10 Civ. 6749 ("Prior Compl.")). She claimed her credit report contained inaccurate information, including an erroneous tax lien (Prior Compl., ¶ IIIC). On April 14, 2011, Ms. Williams-Steele entered into a Settlement Agreement with Trans Union in which the parties agreed to settle all claims for a total payment of $4, 000.00 to the plaintiff. (Settlement Agreement and Release ("Settlement"), ¶ 2). In return, the plaintiff agreed to release Trans Union from any claims "of any kind or nature, known or unknown, which Plaintiff had, now has, or may have, on account of, arising out of, based upon or in any manner connected with, any matter, cause or thing whatsoever at any time up to and including the date of execution of this Agreement, " including claims "which relate in any manner to Plaintiff's credit history information as reported by Trans Union." (Settlement, ¶ 4). As part of the Settlement Agreement, the plaintiff also acknowledged that all information in her April 2011 Trans Union consumer disclosure was accurate and would not be the basis for any future actions. (Settlement, ¶ 5; April 2011 Consumer Disclosure ("April 2011 Consumer Disc."), attached as Ex. A to Settlement).

On January 12, 2012, Ms. Williams-Steele filed the instant action. (Complaint ("Jan. 2012 Compl.")). In this Complaint, she alleges that a tax lien was wrongfully reported on her credit report, that certain credit accounts should have been included, and that some contact information, namely her phone number and an alternate address, was inaccurate. (Jan. 2012 Compl., ¶ IIIB, C).

On November 14, 2013, Trans Union filed its motion for judgment on the pleadings. The defendant argues that the plaintiff's claims regarding the tax lien and the missing credit accounts are barred by the terms of the Settlement Agreement. (Defendant Trans Union, LLC's Memorandum in Support of Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings Pursuant to Rule 12(c) ("Def. Memo.") at 1). The defendant also contends that the plaintiff's claim regarding the inaccurate contact information is not actionable "because identifying information does not bear on a consumer's creditworthiness and so does not constitute credit reporting information under the FCRA." (Def. Memo. at 2). Earlier, Trans Union had asserted a breach of contract counterclaim, contending that the plaintiff materially breached the Settlement Agreement by filing the current action in which she asserts claims that were, or could have been, raised in the previous lawsuit. (Def. Memo. at 2).


A. Legal Standard

The standard for addressing a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) is the same as that used in evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). L-7 Designs, Inc. v. Old Navy, LLC , 647 F.3d 419, 429 (2d Cir. 2011). A court therefore must accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Id . A complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, but it must contain more than mere "labels and conclusions' or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Where a complaint's factual allegations permit the court to infer only that it is possible, but not plausible, that misconduct occurred, the complaint fails to meet the requirements of Rule 8. Id. at 679 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court's task "is merely to assess the legal feasibility of the complaint, not to assay the weight of the evidence which might be offered in support thereof.'" GVA Market Neutral Master Ltd. v. Veras Capital Partners Offshore Fund, Ltd. , 580 F.Supp.2d 321, 327 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (quoting Eternity Global Master Fund Ltd. v. Morgan Guaranty Trust Co. of New York , 375 F.3d 168, 176 (2d Cir. 2004)).

Pro se complaints are held to less stringent standards than those drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner , 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Boykin v. KeyCorp , 521 F.3d 202, 213-14 (2d Cir. 2008) (citing Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)). In fact, pleadings of a pro se party should be read "to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'" Green v. United States , 260 F.3d 78, 83 (2d Cir. 2001) (quoting Graham v. Henderson , 89 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1996)). Even after Iqbal, which imposed heightened pleading standards for all complaints, pro se complaints are to be liberally construed. See Harris v. Mills , 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009). Dismissal of a pro se complaint is nevertheless appropriate where a plaintiff has clearly failed to meet minimum pleading requirements. See Rodriguez v. Weprin , 116 F.3d 62, 65 (2d Cir. 1997); accord Honig v. Bloomberg, No. 08 Civ. 541 , 2008 WL 8181103, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 8, 2008), aff'd, 334 F.Appx. 452 (2d Cir. 2009).

B. The Plaintiff's Claims

1. Tax Lien ...

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