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Briggs v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 6, 2015

ANTHONY BRIGGS, a natural man, Plaintiff,
v.
WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., a national banking association, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

ROSLYNN R. MAUSKOPF, District Judge.

Plaintiff pro se Anthony Briggs alleges that defendant Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. ("Wells Fargo") committed a variety of violations of state and federal law in attempting to recover on Briggs' mortgage loan after Briggs defaulted. Briggs states that Wells Fargo failed to properly respond to multiple "notices of dispute, " failed to correct or investigate numerous allegedly false statements it made to credit reporting agencies, and engaged in deceptive and unlawful practices in trying to collect on the debt. However, as Wells Fargo maintains in a Motion to Dismiss Briggs' complaint, Briggs misunderstands the nature of Wells Fargo's obligations under the law. Wells Fargo was not required to respond to Briggs' notices of dispute and it is not subject to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Moreover, the deceptive practices that he accuses Wells Fargo of were not directed at the consuming public, and Briggs does not sufficiently allege that Wells Fargo controlled A&J Process Servers (the organization he accuses of falsifying an affidavit certifying that it served him with process), that Wells Fargo owed him a special duty of care (much less that it violated such a duty), or that Wells Fargo's conduct was "extreme and outrageous" to the level that would constitute intentional infliction of emotional distress.

For the reasons that follow, Briggs fails to state a claim for relief, and Wells Fargo's Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND[1]

In his complaint, Briggs claims that he "entered into a consumer transaction, " or mortgage, with Firstrate Capital Corporation on December 2, 2002.[2] (Compl. ¶ 8.) The mortgage was transferred to Wells Fargo, and in August 2011 Wells Fargo "initiated a collection action" against him in New York state court (the "Foreclosure Action"), alleging that Briggs had failed to make his mortgage payments.[3] (Compl. ¶ 9.) Briggs alleges that he was never served with the complaint or a summons and that the September 2011 affidavit of service (Compl. Ex. A at 16) contained an erroneous description of him and his property; as a result, he claims that he did not learn of the lawsuit until December 18, 2013. Once he did so, Briggs alleges he served Wells Fargo with two Notices of Dispute, the second of which it answered on January 3, 2014, confirming the existence of the loan, and referring Briggs to his original loan documents for the details of the loan. Briggs claims that after Wells Fargo received these Notices of Dispute, it failed to investigate them and to correct inaccurate information on his credit report. Briggs alleges that these failures, along with the actions taken by Wells Fargo in attempting to collect on the debt and by its hired process server, A&J Process Service ("A&J"), in purportedly falsifying an affidavit of service, were deceptive and unlawful and have caused him significant financial and emotional harm.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

In order to withstand Wells Fargo's motion to dismiss, Briggs' complaint "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); Hayden v. Paterson, 594 F.3d 150, 161 (2d Cir. 2010). Although the complaint need not contain "detailed factual allegations, " simple "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555); Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009). Rather, the complaint must include "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, " Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, which means "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). While the Court assumes the truth of the facts alleged in the complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in Briggs' favor, it is not "bound to accept as true a[ny] legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Sharkey v. Quarantillo, 541 F.3d 75, 82-83 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

While pro se plaintiffs must satisfy these pleading requirements, federal courts are "obligated to construe a pro se complaint liberally." See Harris, 572 F.3d at 71-72 (citations omitted). In other words, trial courts hold pro se complaints to a less exacting standard than they hold complaints drafted by attorneys. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Boykin v. KeyCorp, 521 F.3d 202, 213-14 (2d Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). Since pro se litigants "are entitled to a liberal construction of their pleadings, [their complaints] should be read to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Green v. United States, 260 F.3d 78, 83 (2d Cir. 2001) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). When a pro se plaintiff has altogether failed to satisfy a pleading requirement, however, the court should not hesitate to dismiss his claim. See Rodriguez v. Weprin, 116 F.3d 62, 65 (2d Cir. 1997) (citation omitted).

DISCUSSION

A. Collateral Estoppel

Wells Fargo argues as an initial matter that, to the extent that any causes of action alleged in Briggs' complaint arise out of the alleged improper service of process in the Foreclosure Action, they are barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel, which "precludes a party from relitigating in a subsequent action or proceeding an issue clearly raised in a prior action or proceeding and decided against that party... whether or not the tribunals or causes of action are the same." Fletcher v. Atex, Inc., 68 F.3d 1451, 1457 (2d Cir. 1995) (quoting Ryan v. N.Y. Tel. Co., 62 N.Y.2d 494, 500 (1984)). Collateral estoppel applies when: "(1) the identical issue necessarily was decided in the prior action and is decisive of the present action, and (2) the party to be precluded from relitigating the issue had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in the prior action." In re Hyman, 502 F.3d 61, 65 (2d Cir. 2007) (citing Kaufman v. Eli Lilly & Co., 65 N.Y.2d 449, 455-56 (1985)); accord Webster v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. 08-CV-10145, 2009 WL 5178654, at *9-10 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 23, 2009) (borrowers were collaterally estopped from rearguing validity of mortgage when that issue had been decided in state court foreclosure action), aff'd 458 F.Appx. 23 (2d Cir. 2012).

Briggs moved to dismiss the Foreclosure Action for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that Wells Fargo failed to properly serve him with the summons and complaint. (Mot. to Dismiss (Doc. No. 12-6).)[4] In doing so, Briggs placed service of process "in issue, " meaning that it was "actually litigated" in the prior proceeding and qualifies as an "identical issue." Sanchez v. Abderrahman, No. 10-CV-3641 (CBA) (LB), 2013 WL 8170157, at *4-5 (E.D.N.Y. July 24, 2013) (citing Evans v. Ottimo, 469 F.3d 278, 281 (2d Cir. 2006)). As Briggs has made no effort to establish the absence of a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue, he has not met his burden. See Evans, 469 F.3d at 281-82 (noting that the party attempting to defeat the application of collateral estoppel has the burden of establishing its absence). Moreover, "[t]hat the state court ruled against [him] and denied [his] motion[] to dismiss for improper service[] does not mean that [Briggs was] not afforded a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue." Sanchez, 2014 WL 8170157, at *5.

As Wells Fargo points out, Briggs expressly bases nearly all of his causes of action on this improper service. (Compl. at ¶ 16.) However, mindful to construe Briggs' pleading liberally, this Court does not find that all six causes of action are necessarily premised upon the alleged improper service.[5] Only the third cause of action, which alleges that Wells Fargo negligently hired A&J, who then engaged in unlawful conduct, is inextricable from Briggs' improper service claim that was litigated in the ...


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