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Williams v. Capital One Bank (USA) N.A.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

January 8, 2018

TROY T. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAPITAL ONE BANK (USA), N.A., and EQUI FAX INFORMATION SERVICES, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         Plaintiff, Troy Williams, who is proceeding pro se, filed a Second Amended Complaint on October 17, 2017, asserting a claim against defendant, Capital One Bank (USA), N.A. (“Capital One”), for violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. (“FCRA”).[1] The case currently is before the court on Capital One's motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).[2] Upon consideration of the motion and plaintiff's response thereto, [3] the court concludes that the motion should be granted.

         I. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         A. Rule 12(b)(1) - Dismissal for Lack Of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Federal district courts are tribunals of limited jurisdiction, “‘empowered to hear only those cases within the judicial power of the United States as defined by Article III of the Constitution, ' and which have been entrusted to them by a jurisdictional grant authorized by Congress.” University of South Alabama v. The American Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 409 (11th Cir. 1999) (quoting Taylor v. Appleton, 30 F.3d 1365, 1367 (11th Cir. 1994)). Accordingly, an “Article III court must be sure of its own jurisdiction before getting to the merits” of any action. Ortiz v. Fiberboard Corp., 527 U.S. 815, 831 (1999) (citing Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Environment, 523 U.S. 83, 88-89 (1998)).

         A motion to dismiss a case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).[4] When ruling upon a Rule 12(b)(1) motion asserting a lack of jurisdiction on the face of the plaintiff's complaint, the court must consider the allegations of the complaint as true. See Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 412 (5th Cir. 1981) (citations omitted).[5] On the other hand, “a ‘factual attack' on subject matter jurisdiction ‘challenge[s] the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, irrespective of the pleadings, and matters outside the pleadings, such as testimony and affidavits are considered.'” Douglas v. United States, 814 F.3d 1268, 1278 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting In re CP Ships Ltd. Securities Litigation, 578 F.3d 1306, 1311-12 (11th Cir. 2009), abrogated on other grounds by Morrison v. National Australia Bank Ltd., 561 U.S. 247 (2010)) (alteration in original).

         B. Rule 12(b)(6) - Dismissal for Failure To State A Claim Upon Which Relief Can Be Granted

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a party to move to dismiss a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). This rule must be read together with Rule 8(a), which requires that a pleading contain only a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). While that pleading standard does not require “detailed factual allegations, ” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 550 (2007), it does demand “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citations omitted).[6]

         Furthermore, whenever matters other than the pleadings are presented to, but not excluded by the district court when ruling upon a defendant's Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss a compliant for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the motion normally “must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56, ” and “[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d) (alterations supplied). In other words, “[a] court is generally limited to reviewing what is within the four corners of the complaint on a motion to dismiss.” Bickley v. Caremark RX, Inc., 461 F.3d 1325, 1329 n.7 (11th Cir. 2006) (alteration supplied).

         Even so, there are narrow exceptions to that general proposition. Indeed, the Eleventh Circuit has held that a district court “may consider a document attached to a motion to dismiss without converting the motion into one for summary judgment if the attached document is (1) central to the plaintiff's claim and (2) undisputed.” Day v. Taylor, 400 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2005) (emphasis supplied). The term “undisputed” is defined as meaning that “the authenticity of the document is not challenged.” Id.

         Here, the only documents outside the allegations of plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint that have been considered by this court are documents from other court cases, and the authenticity of those documents cannot be disputed. See United States v. Jones, 29 F.3d 1549, 1553 (11th Cir. 1994) (“[A] court may take notice of another court's order only for the limited purpose of recognizing the ‘judicial act' that the order represents or the subject matter of the litigation.”); United States v. Rey, 811 F.2d 1453, 1457 (11th Cir. 1987) (“A court may take judicial notice of its own records and the records of inferior courts.”). Moreover, the other court documents are central to plaintiff's FCRA claim against Capital One, because that claim concerns whether a judgment entered in state court was fairly reported.

         II. RELEVANT FACTS

         A. Prior State Court Proceedings

         Plaintiff's FCRA claim is based upon a state-court judgment that Capital One obtained against him in the District Court of Madison County, Alabama, on December 20, 2010 - now, more than seven years ago. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals described the circumstances leading to that judgment and its subsequent disposition in Williams v. Capital One Bank (USA), N.A., 192 So.3d 4 (Ala. Civ. App. 2015), as follows:

On December 20, 2010, Capital One filed a complaint against Williams in the district court, asserting that Williams owed $4, 078.83 on an account stated between Capital One and Williams. On January 18, 2011, Capital One sought a default judgment against Williams for failure to answer or otherwise defend against the complaint. On January 21, 2011, the district court entered a default judgment in favor of Capital One in the amount of $4, 078.83, plus court costs and postjudgment interest.
On September 14, 2011, Williams filed in the district court an “affidavit of status as secured party and creditor” in which he declared himself a member of the “Sovereign People of the Free Republic of Alabama” and sought the withdrawal of any “adverse information” from his credit records and relief from the default judgment. On October 11, 2011, Williams filed in the district court a motion to dismiss, in which he stated, among other things, that “[t]his notice is a trespass in admiralty.” Williams also filed in the district court a “common law copyright notice, ” purporting to reserve rights regarding the copyright and trademark of his name. On November 9, 2011, the district court denied Williams's motion requesting that the case be dismissed.
On September 16, 2013, Williams filed in the district court an independent action seeking to set aside the default judgment. In the pleading initiating the action, Williams asserted, among other things, that Capital One and Holloway [i.e., defendant Holloway & Moxley, L.L.P., Capital One's collection agency] had committed fraud upon the court. Williams also asserted in his pleading, based on his assertion of fraud upon the court, various claims against Capital One and Holloway, and he sought damages in the amount of $128, 000, 000. On September 23, 2013, the district court entered an order that stated: “The Court having lost jurisdiction in this matter, [Williams's] MOTION TO SET ASIDE is hereby DENIED.” On October 3, 2013, Williams filed a “motion to reconsider - motion to amend complaint.” In that postjudgment motion, Williams purported to amend his claims against Capital One and Holloway, asserting fraud upon the court, to reduce the requested amount of damages to $2, 900, so that his claims would remain within the district court's jurisdiction. See Ala. Code 1975, § 12-12-31(a) (providing that the district court has exclusive jurisdiction over all civil actions in which the matter in controversy does not exceed $3, 000). As argued by Capital One on appeal, Williams's October 3, 2013, postjudgment motion was denied by operation of law on October 17, 2013, pursuant to Rule 59.1(dc), Ala. R. Civ. P. On October 22, 2013, Williams filed a document titled “addendum - motion to amend complaint, ” again seeking to set aside the default judgment based upon fraud upon the court and, for the first time, citing Rule 60(b), Ala. R. Civ. P. That motion was a successive postjudgment motion, however, seeking substantially the same relief as Williams's October 3, 2013, motion; thus, that motion did not toll the time for taking an appeal. See Green v. Green, 43 So.3d 1242, 1243-44 (Ala. Civ. App. 2009). On November 1, 2013, the district court entered an order purporting to deny Williams's “motion to reconsider”; however, that order was a nullity because the motion had already been denied by operation of law on October 17, 2013. See Moragne v. Moragne, 888 So.2d 1280, 1282 (Ala. Civ. App. 2004); and Rule 59.1(dc).
Williams filed an appeal to the circuit court on November 12, 2013. Capital One and Holloway filed a motion to dismiss the appeal on the basis that the appeal had been untimely filed. On February 3, 2014, the circuit court entered an order granting the motion to dismiss. Williams filed a postjudgment motion on February 28, 2014; that motion was denied by the circuit court on April 10, 2014. Additionally, in the circuit court's April 10, 2014, order denying Williams's postjudgment motion, the circuit court awarded attorney's fees in the amount of $1, 112.50 as a sanction against Williams, as requested by Capital One and Holloway. Williams filed his notice of appeal to this court on May 15, 2014.
Capital One argues on appeal that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction and, therefore, that it properly dismissed Williams's appeal from the district court. This court outlined the appropriate standard of review in M.E.W. v. J.W., 142 So.3d 1168, 1171 (Ala. Civ. App. 2013):
“‘The timely filing of a notice of appeal is a jurisdictional act.' Rudd v. Rudd, 467 So.2d 964, 965 (Ala. Civ. App. 1985); see also Committee Comments to Rule 3, Ala. R. App. P. The question whether the mother's appeal was timely and, thus, whether the circuit court acquired subject-matter jurisdiction over the mother's appeal is a question of law; thus, we review de novo the dismissal of the mother's appeal by the circuit court. See Banks v. Estate of Woodall, 129 So.3d 294 (Ala. Civ. App. 2013); see also Ex parte Terry, 957 So.2d 455 (Ala. 2006) (stating that a claim that a court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction presents a question of law, which an appellate court reviews de novo).”
As discussed above, Williams's October 3, 2013, postjudgment motion was denied by operation of law on October 17, 2013. “A notice of appeal from a judgment of a district court must be filed ‘within 14 days from the date of the judgment or the denial of a posttrial motion, whichever is later.' Ala.Code 1975, § 12-12-70(a).” McCaskill v. McCaskill, 111 So.3d 736, 737 (Ala. Civ. App. 2012). Williams filed his notice of appeal to the circuit court on November 12, 2013, well over 14 days following the denial by operation of law of his October 3, 2013, postjudgment motion. Thus, that notice of appeal was untimely, and the circuit court never acquired jurisdiction over Williams's appeal. See Ryans v. State ex rel. Stoudmire, 963 So.2d 95, 96 (Ala. Civ. App. 2007). Although the circuit court properly dismissed Williams's appeal, Williams proceeded to file a postjudgment motion from that dismissal, and the circuit court purported to deny that postjudgment motion and to award attorney's fees as a sanction against Williams. Because the circuit court never obtained jurisdiction over Williams's appeal, however, it lacked jurisdiction to entertain any further motions or pleadings. See Maclin v. Congo, 106 So.3d 405, 408 (Ala. Civ. App. 2012). Thus, the circuit court's April 10, 2014, order is void. Id.
Based on the foregoing, we affirm the circuit court's judgment dismissing Williams's action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, albeit with instructions to the circuit court to vacate its April 10, 2014, void order.

Williams v. Capital One Bank (USA), N.A., 192 So.3d 4, 5-6 (Ala. Civ. App. 2015) (second alteration supplied, other alterations in original).

         B. Prior Proceedings in Federal Court

         Williams filed his first complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama on August 1, 2013, while the state-court proceedings described above still were pending.

         His first federal court complaint was assigned to Senior United States District Judge Inge Prytz Johnson as Civil Action No. 5:13-cv-1431-IPJ, and asserted that Capital One had “gone above & beyond all bounds of law & reasonableness by bringing suit against [him] when no valid contract was presented to the court.”[7]According to Williams, Capital One's “reckless” behavior caused him to be denied housing and job opportunities, defamed his character, and deprived him of his liberty interests in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[8]

         Judge Johnson entered an order denying Williams's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, and, dismissing his claims without prejudice on August 7, 2013. Judge Johnson concluded that the pleadings before her did not establish jurisdiction on the basis of the parties' diversity of citizenship, and that Williams's reliance upon Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) did not create any independent grounds for jurisdiction.[9] Williams filed a “Motion to Reconsider - Motion to Amend Complaint” on August 19, 2013, requesting leave to amend his complaint to remove the reference to Rule 60(b) and to plead the existence of diversity jurisdiction.[10]Judge Johnson denied that motion without further comment on August 22, 2013.[11]

         Williams commenced a second action against Capital One in this court on November 7, 2014, and asserted claims for violations of the Truth In Lending Act (“TILA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1601 et seq., the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq., and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), 47 U.S.C. § 227 et seq.[12] That case was assigned to United States District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala as Civil Action No. 5:14-cv-2173-MHH. Judge Haikala entered an order that identified pleading deficiencies in Williams's complaint Case 5:17-cv-01216-CLS Document 84 Filed 01/08/18 Page 12 of 27 on January 22, 2015, and instructed him on the manner of filing an amended complaint that would correct those deficiencies.[13] Williams filed an amended complaint on February 9, 2015, asserting the same claims as the original complaint.[14]

         Capital One moved to dismiss Williams's amended complaint, [15] and Judge Haikala entered an order on May 1, 2015, that partially granted the motion to dismiss (i.e., dismissing all claims except Williams's TCPA claim), and directing plaintiff to file a Second Amended Complaint containing specific factual allegations to support the remaining TCPA claim.[16]

         Before Williams filed a Second Amended Complaint, however, the case was transferred to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois as part of a multi-district litigation (MDL) court.[17] From what can be discerned from the current record, it appears that the MDL proceedings were resolved in favor of Capital One.[18]

         C. Allegations Against Capital One in the Instant Case

         In the present case, the third that has been filed in this court, Williams asserts that Capital One intentionally, maliciously, and knowingly reported false or inaccurate information to Equifax and other Credit Reporting Agencies, despite the fact that Williams had disputed both the amount of the alleged debt and the existence of any agreement obligating himself to pay a debt to Capital One.[19] Although Williams did not explicitly make this connection in his complaint, the court presumes the disputed debt to which Williams refers is the $4, 078.83 default judgment entered in favor of Capital One by the District Court of Madison County, Alabama, on January 21, 2011. Williams claims that the alleged debt actually was “charged off in or around 2008 for approximately $2, 300, ” and that Capital One reported the debt to Equifax and other credit reporting agencies without providing a copy of the “signed effective cardholder agreement” memorializing the beginning of Williams's business relationship with Capital One in 2004.[20]

         Williams also alleges that Capital One “failed to conduct a proper investigation” into his disputes, and failed to inform Equifax that the account was in dispute.[21] The alleged debt apparently still remains on Williams's Equifax credit report, [22] and he has been “denied gainful employment and/or looked upon in an unfavorable light by Governmental Employer and Employer[s]” as a result.[23] In addition, he allegedly has suffered damages “in the form of an emotional application, mental anguish, anger, anxiety, depression, headaches, ...


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