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Garretson v. Sentry Credit, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Beckley Division

April 3, 2018

ERIC GARRETSON, Plaintiff,
v.
SENTRY CREDIT, INC., and JH PORTFOLIO DEBT EQUITIES, LLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          IRENE C. BERGER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF WEST VIRGINIA

         The Court has reviewed Defendants' Sentry Credit, Inc. and JH Portfolio Debt Equities, LLC's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Individual and Class Action Complaint (Document 17), Sentry Credit, Inc. and JH Portfolio Equities, LLC's Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Individual and Class Action Complaint (Document 18), the Plaintiff's Response in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint (Document 22), and Defendants Sentry Credit, Inc.'s and JH Portfolio Debt Equities, LLC's Reply to Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Document 24). The Court has also reviewed the Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Surreply in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint (Document 27), the attached Plaintiff's Surreply in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint (Document 27-1), and the Plaintiff's First Amended Individual and Class Action Complaint (Document 11), as well as all exhibits. For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the motion to dismiss should be granted.

         FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         The Plaintiff, Eric Garretson, seeks to bring this case against Defendants Sentry Credit, Inc. and JH Portfolio Debt Equities, LLC (JHP) on his own behalf and on behalf of a class of similarly situated West Virginia consumers. Synchrony Bank sold Mr. Garretson's credit card accounts to JHP after they were “charged off.” (Am. Compl. at ¶ 12.) Sentry, on behalf of JHP, sent Mr. Garretson debt collection letters offering to settle the debt for less than the total amount due. Both letters are dated November 18, 2016. One lists an amount due of $3, 877.61, consisting entirely of principal with no interest or other costs, and offers to settle for a lump sum of $2, 326.57 or for three payments of $1, 034.03 each. The other lists a balance of $1, 462.74, also consisting entirely of principal with no interest or other costs, and offers to settle for a lump sum of $731.37 or for three payments of $341.31. Both letters invite the Plaintiff to “call today for flexible repayment terms.” (Collection Letters, att'd as Ex. A to Pl.'s Am. Compl.) (Document 11-1.)

         The letters contain the following language:

If, as a result of the settlement, the amount forgiven or canceled on this debt equals or exceeds $600, the IRS may require the creditor to report the amount forgiven or canceled on a form 1099-C. You may receive this form for the year in which the settlement is completed. If you would like advice about the potential tax consequences that may result from this settlement, my client recommends that you consult a tax professional of your choosing. My client does not make any representations about the tax consequences that this settlement may have for you or any reporting requirement that may be imposed.

(Id.) Mr. Garretson alleges that this warning was purposely confusing and misleading because there was no requirement that Sentry or JHP issue a 1099-C for forgiven debt, and even if those regulations did apply, the warning did not accurately state the requirements of the regulations. He further alleges that he was, in fact, confused by the 1099-C warning and “felt pressure to pay the whole debt rather than accept a settlement that may be reported to the IRS.” (Id. at ¶ 25.)

         The Plaintiff's amended complaint asserts the following causes of action: Count I - Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA); Count II - West Virginia Consumer Credit Protection Act (WVCCPA); and Class Allegations. The Plaintiff seeks statutory and actual damages, as well as attorneys' fees and costs.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009); Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008). “[T]he legal sufficiency of a complaint is measured by whether it meets the standard stated in Rule 8 [of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure] (providing general rules of pleading) . . . and Rule 12(b)(6) (requiring that a complaint state a claim upon which relief can be granted.)” Id. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

         In reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, the Court must “accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.” Erikson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). The Court must also “draw[ ] all reasonable factual inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor.” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999). However, statements of bare legal conclusions “are not entitled to the assumption of truth” and are insufficient to state a claim. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Furthermore, the Court need not “accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” E. Shore Mkts., v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice… [because courts] ‘are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, ‘to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.) In other words, this “plausibility standard requires a plaintiff to demonstrate more than ‘a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.'” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.) In the complaint, a plaintiff must “articulate facts, when accepted as true, that ‘show' that the plaintiff has stated a claim entitling him to relief.” Francis, 588 F.3d at 193 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557.) “Determining whether a complaint states [on its face] a plausible claim for relief [which can survive a motion to dismiss] will ... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         DISCUSSION

         As an initial matter, the brief proposed sur-reply contains discussion of recently decided cases. The Court finds it appropriate to consider the sur-reply, and the motion ...


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