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Windham v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

April 25, 2016



F. Dennis Saylor IV United States District Judge

This lawsuit arises out of an attempted foreclosure on a residential property owned by plaintiff Rachel Windham.

On June 24, 2015, Rachel Windham filed a pro se complaint against defendant Harmon Law Offices, P.C. alleging that it was in the process of “attempting to move to illegally foreclose on the [p]laintiff’s property” and seeking an order enjoining Harmon from proceeding with the foreclosure sale. (Compl. at 2-3). Harmon is the law firm that handled the foreclosure; the lender is JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. (“Chase”). On that same day, she filed an emergency motion for an injunction against the scheduled foreclosure auction, along with a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis.

On June 26, 2015, this Court (Woodlock, J.) issued an order granting the motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. The order directed plaintiff to submit a memorandum of law in support of her motion to enjoin the foreclosure, including “an explanation of the basis of the Court’s subject matter jurisdiction over this action.” Windham filed the memorandum on July 1, 2015. The memorandum appeared to assert claims against Harmon based on a number of federal statutes, including 15 U.S.C. § 1692f(6)(C) (a section of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act), 18 U.S.C. § 241 (a criminal provision concerning conspiracy to violate federal law), and 26 U.S.C. § 7206 (a criminal provision of the Internal Revenue Code).

In an order issued July 8, 2015, this Court held that federal jurisdiction could not be predicated on the two criminal statutes alleged, but allowed Windham the opportunity to clarify the complaint with respect to her potential claim under the FDCPA. Following the order, Windham filed an amended complaint on July 9, 2015, adding JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. as a named defendant. The amended complaint does not specifically refer to 15 U.S.C. § 1692f(6), but alleges in general terms that both Harmon and Chase “meet the requirements of . . . Unlawful Collection Practices, 15 USC 1692 (including listing the Plaintiff’s debt for sale to the public) . . . .” (Am. Compl. at 1-2).

On July 20, 2015, Harmon moved to dismiss the claims against it, contending that the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over Windham’s claims, and, alternatively, that the amended complaint fails to state a claim against Harmon. On January 7, 2016, this Court granted Harmon’s motion to dismiss, leaving Chase as the sole defendant.

On January 15, 2016, Chase moved to dismiss Windham’s amended complaint, contending that her claims were precluded by or should have been raised in a previous lawsuit, and, in the alternative, that her amended complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. On March 18, 2016, Windham moved for leave to file a second amended complaint.

I. Legal Standard

Under Rule 15(a), a party may amend a “pleading” without leave of court in certain relatively narrow circumstances.[1] “In all other cases, a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party’s written consent or the court’s leave. The court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Nonetheless, amendments may be denied on the basis of “undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [and] futility of amendment.” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). In determining whether to grant a motion to amend, the Court must examine the totality of the circumstances and “exercise its informed discretion in constructing a balance of pertinent considerations.” Palmer v. Champion Mortg., 465 F.3d 24, 30-31 (1st Cir. 2006).

A court may deny a motion to amend if amendment would prove futile. See Glassman v. Computervision Corp., 90 F.3d 617, 623 (1st Cir. 1996). “‘Futility’ means that the complaint, as amended, would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.” Id. (citing 3 Moore’s Federal Practice ¶ 15.08[4], at 15-80 (2d ed. 1993)); see also Giuffre v. Deutsche Bank Nat. Trust Co., 759 F.3d 134, 139 (1st Cir. 2014). When considering whether amendment would be futile, “the district court applies the same standard of legal sufficiency as applies to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.” Glassman, 90 F.3d at 623.

On a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court “must assume the truth of all well-plead[ed] facts and give plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom.” Ruiz v. Bally Total Fitness Holding Corp., 496 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2007) (citing Rogan v. Menino, 175 F.3d 75, 77 (1st Cir. 1999)). To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must state a claim that is plausible on its face. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). That is, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Id. at 555 (citations omitted). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Dismissal is appropriate if plaintiff’s well-pleaded facts do not “possess enough heft to show that plaintiff is entitled to relief.” Ruiz Rivera v. Pfizer Pharm., LLC, 521 F.3d 76, 84 (1st Cir. 2008) (quotations and original alterations omitted). Despite this standard, a document filed by a pro se party “is to be liberally construed, and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(e) (“Pleadings must be construed so as to do justice.”).

When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, courts are not limited to the complaint, but may use information “gleaned from documents incorporated by reference into the complaint, matters of public record, and facts susceptible to judicial notice, ” such as records from prior cases in this and other jurisdictions. Haley v. City of Boston, 657 F.3d 39, 46 (1st Cir. 2011); see also Boateng v. InterAmerican Univ., Inc., 210 F.3d 56, 60 (1st Cir. 2000) (“[A] court may look to matters of public record in deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion without converting the motion into one for summary judgment.”).

II. Analysis

Windham’s proposed second amended complaint appears to assert only one new claim against Chase. Because the motion to dismiss and the motion to amend are both analyzed under essentially the same standard, the Court will analyze ...

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