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Ghaffari v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

United States District Court, District Circuit

November 19, 2013

ANTHONY GHAFFARI, Plaintiff,
v.
WELLS FARGO BANK. N.A., et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES E. BOASBERG United States District Judge

Pro se Plaintiff Anthony Ghaffari filed this suit against Wells Fargo Bank, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Association, and the law firm of Phelan Hallinan, LLP. He asserts several federal causes of action that arise from a foreclosure proceeding that is being concurrently litigated in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas for Centre County. Given that Phelan’s motion to dismiss has been granted and Plaintiff has voluntarily dismissed all claims against Freddie Mac, Wells Fargo is the only remaining Defendant in the case, and it now moves to dismiss.

Plaintiff’s causes of action against Wells Fargo include a claim for enforcement of the 2012 National Mortgage Consent Judgment entered into between the Government and Wells Fargo in United States v. Bank of America, No. 12–361 (D.D.C.). Defendant argues that such a claim should be dismissed on the ground that Plaintiff lacks standing to sue for violations of the Consent Judgment. Wells Fargo is correct. As a result, venue is no longer proper here since its only basis was this Court’s original jurisdiction over all claims relating to the Consent Judgment. The Court, therefore, will dismiss the Consent Judgment claim and transfer the remainder of the case to the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

I. Background

Plaintiff's suit originates from foreclosure proceedings in Pennsylvania. Although the Court need not resolve any property questions for purposes of this Motion, some detail helps to inform the ultimate decision. The factual allegations set forth in the Amended Complaint are as follows: In January 2012, Plaintiff fell behind on his mortgage payments to Wells Fargo. See Am. Compl. at 6. He contacted a loan-service officer at the bank, who informed him that in order to qualify for a loan modification, Plaintiff needed to remain at least 90 days in arrears. Id. Although he remained in arrears for 90 days and provided the loan specialist with all of the information she had requested, in March 2012 he was nevertheless informed that he was not eligible for a loan modification. Id. The specialist then told him that his file had been sent to Wells Fargo’s attorney, Phelan Hallinan, LLP, for foreclosure proceedings. Id. at 7. Plaintiff tried unsuccessfully to speak with Phelan and other representatives of Wells Fargo to avoid these proceedings. Id. at 7-8. Phelan, nevertheless, filed a foreclosure action on behalf of Wells Fargo against Plaintiff in the Centre County Court of Common Pleas in central Pennsylvania. Id. at 9.

This frustrating treatment galvanized Plaintiff to bring this suit. He alleges six distinct causes of action against Wells Fargo: (1) The bank violated several terms of a National Mortgage Consent Judgment issued in 2012, see id. at 11-15; (2) Wells Fargo “failed to offer or make Plaintiff aware of counseling offered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development” in violation of 12 U.S.C. § 1701x(c)(5), see id. at 15; (3) Wells Fargo failed to comply with a pooling-and-servicing agreement entitled “Wells Fargo Mortgage Back Securities 2007-6 Trust” that Plaintiff asserts was incorporated into his mortgage, see id. at 16; (4) The bank violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692, as a “debt collector, ” see id. at 16; (5) Wells Fargo violated the Office of the Comptroller of Currency Consent Agreement #2013-132, see id. at 17; and (6) Wells Fargo failed to comply with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1691. See id. at 19.

Ghaffari had originally alleged two different but related causes of action against Defendant Phelan, which acted as Wells Fargo's counsel in the concurrent state-court foreclosure action against Plaintiff. See Compl. at 7-9. In April 2013, this Court granted Phelan’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. See Ghaffari v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 937 F.Supp.2d 1 (D.D.C. 2013). After Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint in July 2013 against the remaining Defendants, Fannie Mae and Wells Fargo, they filed a joint Motion to Dismiss. See ECF No. 45. A month later, in September 2013, Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed all claims against Fannie Mae. See ECF No. 48. The pending Motion to Dismiss now pertains only to Wells Fargo, the sole remaining Defendant.

II. Legal Standard

While Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss the first cause of action invokes the legal standards for dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the appropriate standard is found in Rule 12(b)(1) because standing falls within the sphere of subject-matter jurisdiction.

In evaluating the Motion, the Court must “treat the complaint's factual allegations as true . . . and must grant plaintiff ‘the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.’” Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)) (internal citation omitted); see also Jerome Stevens Pharms., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005). This standard governs the Court’s consideration of motions under both Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974) (“In passing on a motion to dismiss, whether on the ground of lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter or for failure to state a cause of action, the allegations of the complaint should be construed favorably to the pleader.”); Walker v. Jones, 733 F.2d 923, 925-26 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (same). The Court need not accept as true, however, “‘a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, ’” nor an inference unsupported by the facts set forth in the Complaint. Trudeau v. FTC, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), Plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction to hear his claims. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992); U.S. Ecology, Inc. v. U.S. Dep’t of Interior, 231 F.3d 20, 24 (D.C. Cir. 2000). A court has an “affirmative obligation to ensure that it is acting within the scope of its jurisdictional authority.” Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F.Supp.2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2001). For this reason, “‘the [p]laintiff’s factual allegations in the complaint . . . will bear closer scrutiny in resolving a 12(b)(1) motion’ than in resolving a 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim.” Id. at 13-14 (quoting 5A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1350 (2d ed. 1987) (alteration in original)). Additionally, unlike with a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court “may consider materials outside the pleadings in deciding whether to grant a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.” Jerome Stevens Pharms., 402 F.3d at 1253; see also Venetian Casino Resort, L.L.C. v. EEOC, 409 F.3d 359, 366 (D.C. Cir. 2005); Herbert v. Nat’l Academy of Sciences, 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992).

When presented with a motion to dismiss for improper venue under Rule 12(b)(3), the Court “accepts the plaintiff’s well-pled factual allegations regarding venue as true, draws all reasonable inferences from those allegations in the plaintiff’s favor and resolves any factual conflicts in the plaintiff's favor.” James v. Verizon Servs. Corp., 639 F.Supp.2d 9, 11 (D.D.C. 2009). “Because it is the plaintiff's obligation to institute the action in a permissible forum, the plaintiff usually bears the burden of establishing that venue is proper.” Freeman v. Fallin, 254 F.Supp.2d 52, 56 (D.D.C. 2003); Federal Practice and Procedure § 3826, at 258 (“[W]hen an objection has been raised, the burden is on the plaintiff to establish that the district he or she has chosen is a proper venue.”). “To prevail on a motion to dismiss for improper venue, the defendant must present facts that will defeat the plaintiff’s assertion of venue.” Khalil v. L-3 Commc'ns Titan Grp., 656 F.Supp.2d 134, 135 (D.D.C. 2009) (internal citation omitted). Unless there are “pertinent factual disputes to resolve, a challenge to venue presents a pure question of law.” Williams v. GEICO Corp., 792 F.Supp.2d 58, 62 (D.D.C. 2011).

III. Analysis

The Court initially considers Defendant’s Motion as it relates to Plaintiff’s claim for violations of the National Mortgage Consent Judgment; the Court ...


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