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Mehrbach v. Citibank, N.A.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 11, 2018

TARA L. MEHRBACH, Plaintiff,
v.
CITIBANK, N.A., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANT CITIBANK'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Tara Mehrbach brings suit against Citibank, N.A., for complying with a subpoena for her financial records that was issued in a protracted custody dispute between her and her former husband. Ms. Mehrbach contends that Citibank violated Fla. Stat. § 655.059 by producing the records and breached its duty of confidentiality by failing to take legal action to resist the subpoena. Citibank has moved to dismiss (or, in the alternative, for summary judgment) on the ground that Ms. Mehrbach's complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because (1) Fla. Stat. § 655.059 does not provide for a private cause of action, and (2) Florida law creates no duty requiring Citibank to challenge, or to refuse to comply with, such a subpoena. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Citibank's motion and dismisses Ms. Mehrbach's complaint.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

         Tara Mehrbach is a District of Columbia resident and a former resident of Florida who has been involved in a protracted custody dispute with her former husband for the past decade. See Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. Dismiss or in Alt. Mot. Summ. J. (“Pl.'s Opp'n”) at 2-5, ECF No. 8. A large portion of the proceedings have taken place in family court in the state of Florida. See id.; Compl. ¶ 5, ECF No. 1-1.

         In October 2016, as part of the continued litigation related to the custody dispute, Ms. Mehrbach's former husband served the Florida branches of Citibank and Bank of America with subpoenas requesting financial information related to Ms. Mehrbach's accounts. See Id. ¶¶ 5, 12. Ms. Mehrbach contends that she faced threats from her former husband, who she feared planned to use the requested records to track her activity and whereabouts. See Id. ¶ 6. Ms. Mehrbach informed both banks of her objection to the release of her financial records. See Id. ¶¶ 6-9; Pl.'s Opp'n at 8-9. Bank of America challenged the subpoena, filing a motion for a protective order in Florida family court that cited provisions of Florida law that protect the confidentiality of financial records. See Compl. ¶ 12; Pl.'s Opp'n at 8. Citibank, by contrast, complied with the subpoena, disclosing the requested information to Ms. Mehrbach's former husband. See Compl. ¶ 9. The disclosed information included all records relating to Ms. Mehrbach's Citibank accounts dating from December 2013 to the time of the request in October 2016. See id.

         Before Citibank disclosed the records, Ms. Mehrbach herself attempted to obtain a protective order from a Florida court to shield the subpoenaed information, but her order was denied for procedural reasons.[2] See Pl.'s Opp'n at 9; see Order Denying Without Prejudice Respondent/Former Wife's Mot. Protective Order Regarding Financial Disclosures (“Order Denying Mot. Protective Order”), Ex. 5, ECF No. 5-5. In October 2017, Ms. Mehrbach brought suit against Citibank in District of Columbia Superior Court, claiming that Citibank's disclosure of her financial information violated privacy protections guaranteed by both Article I, Section 23 of the Florida Constitution and Fla. Stat. § 655.059. Compl. ¶¶ 10-11. Citibank removed the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446. See Notice of Removal (“Notice”), ECF No. 1. Before the Court is Citibank's motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), which argues that (1) Ms. Mehrbach fails to state a claim because Fla. Stat. § 655.059 does not provide for a private cause of action, and (2) Citibank had no duty to take legal action to resist a facially valid subpoena. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); Def.'s Mot. Dismiss or in Alt. Mot. Summ. J. (“Def.'s Mot.”) at 9-12, ECF No. 5. Citibank's motion is now ripe for decision.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint 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). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) does not test a plaintiff's ultimate likelihood of success on the merits, but rather, whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974) (alteration in original) (“When a federal court reviews the sufficiency of a complaint . . . [t]he issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.”), abrogated on other grounds by Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982). A court considering a motion to dismiss presumes the complaint's factual allegations are true and must construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See, e.g., United States v. Philip Morris, Inc., 116 F.Supp.2d 131, 135 (D.D.C. 2000). 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, ” see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)), and a plaintiff's right to relief must rise above the “speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” are therefore insufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A court need not accept a plaintiff's legal conclusions as true, see id., nor must a court presume the veracity of the legal conclusions that are couched as factual allegations. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         Given Ms. Mehrbach's pro se status, [3] her complaint is held to a “less stringent standard than formal pleadings.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). But pro se litigants must still comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, see Jarrell v. Tisch, 656 F.Supp. 237, 239 (D.D.C. 1987), and the Court need not assume the role of the pro se plaintiff's advocate. Davis v. Kelly, 160 F.3d 917, 922 (2d Cir. 1998); accord Sun v. D.C. Gov't, 133 F.Supp.3d 155, 168 n.6 (D.D.C. 2015) (“[I]t is not the Court's job to canvass the record for documents supporting a pro se party's position.”). A court considering a pro se plaintiff's complaint should look to “all filings, including filings responsive to a motion to dismiss, ” Brown v. Whole Foods Mkt. Grp., Inc., 789 F.3d 146, 152 (D.C. Cir. 2015), to discern whether the plaintiff has “‘nudged [her] claim[s] across the line from conceivable to plausible.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Ms. Mehrbach appears to claim (1) that Citibank violated Fla. Stat. § 655.059 by complying with the subpoena requesting her financial records and (2) that, in light of Florida law protecting bank records, Citibank negligently disclosed her financial records by failing to take legal steps to protect the information or to have the subpoena quashed.[4] Compl. ¶ 9-11; Pl.'s Opp'n at 7. With regard to the first claim, Citibank contends that no private cause of action exists under Fla. Stat. § 655.059 and, thus, Ms. Mehrbach's claim should be dismissed for failure to state a claim. Def.'s Mot. at 11. And with regard to the negligence claim, Citibank maintains that the bank was under no legal obligation to ignore or to mount a legal challenge to the subpoena in question. Citibank argues that it did not breach any duty owed to Ms. Mehrbach by releasing her financial information to the requesting party pursuant to a subpoena. See Id. at 11- 12; Def.'s Reply Supp. of Mot. Dismiss or in Alt. Summ. J. (“Def.'s Reply”) at 5-7, ECF No. 9. As explained below, the Court grants Citibank's motion and dismisses Ms. Mehrbach's complaint.

         A. Fla. Stat. § 655.059 Does Not Provide a Private Cause of Action

         Ms. Mehrbach claims that Citibank released her bank records in violation of Fla. Stat. § 655.059, which protects the confidentiality of the books and records of financial institutions. Compl. ¶ 11. Citibank asserts that Ms. Mehrbach's claim should be dismissed because Fla. Stat. § 655.059 provides no private cause of action, thus, Ms. Mehrbach has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Def.'s Mot. at 11-12. Upon consideration of the statute and relevant case law, the Court finds that ...


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