United States District Court, District of Columbia
L. FRIEDRICH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
plaintiff, Natasha Griffith, asserts several claims against
EduCap Inc., Weinstock, Friedman & Friedman, P.A., and
HSBC Bank U.S.A., N.A. Before the Court is EduCap and
Weinstock's Motion to Dismiss the Complaint and
HSBC's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. For the
reasons discussed below, the Court grants in part and denies
in part EduCap and Weinstock's Motion to Dismiss and
grants HSBC's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.
February 13, 2007, a $19, 152 student loan was disbursed to
Robert Blocker. See Compl. ¶ 25, Dkt. 23.
Griffith co-signed the loan. See id. The note
disclosure statement identifies the lender as HSBC Bank USA,
N.A. See id. ¶ 26. Blocker defaulted on the
loan by failing to make the monthly payments. See
Id. ¶28. When Blocker defaulted, Weinstock,
Friedman & Friedman, P.A. filed a debt collection lawsuit
against Griffith in the District of Columbia Superior Court
on behalf of EduCap. On May 26, 2015, the trial court granted
summary judgment in favor of EduCap. See Compl.
¶ 34, Dkt. 23. On February 24, 2016, the D.C. Court of
Appeals reversed the trial court's grant of summary
judgment because “EduCap was not a proper party to
enforce the note.” Id. ¶ 35.
28, 2016, Griffith filed a Complaint in this Court against
EduCap and Weinstock. Griffith amended that complaint twice.
After EduCap and Weinstock filed a motion to dismiss,
Griffith submitted a Third Amended Complaint that included
HSBC as a defendant. Griffith's complaint now alleges
that EduCap and Weinstock violated the Fair Debt Collection
Practices Act. Griffith also alleges that all three
defendants violated D.C.'s Debt Collection statute and
asserts common law claims for abuse of process and malicious
prosecution against all three defendants.
motion to dismiss and a motion for judgment on the pleadings
are “functionally equivalent” and the two are
“governed by the same standard.” Philadelphia
Indem. Ins. Co. v. Lend Lease (U.S.) Construction, Inc.,
170 F.Supp.3d 190, 192 (D.D.C. 2016). In evaluating both
motions, the Court must treat the complaint's
“factual allegations as true and must grant the
plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived
from the facts alleged.” Ctr. for Responsible Sci.
v. Gottlieb, 311 F.Supp.3d 5, 8 (D.D.C. 2018) (internal
quotation marks and alterations omitted). “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.” Id.
(internal quotation marks omitted).
survive the defendants' motions, Griffith's complaint
“must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). “A claim has
facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content
that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that
the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Id. (internal citation omitted). That standard does
not amount to a specific probability requirement, but it does
require “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant
has acted unlawfully.” Id. A complaint need
not contain “detailed factual allegations, ” but
alleging facts that are “merely consistent with a
defendant's liability . . . stops short of the line
between possibility and plausibility.” Id.
(internal quotation marks omitted). Ultimately,
“[d]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible
claim for relief [is] a context-specific task that requires
the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and
common sense.” Id. at 679.
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Claim
and Weinstock first argue that Griffith has failed to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted under the
FDCPA. The FDCPA governs the behavior of
third-party debt collectors who attempt to collect debts on
behalf of another entity. The Act requires actions to enforce
liability under the Act to be brought “within one year
from the date on which the violation occurs.” 15 U.S.C.
§ 1692k(d). Generally, when the alleged
misrepresentation occurs in the filing of a debt collection
action, the statute of limitations begins to run when the
debtor is served with the complaint. See Quick v. EduCap,
Inc., No. 17-cv-1242, 2018 WL 3419164, at *13 (D.D.C.
July 12, 2018). Here, filing and service took place in May
2014. Griffith did not file her complaint until July 2016.
Because Griffith did not file this action within one year of
service, her claim is time-barred.
argues that her FDCPA claims were tolled because the
defendants fraudulently concealed EduCap's lack of
capacity to sue Griffith or, in the alternative, because the
FDCPA's statute of limitations is subject to the
discovery rule. Fraudulent concealment is an “equitable
doctrine” that “is read into every federal
statute of limitation.” Holmberg v. Armbrecht,
327 U.S. 392, 397 (1946). To “prove fraudulent
concealment, plaintiffs must show (1) that defendants engaged
in a course of conduct designed to conceal evidence of their
alleged wrong-doing and that (2) the plaintiffs were not on
actual or constructive notice of that evidence, despite (3)
their exercise of diligence.” Firestone v.
Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1210 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (internal
quotation marks and alterations omitted). “Generally,
fraudulent concealment requires that the defendant make an
affirmative misrepresentation tending to prevent discovery of
the wrongdoing.” Id. Under the discovery rule,
a cause of action accrues when one knows or should have known
“(1) of the injury, (2) its cause in fact and (3) of
some evidence of wrongdoing.” Bussineau v.
President and Dirs. of Georgetown Coll., 518 A.2d 423,
425 (D.C. 1986).
Griffith should have known that EduCap lacked the capacity to
sue Griffith at the time of the original lawsuit, Griffith
has failed to show that either the doctrine of fraudulent
concealment or the discovery rule tolled the statute of
limitations. Griffith argues that EduCap and Weinstock
intentionally suppressed EduCap's lack of capacity to sue
Griffith by falsely claiming that EduCap sued Griffith on
behalf of HSBC. But as Griffith acknowledges, the loan
documentation identifies the lender as HSBC Bank USA, N.A.
Compl. ¶¶ 26, 27, Dkt. 23. Moreover, as Griffith
argues in her complaint, “EduCap only appears
peripherally in the loan documents.” Compl. ¶ 7,
Dkt. 23. There was more than enough information available to
Griffith, through the loan documents, to alert Griffith that
EduCap did not issue the now-defaulted loans. See
Quick, 2018 WL 3419164, at *14. Therefore, Griffith has
not shown that she was “not on actual or constructive
notice of that evidence, ” Firestone, 76 F.3d
at 1210, so her FDCPA claim is time-barred.