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Brown v. Allied Home Mortgage Capital Corp.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 8, 2018

TRACI BROWN, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Traci Brown, proceeding pro se, commenced this action and another nearly identical action in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia against several banking and mortgage institutions, seeking damages and injunctive relief relating to an allegedly “predatory” loan agreement and other allegedly unlawful practices.[1] See Dkt. 1-1; Brown v. Americus Mort. Corp., No. 17-cv-2102, ECF No. 1-1. Both cases were removed to this Court, and, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(a), the Court consolidated the two actions. See Minute Order (Dec. 5, 2017).

         Presently before the Court are Brown's motion to remand, Dkt. 16, and Defendants Nationstar Mortgage LLC, MetLife Inc., MetLife Home Loans LLC, MetLife Bank, N.A., and First Tennessee Bank National Association's (“Nationstar Defendants'”) motion to dismiss, Dkt. 12. Brown contends that the cases were improperly removed because the removal petition in Civil Action No. 17-2101 was not timely filed, Dkt. 16 at 4-7, and because the removing defendants failed to obtain the consent of the other defendants in either case, id. at 7-9. The Nationstar Defendants oppose the motion, Dkt. 21, and contend that the cases should be dismissed for a variety of reasons, including for lack of standing because Brown filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2009 without disclosing her potential, pre-petition claims, Dkt. 12-1 at 13-14. In their view, that omission means that any such causes of action remain the property of the bankruptcy estate and, as a result, Brown lacks standing to pursue them. Id.

         For the reasons explained below, the Court is unpersuaded by Brown's contention that the removing defendants failed to comply with the procedural requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b) and thus declines to remand the actions. In contrast, the Court agrees with the Nationstar Defendants that Brown lacks standing to pursue her pre-petition claims. Brown, for her part, does not meaningfully dispute that contention, but requests that the Court stay the consolidated action to allow her to seek appropriate relief in the bankruptcy court. The Court will grant her a limited period of time to attempt to do so and will, accordingly, stay the action until further order of the Court and will direct that Brown file a status report with the Court every 60 days regarding the status of the bankruptcy court proceeding. Finally, the Court notes that Brown contends that some of her claims relate to post-petition conduct. Defendants correctly observe that the complaint, as currently pled, fails to set forth any such distinct claims with sufficient clarity to satisfy Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). The Court will postpone addressing how best to address that deficiency, however, until after Brown has had the opportunity to seek relief in the bankruptcy court proceeding.

         I. BACKGROUND

         For purposes of the pending motions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, the Court takes the allegations of the complaint as true but also considers the “undisputed facts evidenced in the record” relating to Brown's standing. Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992); see also Arora v. Buckhead Family Dentistry, Inc., 263 F.Supp.3d 121, 126 (D.D.C. 2017); Achagzai v. Broad. Bd. of Governors, 170 F.Supp.3d 164, 173 (D.D.C. 2016).

         Although the complaint is not entirely clear, it appears to allege that Brown obtained a home mortgage loan from First Horizon Home Loan Corporation (“First Horizon”) in July 2004 and that First Horizon was owned by First Tennessee Bank National Association (“First Tennessee”) at that time. Dkt. 1-1 at 3. She further alleges that her mortgage broker, Allied Home Mortgage Capital Corporation, “referred” her to First Horizon, id. at 4-5, and that she entered into a loan modification in 2015, id. at 23. A number of intervening acquisitions and transfers further complicate matters. According to the complaint, First Tennessee sold First Horizon to MetLife Bank, N.A. (“MetLife”) in 2008, and, in 2012, MetLife sold its banking unit to G.E. Capital and its mortgage servicing business to JPMorgan Chase. Id. at 3. But, even before MetLife sold its mortgage servicing business to JPMorgan Chase, yet another company, Nationstar Mortgage Company, began servicing the loan. Id. Brown concedes that she defaulted on the loan in 2015. Id. at 24.

         Brown alleges that the loan was a “predatory and toxic subprime loan;” that Defendants made “false representation[s]” and failed to disclose material information in order to “induce” her to “accept” an adjustable rate mortgage; and that Defendants “steered” her toward the subprime loan even though she would have qualified for a “prime loan” at the time. Id. at 7. She further alleges that Defendants' unlawful conduct continued over a period of eleven years; that she received “erroneous mortgage statements;” that she was “repeatedly assessed improper and excessive late fees;” and that she was repeatedly provided false or incomplete information. Id. at 20-21, 30. Much of this conduct, she further alleges, was the product of racial discrimination. Id. at 35-36.

         In December 2009, Brown filed a petition for voluntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia. See Dkt. 12-2. In the required Summary of Schedules, she recorded $601, 224.00 in total assets and $1, 060, 233.73 in total liabilities. Id. at 2. As relevant here, “Schedule B” instructed Brown to list “contingent and unliquidated claims of every nature, ” and Brown indicated that she had none. Id. at 5. After the initiation of this lawsuit, Brown sought, and was granted, leave to reopen her bankruptcy proceedings. See Dkt. 28; Dkt. 29. Brown has since amended her Summary of Schedules to include her interest in the current lawsuit, Dkt. 30 at 17, but no further action has yet occurred in the bankruptcy court.

         On May 26, 2017, Brown filed her original complaint in D.C. Superior Court, seeking damages from First Horizon, First Tennessee, and a number of other allegedly related banking and mortgage institutions. Dkt. 1-1. She also filed an Application for a Temporary Restraining Order and Motion for a Preliminary Injunction. See Dkt. 1-2 at 96. The D.C. Superior Court referred Brown's case to mediation, where the parties reached a consent agreement under which Brown agreed to dismissal of her pending applications for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. Id. Following the mediation, on June 15, 2017, the Superior Court dismissed Brown's case “in its entirety without prejudice, ” but all agree that it did so in error. Id. In response, Brown moved to reopen the case and sought leave to amend her complaint, and she simultaneously filed her proposed amended complaint as a new action, naming two additional defendants. Dkt. 9 at 2; see also Dkt. 1-2 at 28; Brown, No. 17-cv-2102, ECF No. 1-1.

         On October 3, 2017, the Superior Court reopened Brown's first action. See Dkt. 96. A week later, the Nationstar Defendants removed both the first and second actions to this Court. See Dkt. 1; Brown, No. 17-cr-2102, ECF No. 1. Because the actions were removed before the Superior Court had the opportunity to act on Brown's motion for leave to amend, the operative complaints remain the initial complaint filed in the first action and the complaint, adding the additional defendants, filed in the second action. In all respects relevant to this motion, the operative complaints are identical. Those complaints allege claims under the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq.; the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1691 et seq.; the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1982; the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1601 et seq.; the Federal Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1639 et seq.; the Federal Fair Debt Collection Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq.; the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, 12 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.; the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, 12 U.S.C. § 2801 et seq.; the D.C. Mortgage Lender and Broker Act, D.C. Code § 26-1101 et seq.; the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedure Act, D.C. Code § 28-3901 et seq.; the D.C. Human Rights Act, D.C. Code § 1-2501 et seq.; and D.C. common law, Dkt. 1-1 at 11-39; Brown, No. 17-cv-2102, ECF No. 1-1 at 13-39.

         After the actions were removed, Brown moved to consolidate the cases, Dkt. 9, and the Court granted her motion after Defendants were given an opportunity to respond, see Minute Order (Dec. 5, 2017). The Nationstar Defendants then moved to dismiss, arguing that Brown's claims are untimely because she entered into the loan agreement in 2004; that Brown lacks standing because she filed for bankruptcy after her claims, if any, accrued; and that Brown's complaints fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.[2] See Dkt. 12. Brown, in turn, opposed that motion, Dkt. 23, and moved to remand on three grounds: (1) the removal petition in Civil Action 17-2101 was not timely; (2) all of the named defendants did not consent to removal; and (3) the D.C. Superior Court has concurrent jurisdiction to hear the case. See Dkt. 16.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. ...

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