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Drake v. Greeneville Collection Service, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville

October 16, 2019

STEVEN DRAKE and COURTENEY SQUIBB, Plaintiffs,
v.
GREENEVILLE COLLECTION SERVICE, INC., LAUGHLIN MEMORIAL HOSPITAL, INC., ALEX A. CHESNUT, and CHESNUT LAW OFFICE, LLP, Defendants.

          Christopher H. Steger, Magistrate Judge.

          MEMORANDUM

          CURTIS L. COLLIER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendants Greeneville Collection Service, Inc. (“Greeneville Collection”) and Laughlin Memorial Hospital, Inc. (“Laughlin”) have moved for a judgment on the pleadings for the claims alleged against them. (Doc. 44.) Plaintiffs have not filed a response and the time to do so has expired (Doc. 58).[1] For the reasons set out below, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion (Doc 44).

         I. BACKGROUND [2]

         From 2012 until 2017, Plaintiff Steven Drake (“Drake”) received several medical services from Defendant Laughlin on a credit basis. (Doc. 38-1.) After he defaulted on his obligations, Defendant Laughlin hired Defendants Greeneville Collection, Chesnut Law Office, LLP (“Chesnut Law”), and Alex Chesnut to attempt to collect the debt. (Doc. 38 at 5.) On December 5, 2017, Defendants Chesnut Law and Alex Chesnut filed a collection lawsuit against Plaintiff Drake and his wife, Courteney Squibb (together, “Plaintiffs”), in the Greene County General Sessions Court for $21, 413.60 plus 6.25% interest. (Doc. 38-1.)

         Plaintiff Drake learned of the collection suit on December 7, 2017. (Doc. 38 at 8.) Plaintiff Drake called Defendant Chesnut Law and was told he would need to pay twenty to twenty-five percent of his debt, or approximately $1, 000, every month to pay off his debt. (Id.) Plaintiff Drake explained he could only afford to pay $100 per month, which he was told was not sufficient. (Id.) At the scheduled hearing on December 21, 2017, the judge told Plaintiff Drake to meet Defendant Alex Chesnut outside the courtroom to discuss a payment plan. (Id. at 9.) Defendant Alex Chesnut informed Plaintiff Drake that he would need to pay $300 per month, but ultimately agreed to Plaintiff Drake's proposal of $150 per month. (Id.) On December 22, 2017, a default judgment was entered against Plaintiffs based on the civil summons. (Id.)

         On July 17, 2019, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit against Defendants Laughlin, Greeneville Collection, Alex Chesnut, and Chesnut Law. (Doc. 38.) Plaintiffs claim the default judgment is void for lack of personal jurisdiction due to improper service of process and thus seek to have it set aside. (Id.) Plaintiffs also seek recovery for claims under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (“ECOA”) and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). (Id.)

         Defendants Laughlin and Greeneville Collection have moved for a judgment on the pleadings for the claims filed against them. (Doc. 44.) Defendants assert the Court lacks jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine for any alleged injuries caused by the default judgment and that the remaining claims fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. 45.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), a party may move for a judgment on the pleadings after the pleadings are closed, but early enough not to delay trial. The standard of review for a motion on the pleadings is the same standard applied in a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b). Sensations, Inc. v. City of Grand Rapids, 526 F.3d 291, 295 (6th Cir. 2008). A court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accept all factual allegations as true. Coley v. Lucas Cty, Ohio, 799 F.3d 530, 537 (6th Cir. 2015). Bare legal conclusions, however, need not be accepted as true. See Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). In addition, all ambiguities must be resolved in the plaintiff's favor. Carter by Carter v. Cornwell, 983 F.2d 52, 54 (6th Cir. 1993) (citing Jackson v. Richards Med. Co., 961 F.2d 575, 577 (6th Cir. 1992)).

         The defendant bears the burden of showing that the complaint has not stated a claim for relief. Coley, 799 F.3d at 537. To survive a motion on the pleadings, a complaint must present sufficient facts which, if true, “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is plausible on its face when there are sufficient facts to “allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). In determining whether the complaint satisfies facial probability, a court must “draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” See Id. at 679.

         If a party presents matters outside the pleadings, the court must either exclude those matters from consideration or treat the motion as one for summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Documents attached to the pleadings are considered part of the pleadings. Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The Court will first determine the applicability of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and then will evaluate Plaintiffs' remaining claims.

         A. The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

         The Rooker-Feldman doctrine arises from two Supreme Court cases, Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923) and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983).

         In Rooker, a federal court declined to exercise jurisdiction over a petition to have a state court judgment declared null and void. 263 U.S. at 414-15. The Supreme Court agreed with the court's decision, explaining,

[I]t was the province and duty of the state courts to decide [the constitutional questions]; and their decision, whether right or wrong, was an exercise of jurisdiction. If the decision was wrong, that did not make the judgment void, but merely left it open to reversal or modification in an appropriate and timely appellate proceeding.
[N]o court of the United States other than this court could entertain a proceeding to reverse or modify the judgment for ...

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