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Helkowski v. Sewickley Savings Bank

October 15, 2009

DANIELA HELKOWSKI INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED PLAINTIFF,
v.
SEWICKLEY SAVINGS BANK DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terrence F. McVerry United States District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT

Presently before the Court is the MOTION TO DISMISS AMENDED COMPLAINT, with brief in support, filed by Defendant Sewickley Savings Bank (Document Nos.21 and 22), and the BRIEF IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF'S FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT, filed by Plaintiff Daniela Helkowski (Document No. 23).

BACKGROUND

On May 21, 2009, Plaintiff Daniela Helkowski ("Plaintiff") commenced this lawsuit by filing a Complaint (Doc. No. 1) alleging that Defendant failed to comply with the notification provision of the Electronic Funds Transfer Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1693 et seq., ("EFTA" or "the Act"), required before a bank can impose a transaction fee for a customer's use of an automated teller machine ("ATM").

On July 22, 2009, Defendant Sewickley Savings Bank filed a Motion to Dismiss and Brief in Support pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), in which it contends that the Complaint fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted under the decisions of the United States Supreme Court in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --U.S.--, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009). In the alternative, Defendant moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, and filed a concise statement of material facts. (Doc. Nos. 10 & 11). On July 29, 2009, Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to the motion to dismiss. (Doc. No.14). On August 10, 2009, Plaintiff filed her response to the concise statement of material facts. (Doc. 17).

On August 24, 2009, this Court granted respective motions to dismiss in Dragotta v. West View Savings Bank, Civ.A.No. 2:09-cv-627, 2009 WL 2612318 (W.D.Pa. 2009) and Dover v. Union Building and Loan Savings Association, Civ.A.No. 2:09-cv-708, 2009 WL 2612355 (W.D.Pa. 2009). Both Dragotta and Dover alleged identical violations of the EFTA and were premised upon virtually identical facts as those contained in the matter sub judice. On August 26, 2009, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Oral Argument and For Leave to file a Supplemental Briefing in Opposition to Defendant's motion to dismiss. (Doc. No. 18). On August 30, 2009, and prior to the entry of an order on the motion for oral argument, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, adding sixteen (16) new paragraphs and eighteen exhibits ostensibly in an attempt to avoid an order granting Defendant's motion to dismiss.

The issues have been fully briefed by the parties and the matter is ripe for disposition. After a careful consideration of the motion, the filings in support and opposition thereto, and the relevant case law, the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint will be granted.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a claim for relief 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). Each allegation must be simple, concise, and direct. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(d). Rule 8 requires a showing, rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief, and "'contemplates the statement of circumstances, occurrences, and events in support of the claim presented' and does not authorize a pleader's 'bare averment that he wants relief and is entitled to it.'" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 n.3 (2007) (quoting 5 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1202, pp. 94, 95 (3d ed. 2004)).

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure challenges the legal sufficiency of the complaint. The court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts and allegations, and must draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the plaintiff. However, as the United States Supreme Court made clear in Twombly, the factual allegations included in a complaint must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). Thus, "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id.

Recently, the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed Twombly in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --U.S.--, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009), and expressly extended the Twombly pleading standard to matters beyond the realm of antitrust law. 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. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. A claim has facial plausibility when a plaintiff pleads factual content that allows a court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant has acted unlawfully. Id. Satisfying this plausibility standard requires more than suggesting the sheer possibility that a defendant acted unlawfully. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement of relief." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557, 127 S.Ct. 1955)(internal quotation marks omitted).

As the Supreme Court noted, two principles underlie the decisions in both Twombly and Iqbal. The first principle is the tenet that while a court must accept as true all factual allegations contained in a complaint, it does not have to accept either legal conclusions or conclusory statements. Id. In illustration of this point, the Court noted that while Rule 8 "makes a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era,... it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. The second principle is that only a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Id. More importantly, determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is a context -specific task that requires a court to draw upon its judicial experience and common sense. Id.

It is important to note that nothing in Twombly or Iqbal has changed other pleading standards for a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. The United States Supreme Court did not impose a new heightened pleading requirement, but reaffirmed that Rule 8 requires only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, not "detailed factual allegations." See Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Generally, "to the extent that [a] court considers evidence beyond the complaint in deciding a 12(b)(6) motion, it is converted to a motion for summary judgment." Anjelino v. New York Times Co., 200 F.3d 73, 88 (3d Cir. 1999); Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). However, courts are permitted to consider matters of public record, exhibits attached to the complaint, and undisputably authentic documents attached to the motion to dismiss without converting the motion to one for summary judgment. Delaware Nation v. Pennsylvania, 446 F.3d 410, 413 (3d Cir. 2006).

ANALYSIS

In keeping with the principles underlying the Supreme Court's decisions in Twombly and Iqbal, the Court will begin by distinguishing those pleadings that are factual allegations from those that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. The following background is drawn from the Amended Complaint and the factual allegations therein are accepted as true for the purpose of this Opinion. The facts underpinning Plaintiff's claim are straightforward and not contested. On or about May 6, 2009, Plaintiff made an electronic fund transfer at Defendant's ATM machine located at 531 Broad Street, Sewickley, PA 15143. See generally, Doc. No. 19. Defendant is a state chartered mutual savings bank. Id. at ¶13. At the time of the transaction, Plaintiff did not maintain an account with Defendant. Id. at ¶16. Plaintiff was charged a "terminal owner fee" of $1.50 for the transaction. Id. at ¶16. At the time of the transaction, there was no notice posted "on or at" the Defendant's ATM to apprise consumers that a fee would be charged for the use of the ATM. Id. at ¶ 18.

For its part, Defendant argues that, notwithstanding the facts as alleged by Plaintiff, it is not subject to liability under the Act as a result of its good faith compliance with the EFTA. The issue before the Court is purely a question of law, to wit: does the Plaintiff state a plausible claim for relief? Said another way, does the factual content of the Amended Complaint permit the Court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct? The Court concludes that it does not.

The federal government enacted the EFTA as part of the comprehensive Consumer Credit Protection Act (the "CCPA"), Pub.L. No. 95-630 § 2001, 92 Stat. 3641 (1978) (codified as amended at 15 U.S.C. § 1601 et seq.). The EFTA protects individual consumer rights by "provid[ing] a basic framework establishing the rights, liabilities, and responsibilities of participants in electronic fund transfer systems." 15 U.S.C. § 1693(b). One of the EFTA's provisions requires that operators of automated teller machines ("ATMs") provide notice of fees charged to consumers for use of the ...


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