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Tamara West v. Ford Motor Credit Company and Thieblot Ryan P.A.

February 11, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Padova, J.


Plaintiff Tamara West brings this action for violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and Pennsylvania law arising out of Defendants Ford Motor Credit Company‟s ("Ford") and Thieblot Ryan P.A.‟s ("Thieblot") garnishment of Plaintiff‟s wages. Presently before the Court is the Defendants‟ Motion to Dismiss. For the reasons that follow, we grant the Motion.


The Complaint alleges the following facts. In 1999, Plaintiff secured a loan of $15,000 to finance the purchase of a vehicle from Ford. (Compl. ¶ 7.) In July 2001, Plaintiff defaulted on the loan. (Id. ¶ 8.) Ford subsequently repossessed Plaintiff‟s vehicle and retained Thieblot to assist with collection efforts. (Id.) On April 28, 2004, Ford filed a breach of contract action, based on Plaintiff‟s default, in the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore City. (Id. ¶ 9.) The District Court entered judgment in favor of Ford and against Plaintiff on June 14, 2006. (Id.; Def.‟s Ex. 1 at 2, 5.)

In August 2009, Plaintiff was hired by U.S. Airways in Philadelphia. (Compl. ¶ 11.) Defendants became aware that Plaintiff was employed by U.S. Airways, and on December 9, 2009, Ford filed with the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore City a request for garnishment of wages, based upon its breach of contract judgment against Plaintiff, for $21,924.40, consisting of $18,905.79 in principal, plus interest, costs, and $2,380.40 in attorney‟s fees. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13.) That same day, a writ of garnishment was issued on U.S. Airways. (Id. ¶ 14.) On January 6, 2010, U.S. Airways notified Plaintiff that it was obligated to begin deducting money from her paycheck pursuant to the writ of garnishment. (Id. ¶ 15.) U.S. Airways garnished a total of $5,031.44 from Plaintiff‟s wages from January 2010 through September 2011. (Id. ¶ 16.)

On August 30, 2011, Thieblot was notified that Ford‟s judgment against Plaintiff was unenforceable in Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶ 18.) Likewise, on September 9, 2011, U.S. Airways was notified that the garnishment of Plaintiff‟s wages was improper and illegal under Pennsylvania law, and on September 15, 2011, U.S. Airways ceased garnishing Plaintiff‟s wages. (Id. ¶ 19.) Thieblot provided a verification of its breach of contract judgment to U.S. Airways on September 27, 2011, which revealed the amount of attorney‟s fees at that time to be outstanding in the amount of $2,380.40. (Id. ¶ 20.) On November 14, 2011, Ford and Thieblot filed a motion to cite U.S. Airways for contempt in the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore City for its refusal to continue garnishing Plaintiffs‟ wages, and on August 14, 2012, the District Court denied the motion. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.) Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint on September 7, 2012, alleging that Defendants violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq. (Count One) and Pennsylvania law prohibiting the garnishment of personal earnings, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 8127 and 8128 (Count Two). Defendants have moved to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).


When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), we "consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, [and] matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant‟s claims are based upon these documents." Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). We take the factual allegations of the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)). Legal conclusions, however, receive no deference, and the court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (cited with approval in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

A plaintiff‟s pleading obligation is to set forth "a short and plain statement of the claim," Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), which gives the defendant ""fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.‟" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (alteration in original) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). The "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) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement,‟ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In the end, we will dismiss a complaint if the factual allegations in the complaint are not sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, at 235-36 (3d ed. 2004)).


A. Violation of Pennsylvania Law (Count Two)

The Complaint alleges that Defendants violated 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 8127 and 8128 by "pursuing a garnishment of Plaintiff‟s wages earned in Pennsylvania based solely on a judgment from the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore City." (Compl. ¶ 28.) Under Pennsylvania law, garnishment of an individual‟s wages is prohibited unless the garnishment is made for the limited purposes of satisfying an action: (1) relating to divorce; (2) for support; (3) for board for four weeks or less; (4) under the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency Act; or (5) for "restitution to crime victims, costs, fines or bail judgments pursuant to an order entered by a court in a criminal proceeding." 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8127(a). However, under Maryland law, garnishment of a debtor‟s wages is broadly permitted. See Md. Code Ann., Com. Law. § 15-602(a) (stating that "an attachment . . . against the wages of a judgment debtor . . . shall constitute a lien on all attachable wages that are payable at the time the attachment is served or which become payable until the judgment, interest, and costs, as specified in the attachment, are satisfied"); id. § 15-601.1 (limiting the percentage of wages that can be garnished, but not the purpose for which wages are garnished).

Plaintiff does not argue that the Maryland judgment against her was invalid when it was entered by the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore City, or that garnishment of her wages to satisfy that judgment would be illegal in Maryland. Rather, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants‟ enforcement of that judgment by pursuing a garnishment of wages that she earned in Pennsylvania, where the law generally prohibits garnishment of Pennsylvania citizens‟ wages, was unlawful.*fn1 Defendants argue that they did not violate 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8127(a) by garnishing the wages that Plaintiff earned in Pennsylvania, because they obtained their judgment against Plaintiff in Maryland and executed the writ of garnishment in Maryland, which is thus the "forum state" for determining whether garnishment in these circumstances is permitted.

"It is well established in Pennsylvania that the laws pertaining to procedures and exemptions in attachment and garnishment are governed by the law of the forum state." Hughes v. Prudential Lines, Inc., 624 A.2d 1063, 1065 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1993) (citing Caddie Homes, Inc. v. Falic, 235 A.2d 437, 439 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1967)); see Ankrom v. Ankrom, 531 A.2d 509, 512 n.4 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1987) (citation omitted). Pennsylvania courts "will not exempt from attachment wages earned by and due a citizen of Pennsylvania, even though all the work was performed in Pennsylvania, where the attachments are valid under the law of [a] sister state." Massachusetts Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Central-Penn Nat‟l Bank of Phila., 300 F. Supp. 1217, 1219-20 (E.D. Pa. 1969) (determining that attachments of the debtor‟s wages in Massachusetts, which were valid under Massachusetts law, were enforceable in Pennsylvania) (citing Caddie Homes, 235 A.2d at 439). Pennsylvania law thus recognizes that "where a judgment is entered in a foreign ...

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