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Arndt v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 20, 2015

LAURIE ARNDT, Plaintiff,


GERALD A. McHUGH, District Judge.

Plaintiff Laurie Arndt has filed suit against Defendants, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. ("Wells Fargo") and Mortgage Contracting and Services ("MCS"), alleging that Defendants unlawfully entered her former residence, changed the locks, and stole her personal belongings. Specifically, Plaintiff has brought claims for trespass, conversion, negligence, invasion of privacy - intrusion upon seclusion, intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"), and negligent infliction of emotional distress ("NIED"). Plaintiff also seeks punitive damages. Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's claims for invasion of privacy, IIED, NIED, and punitive damages. I will grant Defendants' Motions in part, and deny them in part, based on the following conclusions: (1) the statute of limitations has run for Plaintiff's invasion of privacy claim; (2) the Complaint alleges insufficiently extreme conduct to establish IIED liability; (3) Plaintiff failed to allege a contractual or fiduciary relationship or duty sufficient to support a claim for NIED; and (4) it is premature to dismiss Plaintiff's request for punitive damages at the pleading stage.

I. Factual Allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint

Plaintiff formerly lived and worked at 4940 Spruce Street, Schnecksville, Pennsylvania ("the Property"). She was the sole tenant according to an agreement she had with Lee, Jill, and Susan Gibbs ("the Gibbs"), the owners of the Property, which entitled her to exclusive possession. In addition to utilizing the Property as her primary residence, Plaintiff's home internet sales business operated out of the Property.

On January 31, 2012, a mortgage foreclosure judgment was entered in favor of Wells Fargo and against the Gibbs due to their failure to pay the mortgage. Wells Fargo subsequently executed the judgment and sold the Property at a Sheriff's sale on July 27, 2012. A Sheriff's Deed transferring the Property to Wells Fargo was recorded on September 27, 2012.

Wells Fargo employed MCS' services to "secure and winterize" foreclosed properties, in this case being Plaintiff's residence. On or about October 2, 2012, Ms. Arndt found a letter posted on the front door of the Property telling her that MCS believed the home to be vacant and intended to secure and winterize it. The letter further provided that if the home was still inhabited, the resident(s) should contact MCS, and MCS would forego securing and winterizing the Property. Ms. Arndt alleges that she called MCS immediately upon receipt of the notice, and advised that the Property was not vacant, as she continued to reside there. MCS assured her that no action would be taken to secure or winterize the Property.

On October 12, 2012, Ms. Arndt returned to her home and found the locks had been changed. According to the Complaint, the Property would have appeared inhabited; the grounds and yard were maintained, and the interior was fully furnished, containing all of Plaintiff's worldly possessions. Once again, notice from MCS was on the front door providing contact information. Ms. Arndt immediately contacted MCS, but she only reached the company's answering machine. Ms. Arndt left a voicemail requesting a return call. She was unable to gain entry to her home that evening, requiring her to make alternative sleeping arrangements. Before leaving, Plaintiff surveyed the Property by checking the doors and windows, and it appeared the Property was secure, with her possessions left undisturbed.

On October 13, 2012, Ms. Arndt returned to the Property and found her possessions remained undisturbed inside. She once again contacted MCS and spoke to an agent/employee who identified himself as Justin. Justin assured her that the locks should not have been changed and that MCS would correct the problem and restore her access to the Property. Ms. Arndt was again forced to find alternative sleeping arrangements for that evening.

On October 14, 2012, Ms. Arndt returned to the Property, but this time found the motion-sensing light near the garage had been broken, and items were missing. She gained access to the Property with the assistance of a neighbor and found the interior in shambles, with many items damaged or missing. Plaintiff concluded that Defendants had rifled through her belongings, and removed certain valuables, including personal belongings and inventory for her online sales business. Specifically, jewelry, clothes, shoes, and a large lawn tractor were missing.

Plaintiff asked her neighbor to contact the Pennsylvania State Police to report a burglary. The police investigation noted that there were no signs of forced entry, and the garage doors were padlocked from the inside. The investigation also revealed that the missing items were in Defendants' possession. Despite Plaintiff's requests for the return of her belongings, she claims that Defendants refused to return her personal property.

On December 17, 2012, Wells Fargo mailed a letter to Arndt informing her of the Sheriff sale and advising her of her rights as a tenant. On May 20, 2013, Wells Fargo filed an action for ejectment against the Gibbs and Ms. Arndt. An Order was entered on November 18, 2013 granting Defendants' possession of the Property. Plaintiff contends that this action establishes that Defendant Wells Fargo knew she occupied the Property, as she was separately named as a Defendant.

II. Discussion

On September 29, 2014, Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this District, asserting diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. ยง 1332. Plaintiff maintains that she was entitled to possession of the Property until the conclusion of judicial proceedings on November 18, 2013, and Defendants' entry upon the Property and all acts committed therein were unlawful, including the destruction and conversion of her personal belongings. Defendants have filed Partial Motions to Dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), requesting dismissal of Counts IV (Invasion of Privacy), V (IIED) and VI (NIED) of Plaintiff's Complaint as well as her request for punitive damages. In analyzing Defendants' Motions, I must assume all of Plaintiff's factual allegations are true, draw all inferences in her favor, "and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief." Connelly ...

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